How Antisemitism Has Changed My Desire to Have Kids

I am probably not the first Jew to have all these doubts about parenthood, my place in the world and what that world will look like for the next generation.

When I was younger, I used to feel like life had a specific timeline or a set of steps that I had to follow in order to achieve success. It involved a series of things I had to do or achieve by a certain age: graduate high school, get a scholarship for college, graduate, get a stable job, find a partner, and get married — all before 25. And then there was the ultimate goal I had to aspire to in order to become a truly fulfilled woman: become a mother.

In reality, though, motherhood wasn’t one of those things I aspired to be, at least not the same way I wanted to be a designer, or a singer, or a writer. When my friends would play make-believe with their dolls, their scenarios usually revolved around family and motherhood; I’d pretend my dolls were my friends and I was much more focused on choosing the perfect outfit for every single one of them than I was in developing my “maternal instinct”.

I never really thought about motherhood as a real possibility for me. There’s always been this feeling in the back of my mind that I’ll never really be ready enough to handle taking care of a whole other human being that fully depends on me while struggling to keep my own mental health stable. That, plus the fact that there are quite a few gaps in my genetic medical history that I’m unable to fill, just made it seem like it would be easier to avoid the “will I have children or not” issue altogether. I also hated how it seemed like the default for me as a Jewish woman, was automatically saying yes to motherhood rather than it feeling like something I could take time to evaluate and think about. So I did what seemed like the easiest thing to do at that point: I said no.

I hated — still do, actually — that the default setting for women, especially Jewish (and especially Mexican/Latina Jewish women like myself) is that we’re supposed to want to become mothers. The questions and comments never stop once we reach a certain age. I’m constantly hearing some variation of “When am I getting grandkids?” or “your niece needs a little friend to play with.”, and my personal favorite, “You will understand life better and find true happiness when you become a mother.” Honestly, that last one makes my blood boil.

But do I love children and I love taking care of people. In pretty much every one of my friend groups I’m always the designated Jewish Mom™; I’m the one that carries the huge purse with tampons, band-aids, spare masks, a sweater, a phone charger, extra makeup, painkillers, a spare pair of flip-flips, an umbrella… pretty much anything that could get us out of a potential problem. I guess that’s something I learned from my own Jewish mom. Still, the thought of becoming an *actual* Jewish Mom™ terrified me a little (OK, a lot).

However, the time spent in lockdown during the early months of the pandemic, my impending arrival of my 30s, and the fact that for the first time in my life I am seeing firsthand the damage that antisemitism causes (yes, I know I’m extremely lucky to be able to say that) have made me reconsider a lot of things I assumed were facts in my life.

For the first time in a very long time, I have found myself seriously questioning how safe it is to proudly wear my Star of David necklace and show off my Jewishness on any and every social media profile, since even in my small town, I’m seeing antisemitism, ignorance, and hate peek through the cracks on social media and WhatsApp group chats. For the first time ever, I’m seeing people close to me post one-sided, poorly-researched content on Facebook and Instagram, content that directly insults a big part of who I am. “Should I say something? Do I call them out?” I’ve never been one to keep my head down; I’ve always been the proud and outspoken Jewish girl here — the one who is open about defending what matters to her —  but for a few weeks, it felt like it might be safer for me if I pretended I never saw the posts and just moved on.

I wondered how anyone would think this world is a safe place to live and thrive in, and a good place to raise a family. While I had already been feeling like I’d never be ready to be a mother I also wondered if it would be fair to bring more people into a world that hated us by default. In the middle of my downward spiral, though, I remembered a Facebook post I saw years ago on the Humans of Judaism Facebook page: a cartoon of a Jewish grandpa telling his grandson he was the only trophy he needed.

I remembered the joke that comes up in a lot of our holidays: “They tried to kill us, we survived. Let’s eat”. And there it was: my aha moment. I gathered my thoughts and reached out to my Jewish friends who are lucky enough to be parents. After a few long and intense conversations with them, I came to two conclusions. One, being a Jew in a world that insists on hating and erasing us is hard, but it’s a privilege and something to be proud of, rather than a burden. Two, we can’t let the antisemites win. My existence is proof that Jews prevail, no matter what. The fact that we are here, questioning so many things about our place in the world and how we want to live our Jewishness, is the trophy that proves we’ve won. We’ve lived on, past so many tragedies, and we will keep doing so.

It dawned on me that I was also probably not the first Jew to have all these doubts about parenthood, my place in the world and what that world would look like for the next generation of Jews. This, too, made me feel connected to those before me. It made me feel, once again, that I’m part of something bigger.

At the end of the day, I know that becoming a mother by the time I’m 30 is not the only way I can be a happy Jewish woman. But I am much more open — and even excited — about the idea of getting there eventually. One day, I’d like to teach my kids the same prayers my mom taught me, and how to set a Seder table the same way my grandma does, and pass onto them my grandfather’s kippah collection. While I still feel there are things I need to do and achieve before I become a mother, I’m much more at peace with the idea that I will one day become a Jewish mom.

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