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Dating Advice #107 - Fertility Fears

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

With the clock ticking, she wants to become a mother before finding a husband/father.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a single woman turning 38 soon and worried sick about my fertility, after reading recent reports in the media about the decline of a woman's fertility after age 35. I haven't had much luck in dating, and being the only single among my married friends is enough of a drag to deal with, but now the possibility of never fulfilling my lifelong dream of having children is too much to bear.

My ticking clock is looming over me like a black cloud. I never imagined this would happen. I am so nervous about it I can't sleep, concentrate or barely function. There are so many things I would like to do in my life, but I feel that projects begun at my age would hamper my availability, time and financial resources necessary to pursue dating and marrying so I can have a child. Thus my hands are tied in pursuing my other dreams as well, which is counterproductive; how interesting can I be to a man if I'm doing nothing with myself?!

Furthermore, you can't rush love, and I don't think marrying anyone just to have a child is a wise idea.

For these reasons I have seriously begun to consider having an out-of-wedlock child. Being a single mother might hamper my chances of getting married in the future, but at least it would take the pressure off and I can enjoy my life and concentrate on finding a husband I love, rather than rushing into something. I know the ideal situation is for a child to have two parents, but relationships take time, which is something I don't have right now.

I have also read that older women become pregnant faster by younger men than by older men, so marrying a man a few years younger than me would probably maximize my chances of conceiving. (But as you probably know and from the personal feedback I have been receiving, there aren't many men who are looking to marry older women.)

For this reason I have thought about foregoing my Judaism and dating non-Jewish men to widen my horizons. I can take a chance and try to cultivate a Jewish marriage -- which is my first choice, and hope I will produce children when I wish to, but I fear losing these childbearing years and ending up subjected to expensive and painful fertility treatments, which I don't even know if I will be able to afford.

Please tell me your take on this. If I ever want to see myself becoming a mother I need to make some big decisions quickly. Nature may not wait.


Dear Patricia,

It's so difficult to answer a letter like yours. That's because we genuinely sense the pain you are feeling, and realize that had our lives taken a different course, we could have easily been the ones to have written your letter. In fact, the predicament of single Jewish women in their late 30s who would like to get married and have children troubles us so much that we have spent hours of thought and discussion considering the different options.

You suggest the possibility of artificial insemination so that you can conceive a child even though you are single. Frankly, neither of us is in favor of this choice, for a number of reasons. As a therapist and as a family lawyer, both of us have seen how much children can suffer, both emotionally and economically, when they don't have a father in the picture. Children, both boys and girls, do best in functional, two-parent families. Unfortunately, some mothers don't have a choice about their marital status; they may be widowed or divorced and do the best they can to raise their child or children on their own. However, these women began motherhood expecting that their child would be raised by two loving parents.

To intentionally put a child in such a situation is unfair, and rabbis describe it as a violation of the Torah ideal to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you are seriously considering this idea, you should consult with a rabbi for more personal guidance.

We also suggest that you seek out a number of women who have chosen this option, to hear what they have experienced. Both of us know several women who had children even though they were not married. Each one of them has told us that they never could have anticipated how difficult single motherhood would be from them.

It can also be very difficult for a child, and this is something that prospective single mothers, whose own desire to have a child is so overwhelming, don't always think about. A young child will ask, "Why don't I have a father? Who is he?" and can become more troubled by the answers as they grow up. They also may be teased and continually questioned about their father's identity by their peers. And in communal life, there will be questions about who will show a boy the rites of passage, or even who will walk a son or daughter down the aisle. All of these can be painful issues for a child who has no father.

The issue of artificial insemination involves complex matters of Jewish law as well. Consulting with a rabbi should be an important part of your decision-making process .

The next possibility is adoption. We personally know only a few single women who have adopted children, perhaps because many single women don't want to consider this option and also because adoption agencies prefer to place babies children in two-parent households. Adopting may be less physically demanding than giving birth to a baby, but after the post-partum period single adoptive-moms encounter the same issues as single birth-moms.

A woman who adopts an older child will face different challenges, since many adoptable children were abused or neglected and may need special parental care and attention to help them overcome the deprivations they suffered during a very formative period in their lives. For many people, adoption's benefits outweigh their challenges; an adoptive parent, even a single parent, gives love and a stable home to a child who would otherwise be alone.

