My Uterus is None of Your Business

By Aliza Hausman

There is too much pressure on our women to get pregnant.

‘So, are you pregnant?” a friend asked, bouncing over to me enthusiastically.

I rolled my eyes and exhaled.

“What? What did I say?”

Motherhood is hard. And I don’t just mean raising the babies. I mean having them. I mean trying to have them. There is just so much pressure in the Jewish community to have children.

The first year we were married, people – men and women – would ask constantly whether or not I was trying to get pregnant or was already pregnant. And if the answer was “no” and “no”, people hummed around me with sympathy and wished me luck having a baby.

I have startled more than one Shabbat guest by telling them that my husband and I were putting off having children.

“But, of course, you want to have a baby!” the guests would insist.

No one bothered to ask why we were putting it off. And I worried that if I told them that it was because I was recovering from an illness, they would walk away thinking that it had been OK to bring up the subject.

When I ask other Jewish women if they feel pressured, it all pours out. They are under constant interrogation from the community. They talk about money trouble, finishing their master’s degrees (sometimes, bachelor’s degrees) or establishing their careers, and the constant fear that they won’t be able to manage if they have to juggle anything more.

And everywhere – at least in my Orthodox world – someone is lurking, ready to pounce and apply pressure.

The husbands live in a bubble. No one except for his father, Jacob, had asked my husband if we were trying to get pregnant. And my father-in-law didn’t really ask, he hollered: “Get pregnant already!”

So Yehuda was sure that only I was obsessed with the state of my reproductive system.

Without his sympathy, I began to seethe. It struck me as impolite that people would ask about such a personal subject.

And then I was blindsided by an angel of hope.

At another Shabbat meal, a married woman whispered conspiratorially in my ear that people would stop asking about my womb once my husband and I survived our first anniversary.

“They’ll think you’re having problems,” she whispered.

“Problems?” I murmured, mystified.

“Getting pregnant.”

And she was right.

After our first anniversary, the questions stopped abruptly – only to be replaced by questioning glances. If I gained a little weight or wore an unflattering dress, people would stare at my stomach and cock their heads to the side inquisitively.

With an exasperated shake of the head, I would mutter: “No. I’m not pregnant!”

Now and then, a sad look would overtake my interrogators and they would sigh sympathetically about how hard it was to “get pregnant”. Without any signals from me, people started to believe we were “having trouble”. And though I wasn’t, I was suddenly aware that I was surrounded by a world of women who were.

When my best friend Esther told me that someone asked if she had “a bun in the oven”, I cringed. My beautiful friend has had three consecutive miscarriages. She tells me that she hates the assumptions people make.

“After one year of marriage, you must be pregnant. But no one assumes that there are miscarriages. That there are those of us struggling to afford to eat, much less bring children in the world to struggle with us,” Esther said, her voice shaky with emotion.

I tell her that people associate pregnancy with happiness. She replies, “I associate pregnancy with fear. I am scared to death of it.” I tell her that I feel the same way.

I cannot think of pregnancy without imagining myself suffering from the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia and depression. I would be forced to forgo medications that ward off mental and physical agony as the baby’s needs would come before my own. But really – are my fears, my status, anybody’s business at the Shabbos table?

One out of four women miscarries, I learned, after another whisper told me that a woman in the community had delivered a stillborn baby. Behind closed doors, women began sharing stories about “trying for months” and falling into deep depressive episodes. I had never imagined that so many women could be suffering silently.

The horrific idea that any of them could be asked “Are you pregnant?” overwhelmed me. Somewhere along the line, asking someone who is married about impending pregnancy became no more socially incongruous than asking what someone does for a living (a subject now surely imperilled by the economy).

But it is not a safe subject. Not when more and more couples everywhere are struggling to conceive. Not when we realise that often questions born out of natural curiosity can be hurtful and even traumatic.

