Why Jewish?

Last week I went back for my second beta test. The clinic was hoping for my hCG to roughly double from the 386.6 where it started. More good news: the blood work came back with a level of 1166.8, a “fantastic rise,” according to the clinic. No more blood work needed (and it’s a good thing – I don’t have great veins to begin with and one of them got pretty butchered from my first beta last week). Next stop: 7-week ultrasound!

After my recent post about the need for Jewish surrogates, a number of people asked me why it was so important for Vivianne and David, and others like them, to use a surrogate who is Jewish. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering the same thing. After all, there are so many other women who could carry their baby. Even if that meant some people would not consider the baby to be Jewish, why not have the child undergo a formal conversion to Judaism sometime after the birth?

Mayyim Hayyim has facilitated nearly 1,000 conversions for babies and young children since we opened in 2004, and from where I sit, converting a baby is an incredibly joyous occasion. People bring friends and family to celebrate, give the child a Hebrew name, and have beautiful memories to hold onto forever. It’s something that will never occur in my family and almost makes me feel envious of others who get to experience this very special opportunity. So why wouldn’t Vivianne and David do the same thing?

During our first Skype conversation I asked them this very question. Part of their answer did not come as a surprise: they wanted a Jewish surrogate in order to minimize (maybe even eliminate?) any questions about their child’s Jewish identity. This was important to them both on an abstract level as well as for practical reasons when the question of “who is a Jew” becomes relevant. Using a Jewish surrogate offers a certain peace of mind and creates a scenario that is as close as possible, identity-wise, to Vivianne delivering the child herself.

But their other reason did surprise me (although in retrospect I suppose it shouldn’t have): Jewish communal politics. Vivianne and David were coming from a perspective that is common when people have concerns about matters of identity in the wider Jewish world. They worried about who would consider their child to be Jewish if their surrogate was not Jewish, and therefore leaned towards the more traditional end of the spectrum to be as safe as possible. If their child would require a conversion, they decided it would be an Orthodox one. The beit din in London, though, is particularly strict, and despite belonging to an Orthodox synagogue, they still weren’t convinced they’d pass the beit din’s very rigorous requirements, or that they could find a group of rabbis who would even work with them.

A Jewish couple, desperate to have a Jewish child, potentially blocked from doing so, by rabbis (of all people). I have a hard time coming to terms with this fact, and find it even more frustrating that some rabbis say Jewish women should not become surrogates either. I feel very grateful that there are rabbis out there like the one with whom I originally spoke. He compassionately helped figure out how to do this in a way that would respond to personal desires while at the same time satisfying legal requirements, instead of just giving a flat-out “no” in an uncommon and complicated scenario.

What started as a catch-22 for Vivianne and David to have a Jewish child is ending in one of the most Jewish things possible: continued persistence in the face of adversity, while looking ahead to the future with hope.

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