The third possibility is something we see as very viable, but which goes against much of what modern culture has told us is the right thing to do. We call it dating for marriage, rather than dating for love. That's not to be confused with "settling," which is something we never suggest that anyone do. Settling isn't a solution, and those who opt for it usually discover that it doesn't work out.

Frankly, the idea you've toyed with about dating someone outside the Jewish faith is a form of settling. Without exception, every Jewish woman we know who had always planned to marry Jewish, but decided to marry a nice non-Jew because "I want to get married already and can't find a Jewish man," is now divorced.

Psychologists report that many "dual-religion" children express a great deal of anger at their parents for putting them in the middle of an issue that the parents themselves could not resolve. When a person has to choose one religion over the other, there is always the unconscious sense of choosing one parent over another.

And what about your own spiritual awakening? People who do not profess a belief in any particular religion often turn back to religion later in life. A Gallup Poll showed that religious commitment is lowest from age 18-39 -- precisely the time when people are making decisions about who to marry. I have a folder of emails from intermarried people whose lives turned to horror when they (or their spouses) turned back to religion. The issues become insurmountable.

This is not a guilt-trip. This is an issue of practical reality. It is a documented fact that interfaith couples have a three-times higher divorce rate (USA Today - Dec. 4, 2002). Would you ever consider going into a business with a partner who carries a greater risk of failure?

What is "dating for marriage"? It is changing your expectations so that they are more realistic. It is understanding that the way you have been dating for the past several years may not be productive, and changing them for the better. It is making a concerted effort to meet a mentally stable, functional man who also hopes to marry in the near future and whose values and goals are similar to your own. It is realizing that some of the most "together" men have been married before and may have children from another relationship.

Let's talk for a minute about the "gender gap." A never-married woman in her late 30s often seems to be a lot more "put together" than a never-married man in your age bracket. Generally speaking (and we're just generalizing, so we ask that our male readers hold their comments), women keep on "working" on themselves throughout their adult years. They take classes that enrich their knowledge and expand their interests, they get involved in community organizations, they work on "improving" themselves, they take exercise classes or work out, they maintain one or more circles of friends, and they communicate very openly with friends, acquaintances and co-workers. The average, single 38-year-old woman looks very put-together and accomplished, and she doesn't have to be a high-powered overachiever to look this way.

On the other hand, as a general rule, single men do not mature in the same way. With a number of exceptions, unmarried men tend to become more insular as they age. (Generally speaking, married men don't suffer the same fate because they learn many social skills from their wives -- and the wives in turn learn beneficial qualities from their husbands.) Most bachelors don't develop a multitude of interests, they don't socialize to the same extent as women do, and as time goes on they may actually become a little "nerdy." (Not that we don't like nerds -- they make wonderful husbands and underneath the nerdy exterior are generally very nice guys.)

So when the average 38-year-old single woman and a single guy are suggested to each other as possible dating partners, she's liable to turn him down as being boring or needing "too much work," and he may turn her down as being too intimidating or accomplished for his needs. To open yourself up to the possibility of one of these guys, you need to understand why this is so, and learn to look behind the veneer of accomplishment to what lies beneath the surface.

We'd like to see men and women recognize this phenomenon and work on overcoming it in two ways. One is for men to try to become more multi-dimensional, by enrolling in a class, sports team or organization that interests them, by participating in a community project, and by adding a few more friends to their social circle (including one or two married couples -- who often try to set up their single friends and can be great sounding boards and dating coaches for single men).

Another way is for women to stop looking for someone who is as multi-dimensional and accomplished as they may be, and to instead concentrate on someone who shares their goals and values, is a functional person and a nice guy to boot, and who seems flexible and open to the idea of personal growth. These last two qualities are important, because if the two of you were to marry someday, you will find yourselves learning a great deal from each other and helping to facilitate each other's personal growth and fulfillment.

There's a lot more that we can say about changing your approach to dating, but since this is a letter and not a book, we will have to cut it short. We hope that you will try being more open to future dating prospects in the way they we have suggested, and spend 3 or 4 dates scratching below the surface to see glimpses of his personality and the ways he can contribute to a great future marriage.

We hope this has been helpful, and we wish you the best of luck.

Rosie & Sherry

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