So I’m waving a “Private” sign around my uterus for myself and for anyone who is with me. It is time we made asking about pregnancy and talking about having children inappropriate for polite conversation. We should not make people share any more about the subject than they would feel comfortable doing. We should tiptoe around it like we would any other loaded topic.

I guess I’m saying that it’s time to start asking again about the weather.

Aliza Hausman is a Latina Orthodox Jewish convert living in New York and working on a memoir. She blogs at
Originally posted here.

41 comments on “My Uterus is None of Your Business

  1. We were given two ears and one mouth. IMO, this means we should listen twice as much as we speak. It would behoove these insensitive individuals to think about that expression before asking a question which is clearly none of their business.

  2. Who said friends, let alone true ones?

    We’re talking about neighbors. Clansmen. Fellow religios.

    It’s a big Mitzvah to turn that into friendship, but until then we still have communal responsibilities, including KOSHER nosiness.

    Like Hey, how are you? You don’t look so well today, can I be of help? Would you like to join us for Shabbos? Oh, it’s health? Were you aware of the medicine gemach…

    Some do it better, some worse. It’s an art we must help each other perform.

    True friends should be beyond that.

  3. hmm. In hope that the cross currents won’t clash…

    I wasn’t at the shiur but I know of her kav quite well. There’s great humor in her anectdotes and tons of paradoxical truth. The concern for the other forgetting his kashrus is undoubtedly coming fro chessed. But as we all know, the Torah also uses the term chessed to refer to incest!

    There’s a need for limits and close knit Yiddishe communities are notorious for stumbling in this. That’s what is meant by the Yenta label.

    Well intended looong noses!

    It’s a problem, but emanates from a very good place.

    We NEED our neighbors to remind us of kashrus timing and baby hats… but in ways that work for US.

    Indeed I suspect that for some ladies, a l-i-t-t-l-e inquiry into their “abnormal” situation might at times be very meaningful. But all must be done with delicate interest in the other first.

    Ashrei ha’Am sh’kakha lo!

  4. Mordechai, I just wanted to clarify that R’ Heller did not comment on the propriety of inquiring about pregnancy.

    Her basic point was is that you should not ask in general, out of curiosity, but you should always be looking to help people out. If you have something to offer, you may ask in order to possibly offer help.

    She gives no credence to being a Yenta, but inquiring about somebodies welfare with the intent to help makes you a Baalei Chesed and not a Yenta.

    She also points out that different cultures/communities have different sensitives to questions or comments of a private nature.

    She tells about when she was first married she was strolling her baby and a neighbor says, “Without a hat, that’s how you take out a baby, without a hat”. Her initial reaction at that time was to take offense, but after living in the community for many years and seeing how much people really do care, she realizes it was just a culture differences in how people express themselves.

  5. Mordechai – thanks for owning the stridency and clarifying your soreness.

    I can identify with your feelings of hypocricy about the holy culture of kvoda bat Melech being squeezed of its essence. I believe, however, similar to R’ Heller, that the big problem is not the excessively exuberant interest in each private other’s life, per se. That’s akin to the jewlery of our modest princess. In and of itself it doesn’t take away from her modesty.

    When that’s all that’s left of her, however, that’s another story. There are those who might appreciate seeing her graddaughter playing around with them as a way to connect with the past. And there are those who will react violently to see her granddaughter take that holy jewlery to wear in the red light district, chv”sh!

    Back in the properly functiong Shtetls, Yentas were a great commodity. For those who long for even just a whiff of that holy atmosphere of yore, it’s emminintly tolerable (though in need of limits).

  6. I second Steg’s comment in 33. Very good. If I had to censor the text of the Torah for my students when I taught school, it would have been a real headache, never mind a distortion. Sometimes we superimpose a certain prudishness (with good motivations!) more than what Hashem’s Torah calls for.

    Aliza, this was an excellent post. Thank you for the clarity and courage to share it, and maybe instruct us.

