I've had three miscarriages and my husband won't wear a yarmulke

I'm struggling on too many fronts -- religion, fertility, parenting philosophy, even employment.

Published August 31, 2007 10:17AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am 35, married, and we are currently trying to get pregnant. I have had three miscarriages and three failed rounds of IVF with PGD. PGD is a semi-controversial procedure where embryologists biopsy an embryo and look at its chromosomes. My husband has been diagnosed with a balanced translocation, which means that his chromosomes are switched. And though he is healthy, his sperm are usually not, hence the miscarriages and the need for PGD. We have recently made the decision to move on to donor sperm. We have already had one failed try with this donor sperm and will try again in about a week. We got pregnant the first time one month after we got married, so we have been dealing with this issue our entire married lives. It is very difficult to explain the pain of infertility. It is awful. You see an entire world existing nonchalantly around the one thing that you cannot have. Before I experienced it myself, though I knew it must be painful and difficult, I had no idea how painful and difficult it actually is.

There is a strong support network for women and infertility out there. I have found other women going through similar things, and that has helped enormously. I also found a therapist who also endured infertility (she adopted about 20 years ago) and she is great and understands completely.

I just thought it was important to know that we are in the throes of some emotional trauma when I bring up my current problem.

I am Jewish. My husband is not. In fact, he is an adamant atheist. I respect that. We have talked about it many times and though I feel like our general philosophies are quite similar, my conclusion has been that God probably exists (but doesn't really play any sort of essential role in my life and is just some sort of vague entity out there) and his conclusion is that God doesn't exist. Fine. Whatever.

Before we got married, I told him that my Jewish religion/culture was important to me and I wanted to raise my children Jewish. I told him I loved him very much, but if he couldn't raise his children Jewish, we couldn't get married. He agreed that he would have our children raised Jewish if they could choose whether or not to follow it when they get older. I agreed to that, though we never decided at what age "older" is.

Now, the problem at hand. He is willing to come to synagogue with me and/or my family (he has in the past) but he will not wear a kippah (aka yarmulke -- that skullcap thingy) because he thinks it acknowledges the existence of God, and he refuses to acknowledge the existence of God. You would think that would be fine, but I am having an increasingly difficult time finding a synagogue where they do not ask men to wear one.

The High Holidays are coming up, and this is currently pressing. We went to my brother's synagogue last year, and this issue came up. He was able to sit through the service with us without a kippah, but it caused quite a stir and made my husband (and my family) uncomfortable.

My husband mostly feels awful about this. He loves my family and feels like the synagogue refuses to accept him for who he is by choosing not to wear the kippah. He just wants to share the holidays with his family without compromising his principles. I do understand this, but I just can't reconcile it. I'm desperately searching for a synagogue that doesn't ask male members to wear a kippah and accepts intermarried couples, but it feels like a daunting task.

And this goes back to the infertility issue. I'm already overwhelmed by the daunting task of trying to get pregnant. Combining these two truly fundamental issues in our marriage at once is insane. Not to mention that I'm also having employment issues. Though, luckily my husband makes enough money to support me, even if I don't work.

I guess I just want some comfort and someone to tell me what to do about the High Holidays this year.


Dear R,

I am going to say something very simple: You are not in charge.

If you were in charge you would be pregnant and your husband would be wearing a yarmulke.

You have done what any reasonable person would do, using the resources at your disposal to achieve the results you desire. But you have suffered terrible failures. You are heroic and resourceful and show amazing stamina. But I fear that you are damaging yourself by continuing without rest.

The many issues you raise are fascinating and compelling. I spent all morning writing about them and researching them. But then I threw it all out. It is interesting but it won't help.

"Interesting" is not what you need. You need solace. You need rest. You need support. You need recovery time. You need to be wrapped in strong arms and rocked until you cry it all out.

So I am simply going to make a suggestion: Go away somewhere for a while. Find a retreat -- after the high holidays, that is, whether your husband goes bareheaded or not.

Take care of yourself. Preserve your own life.

There is much more that could be said but it boils down to this: You have been through hell. You need to recover. Find a way to do that. Take your suffering seriously, and give yourself time.

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