Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I've been really learning a lot from your columns, and have a question about when to reveal certain information about myself to the man I am dating. I am dating for marriage, and he told the person who introduced us that he is looking to settle down, get married and have a family.
I'm 39 and am in premature ovarian failure. I actually started when I was 32, and at that point thought that I was all right with the idea of never getting pregnant. Since then, though, my feelings on the issue have changed and I am now having very strong feelings of wanting to have children.
I've been told that I could possibly get pregnant through in vitro, and I would be happy adopting a child as well.
It's too soon to tell if this man will be "the one," but I am wondering at what point I should let him know that having children won't come naturally for me. I know that I should broach the topic with him, but don't know when is "too soon." What would you recommend?
Yours is a difficult question for us to answer, because it involves more than just common sense and experience. Jewish law also plays a role in the equation, and it may be a consideration in answering at what point in a courtship you should advise of your medical condition.
However, we think it is premature for us to answer your question about "when." Instead, we'd like you to focus on what and how you will discuss the topic.
We don't know how extensively you have looked into the possibility that you can become pregnant and carry a baby with medical assistance. We're acting on the assumption that after you made your peace seven years ago with the idea that you would not be able to become pregnant, you did not pursue more information until just recently. You're no doubt aware that there have been many medical advances in just a few short years, and what was medically unlikely when you were 32 may be meeting with success today. Recently, when we researched an answer for another reader whose medical condition was even more challenging than your own, we were amazed to discover just how many procedures could enable her to have children.
Because technology in this arena is changing rapidly, most gynecologists, even many who specialize in fertility, aren't aware of all of the most recent advances in fertility treatments. We know of one non-profit organization that serves as a clearinghouse of information for Jewish couples who are affected by a number of medical conditions that can be impediments to successful conception and childbirth. They are also helpful to Jewish women who, like you, want to marry and someday have children. The counseling, guidance and assistance they provide is free of charge, and everything is within the framework of halacha, Jewish law.
The organization is called the Puah Institute (www.puah.org.il). Puah is biblical the name of one of the midwives during the period of Jewish slavery in Egypt, who helped Jewish women give birth and hide their newborn sons from Pharoh's soldiers.
Now, as for what to say to your potential spouse: The best way to disclose a medical condition is to provide accurate information with an emphasis on the positive. In your case, that might mean introducing the topic by saying something like, "You know that the reason I am dating is because I would like to find the man I will marry, settle down, and hopefully have a family. I know, though, that I will only be able to become pregnant with medical intervention and God's help. There are a few different procedures available, and I am optimistic that they may be able to help me and my future husband become parents, but I wanted you to know my situation." This can lead to an explanation of your condition and what you have learned about how medical science may be able to help you, as well as your willingness to adopt children.
This approach sounds much more optimistic than telling someone, "I want you to know that I may never be able to have children." By emphasizing that you want children, and have explored the help that is available, you take an encouraging approach rather than a self-defeating one. Also, the man you are seeing is probably well aware of the fact that many women, both younger and older than you, require medical intervention in order to realize their dreams of becoming parents.
And in truth, the ability to have a child always rests in the hands of God -- no matter if you are 20 or 30 or 39 and experiencing ovarian failure.
As for when: We think you should wait until the two of you have started to find it easy to talk to each other about personal topics and feel you have begun to develop an emotional connection. Waiting until this point will enable you to disclose your "news" in a comfortable and receptive environment so that you can also explain your hope for the future and why you believe it is medically possible to achieve your dreams. Certainly the Puah Institute and your own rabbi can offer additional advice.
We wish you all the best.
Rosie & Sherry