    Mark, if that really is the gist of Rebbetzin Heller’s shiur in 6, I respectfully but adamantly disagree. I think that is covering up for old-fashioned nosiness. And even if one can offer advice, it may not be their place to do so. At the very least they should be respectful and hesitant enough to first ask if they may even inquire, etc. I suspect, though, that Rebbetzin Heller would agree with that.

    In addition to the obvious (it should be!) rudeness and poor taste of being nosy when uninvited, there are risks of embarrassing someone publicly or privately (halbanat panim or onaat d’varim), lashon hara potential, and …?

    Bilaam praised us for our sense of privacy and modesty (ma tovu ohalecha, see Rashi). The halacha deals at length with privacy issues such as when building or renovating next to someone else’s property. All that respect and sensitivity gets forgotten when we excuse and defend behaviours such as Aliza has very candidly written about. I found Rebbetzin Heller’s joke to be just the opposite of those values embedded in halacha and mussar. The neighbour shouldn’t even have known what’s going on next door.

    That sort of yentish behaviour is what I always disliked about many of my parent’s generation; though no disrespect intended. I was horrified to realize later in life that was one of the last vestiges they maintained from some of the Jewish communities they came from.

    I’m sure this isn’t unique to us; but it is especially unsuitable for us as I understand it. How does anyone argue ‘kol kvuda bat melech pnima’, that a woman’s dignity is in her privacy, and then stick their noses far (and often publicly) into their personal biological and emotional business?

    I apologize for the strident tone. This is a sore point with me.

  7. never, ever, have i been asked if i were pregnant, in twenty plus years of marriage. and i have never asked anyone, either.

    i say this not to soften aliza’s point in the least, because my heart goes out to her and any other woman whose privacy has been thus invaded, whose trials have been so trampled or boo-boos bumped…but i add this statement just to put in my two cents by saying the following, with respect: there are certain communities where people will talk about personal issues in this way, and others where they members view this as a deeply personal, non-tzanua way of communicating. generally, i think it’s fair to say that the moe to the right one travels, the less talk there will be that is in your face about bodily functions of any sort – let alone one like reproduction which is, after all, at the very heart of the intimacy of a jewish marriage. rather than pointing fingers, i say this with the hope that as we grow, we move away from this secular-speak and towards more supportive, more respectful relationships.

    aliza, thanks for sharing this so that we can all become more sensitive human beings and jews.

  8. Jewish tradition has a long history of using provocative rhetoric to make important points. Just skim any passage of Yesha‘yahu or Yirmeyahu — and remember how we describe someone who eats matza on ‘erev Pesahh! (btw, Ron, an old Yekkish man once used that line at me when i wore a straw hat before Memorial Day)

  9. Er, yes, Ron. I know no one is directly asking her “Hey, how’s your uterus?” However, when people pry about whether or not a woman is pregnant or ask why she isn’t pregnant they are asking about what’s going on in her uterus- not in her heart, lungs or spleen.


  11. Honestly, I don’t find this phenomenon worse in the frum community than any other. There is something about the subject of pregnancy and childbirth that makes people a little loopy.

    This use of a coarse, albeit accurate, term is a page out of radical feminism

    I don’t think there is anything course or undignified or shocking about using the word uterus. It’s no more course or undignified or shocking than using the word “liver.” There’s certainly nothing radically feminist about using the correct terms for body parts.

  12. So why don’t we make a call for alternative titles. Like:

    The Tsnius of pregnancy

    Privacy – a Major Torah Value

    Curiosity vs True Interest in the Other

    Pregancy is NOT a Communal Affair!

    I’m sure someone can find a great one. Actually, it seems like a powerful excercize in verbal Kashrus to work on choosing our titles well.

  13. “Uterus” is a technical biological term. It’s not like she used a slang or rude word for a body part.

    There are lots of words that are “technical biological terms” that we don’t use here, and particularly ones that refer to reproductive organs. Again, it is a rhetorical device and I understand the rationale, but I don’t agree that it is appropriate for this space or even for discourse among dignified people of the opposite sex who are not in a clinical or academic (i.e., relating to physiology or biology) relationship.

    Of course its indelicate- that’s the point! She used the term ‘uterus’ to highlight just how personal the inquiry is. Your uterus shouldn’t be up for discussion. Period.

    Again, I don’t believe any of the comments she reported, or that any of the similarly offended (justifiedly) commenters reported, involved discussions of her uterus, or any other bodily organ.

    This use of a coarse, albeit accurate, term is a page out of radical feminism, wherein the discussion of the pros and cons of abortion is reduced by what was once a shocking demand that the subject — thought by many people to implicate the interests of at least two lives — be considered no more than a matter of gynecological hygiene, entirely personal. Of course the Torah does not endorse this approach on that topic.

    Here the demand for personal space and the insistence that discussion of the topic (“Why aren’t you pregnant?”) is far more appropriate from our point of view. It truly is no one’s business. So why debase the discussion by borrowing coarsening political rhetoric from such quarters? I don’t personally consider, “Yeah, it’s shocking, that’s the point!” to be an answer for observant Jews.

    I don’t mean to suggest anyone was up to anything wicked or subversive here. Just making a very weensy point about how we choose our words and the effect it may have on the quality of our discourse.

  14. Hello folks. A gut Vinter! Since I was passing by…

    First, kol haKavod to Menachem’s articluation of the phenomena at work. It’s a common human foible to let curiosity call the shots. Call it immaturity. Kids like to feel everything and a normal ten yr old sitting on Eema’s lap will make himself at home. They might ask someone with a speech impairment, or walking handicap, etc, why he’s coming accros so “funny” — right in his face! Once, when I was working in special Ed, a student stared literally in my face throughout my Birchas HaMazon and then blurted,in total insistence to know the truth: “Are you Praaaaaaaaaaying??”

    So yes, the fact that frum expectations (GREAT pun)are so much more wound up in this matter makes this foilbe that much more enticing to give into… which should lead to even more appreciation of the refinement of the frum world, as a WHOLE, that these subjects are emphasized as VERY private matters.

    Which leads us back to that ever-troubling subject about why so many “religious” Jews play fast and easy with significant Torah laws. With all the psycho-socio explanations, the bottom line should be to tell them straight out: “Sorry, this is NOT a Torah question!” Period.

    We often forget that being frum in our general lifestyle does not a truly frum person make.

  15. I know many couples of all ages (frum, non-frum, Jewish, non-Jewish) who don’t have children and I certainly would consider it insensitive to ask them why this is the case. I recall the pain experienced by a colleague when her baby was stillborn and how other women wouldn’t even mention their own pregnancies in her presence until it was obvious that they were expecting. I don’t know how this relates to the frum community as this occurred in a work venue where people were from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

    Perhaps, before speaking, a person should consider how she would feel if someone asked her that question. In seeing another person as ourselves, we would become more empathic.

  16. I’m surprised to hear this described as a frum thing. Like Bracha, I’ve found that in the frum community people don’t mention pregnancy until it’s really obvious. I have never had a frum person ask me if I’m pregnant, only my single non-frum friends have asked. And I would never ask someone if she’s pregnant unless she’s about five months along and big, and often not even then.

    I think single friends are also more likely to ask, frum or not, since they tend not to know how many women have problems conceiving or miscarriages, and so they assume that if you’re not having a baby you must not want one, and won’t be offended to say so. Those who’ve been married tend to understand that everyone finds the question annoying (and it tends to be annoying even if you aren’t having trouble, because then the question takes the tone of “why are you pregnant again so soon”).

    I agree that there’s a tendency in the frum community to assume that couples are having problems if they don’t get pregnant within a year or so. That’s natural, since in most communities it’s very rare to get a heter for birth control before having a child. I don’t think that’s offensive, it’s not like people are being nosy–it’s just an easy thing to notice. Hopefully they’ll know better than to say anything, and will just quietly add the couple to their davening list instead.

  17. R said:

    “however to imply that such comments are the norm among certain groups is unfair.”

    I agree with R’s assertion that it’s certain type of people in all groups who say inappropriate things. However, within the Jewish world the more right-wing one is the greater the expectation (excuse the pun) that a couple will have children early and often. So in that type of community there’s a greater chance those people with an impaired brain-to-mouth filter will comment on on childbearing. Whereas in, say, a yuppie non-religious community such things won’t even be on the radar, so our filterless person may comment on salaries or lack of career advancement.

    Also, in our religious communities (and in the entire country of Israel) there is an element of familial comfort (as others have mentioned) that lowers this filter threshold.

  18. Of course its indelicate- that’s the point! She used the term ‘uterus’ to highlight just how personal the inquiry is. Your uterus shouldn’t be up for discussion. Period.

    By the way Ron, the plural of uterus is uteri. For those of you who took Latin in high school, it is a second-declension masculine noun.

  19. I was very surprised by this blog. Since becoming observant I’ve learned the hard way that frum people generally do not even speak of their pregnancies until they are showing in a very pronounced way. To avoid ayin hara, people will not even tell very good friends that they are expecting. With my own pregnancies, it was hard to keep the exciting news to myself when secular friends and family would call me when they were three weeks pregnant (or less!). As R mentioned, I had no clue that women do not tell their due date and was really surprised by this.Coming from secular culture that is so open and “hang loosey”, I’ve learned to be much more careful about any questions about anyone else’s childbearing. I have had comments like that from secular friends and relatives and even by the dental hygienist and the like, but never by frum people. In fact, it’s been so much the opposite that people who I had hoped would approach me with a hearty “b’sh’ah tova” have said nothing even when I felt I was really showing. I realized later that it was most likely their inate modesty that prevented them from even realizing I was expecting.

  20. I was living in a chareidi community in Israel. A female resident of that community asked me how many children I had, and I answered, “Four.” She said with great pity, “HaShem yirachem!” (because my family size was so small). I felt completely inadequate and insignificant, not to mention a “failure.” I don’t even want to think about how it must have been for women who weren’t able to conceive…

  21. The topic in itself is very controversial, because many young couples are on the pill, but of course its all hush hush.

    The point everyone is missing here that the writer of the article wouldn’t dare mention, is that in order to push off having children many people do go on the pill.

    There are Rabbonim that people ask to get a “heter”. This is not something that is correct, but most Rabbonim will never give a heter unless there is a very very good reason. I totally understand it. The mitzva is very clear. But then what should a couple do? Is it better to give up a career so that IYH all the children that have yet to come suffer? Should the couple wait to get married?

    Some young couples are not scared to have children. Many times those are children having children. B”H they have enough monetary support that they don’t think twice about who will feed this child? How will we pay a babysitter more then we make. How much in student loans should we take out in order to cover the rent?

  22. I’m sorry you had to suffer from such insensitive comments….however to imply that such comments are the norm among certain groups is unfair. I have met many women from many different religious backrounds in my almost ten years of marriage, and have found that the ones who ask personal, inappropraite questions are the women who are perhaps, can I say are “not all there”? B”H I am blessed with several children, and my tummy is no longer a flat board, so I have been embarrassed many times over by people thinking I was again pregnant………but I have also, by more modern women been asked my due date (which I consider to be nobody’s business but my own) and have been pestered when I gave a vague answer (after the summer etc.) One woman whom I didn’t even know actually got into an argument with me, she claimed it wasn’t personal at all for me to say the exact day my baby was due…..Also, I’ve had people— strangers, pat, or try to pat my belly during pregnancy……….Bottom line, all I can say is that some people–no matter their religious standing must be thought of as little kids who say whatever pops into their head, if we think of it that way, we’ll be less likely to get hurt…………and as a last resort, to shoo away “those” people and their questions, you can always answer when asked if you are pregnant, with something like “No, are you pregnant now?” I doubt they’ll bother you again…..GOOD LUCK!!!

  23. I hope that this post saves women from insensitive words or stares. For years after my first daughter was born, I suffered from multiple miscarriages and though most people didn’t directly ask me I had women staring at my stomach all the time. One person who did ask me had the bad timing of asking me while I was lying on my couch bleeding through what would become my first miscarriage. The corollary to this is “How many children do you have?” Not all of us with small families have chosen to do so. And when you answer 1 or 2 the inquirer stands expectantly by waiting for you to explain the intimate details of your life.

  24. Mordechai, this is not the place to badmouth frum communities, be they left or right.

    Ron, I think you’re reading into the use of the word a bit. The uterus plays a critical role in all three stages of pregnancy, conception, gestation and delivery so I can’t see why the use of the word is indelicate. I also can’t see why we should allow any political or social movement to co-opt a perfectly neutral word. Btw, it’s uteri. :)

  25. I think the title was, shall I say, a little BOLD and IN YOUR FACE, but I was not offended. My husband told me that there are people who suffer from a common condition called DOM (Diarrhea of the Mouth), their words just come pouring out and they can’t think about what they are saying. I assure you that these people are not going to sleep wondering “GEEZE, I wonder if that woman is pregnant, and when is Briendy going to churn out a couple of kids already?” I have learned not to take these women’s words to heart, although it is very painful parsha to be in or go through (speaking from personal experience). May the author of this article, Aliza, be zocheh to have healthy children! Maybe we can all daven for her.

    I have gotten my share of comments from people. for example, my 15 year old daughter had to wear a wig for medical reasons and my neighbor asked me if she’s married in the middle of the supermarket with my daughter wearing her high school uniform. I also had another neighbor touch her wig and move it around in PUBLIC and announce “What happened to your hair???” These two women are really nebachs, I was very hurt but since then I have learned that people like this do not mean what they say and they do not give a hoot about you, neither of them apologized but that is okay, let it be a kapporah.

  26. I think it is indelicate, unnecessarily so, and, as I suggested by allusion, it echoes the sort of rhetoric used by people who most certainly do not share our values.

  27. On the other hand… why do we have to drag female reproductive organs, per se, into the discussion (and the title of the post), besides to draw attention to our post? Is this Beyond Planned Parenthood?

    The inquiries were not at all about uteruses. (Utera?) They were about pregnancy.

  28. Interesting. I sympathize with the author- what a difficult position! I have never experienced this myself. In fact, I would say the more “rightward” the community, the more it is taboo to ask about pregnancy or family planning.

  29. I must be living in a bubble (or because I’m male) but I have never gotten or asked such a question and as far as I know, neither has my wife. I would think that asking such things would be the height of rudeness. Even my parents and sibllings (Mark) would never ask such a question.

    In fact, the only people who have ever asked me how many kids I plan to have were not Jewish and I (naively, I guess) assumed that this must be a non-Jewish thing to talk about because no one Jewish (that I know) would ever come out and ask something so private…

  30. In a shiur on Community, Rebbetzin Heller attributes this inquistiveness to a feeling of a family-like closeness among people in some segments of the community.

    She says that if you ask out of true concern and you can offer advice, comfort or other help, than asking might be appropriate. If you’re just asking out of curiosity, then it would be wrong.

    She tells a joke of a man living in an apartment in the narrow streets in Har Nof and he goes to the fridge in the middle of the night and takes out some milk. From across the street someone in the opposite apartment yells out, “You’re still fleishig”.

  31. “certain ‘frum’ people, esp. the more rightward you go, are very disrespectful of the privacy of others.”


  32. Good post, however (perhaps this may be comforting to the writer actually), certain ‘frum’ people, esp. the more rightward you go, are very disrespectful of the privacy of others. It is not limited to women or to this specific issue.

    It is a big problem in general. Certain (though not all) ‘frum’ people are very lacking in manners (think ‘naval bireshut hatorah’), and this is just one part of it.

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