The Great Baby Divide
I knew my friends weren’t keen on kids. Then I found out that they didn’t much care for parents, either.
In most places in Israel, having children is essentially the law: Observant Israelis feel obliged to observe the mitzvah pru urvu—be fruitful and multiply—from Genesis 1:28. And secular Israelis seem to adhere to the Zionist idea of having kids as part of the demographic war. In Tel Aviv, on the other hand, the issue is more complicated. There are two opposing attitudes when it comes to kids: one anti and one very much pro.
And it’s just my luck that most of my friends belong to the anti-baby side. So for me, in Tel Aviv’s hipster society, having a baby has been basically social suicide.
Fridays in Tel Aviv are dedicated to sitting in cafés, reading the weekend papers, and discussing current, personal, and gossipy events with your peers. My social circle drinks its Friday morning coffee at around 2 p.m., badly hung over from the night before. I started to realize that having kids wouldn’t be the best social move whenever the discussion around the café table drifted to the subject of babies. Let’s just say that if your 30-something friends stare at a pregnant woman as if she has a piece of lettuce stuck between her teeth, you know that having a baby isn’t considered popular.
Nevertheless, a few years ago, when I was about 34 and my biological clock started waking me up in the morning, I thought I’d carefully bring the subject to the table. It was met with equal amounts of ridicule, contempt, and pity. Some of my friends treated me as if I declared myself a right-wing fascist or just stared at me as if they felt sorry for me for leaving the realm of rational thought and voluntarily crossing over to the other side—the side of brain-dead baby-talk. Having a baby, they explained, is akin to throwing your life away. The thought of not fitting into your skinny jeans for a few months or missing out on nights of debauchery in the presence of some highly regarded international DJ is considered by some a fate worse than death.
For months before I got pregnant, my friends tried to convince me that having a baby would be a horrible mistake. They emailed me links to academic studies and research showing that children don’t, in fact, make you happy. They told me that wishing to reproduce is narcissistic. I couldn’t always argue with their logic, and in hindsight I must admit that they were right in predicting that once I had a baby, I’d be having more conversations about the different shades and textures of poo than political debates or semiotic analysis of films.
But their ignorance turned into outright denial when I actually did get knocked up. From week to week my belly grew, but my friends around the Friday café table didn’t seem to notice—or, maybe, they didn’t want to notice. At one point I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to blatantly point to my baby bump. The first reaction was a series of blank looks. Then: “What? You got a new shirt?”
A few months after my boyfriend and I became parents, we found out we weren’t invited to an afternoon barbecue at a friend’s house. I tried to remember if one of us said anything to annoy him, or if a notorious ex might be on the guest list, thwarting our invitation. After some unsuccessful speculation, I decided to confront my friend, who simply said that he was sorry, but the other guests didn’t want babies at their party. I assumed even baby-haters know that a sleeping infant in a baby-carrier wouldn’t be much of an imposition, but maybe they were afraid I’d be so rude as to breastfeed while people are eating—a vulgar and thoughtless act that might propel someone to lose his spareribs.
As it turns out, my mistake was trying to rationalize the host’s answer, which led to me naively telling him he could have still invited us and told us not to bring the baby. To that he didn’t have an answer; he just mumbled something about not wanting to insult us. That’s when it sank in: It’s not the baby they imagined would cramp the party’s style; it was us. We simply weren’t considered cool anymore. The fear that we would open our mouths to report that a certain someone rolled over for the first time was so great that we had to be kept off the premises altogether.
To be sure, the fact that you can’t spit in Tel Aviv without hitting a kid in the eye is proof that not everybody here advocates the childfree lifestyle. In some social circles having a baby is super-trendy—as long as you treat it like the fashion accessory it clearly is supposed to be. Infinite talk about state-of-the-art futuristic baby strollers, luxury nursery furniture, and designer maternity clothes I regularly overheard at my pregnancy exercise class assured me that for snobby rich-girls, having a baby means what having a Chihuahua means to Paris Hilton. Other social groups in the city ga-ga for babies include well-to-do gay couples who can afford a surrogate mother. There are also the enlightened vegan yoga-buffs who too must have babies, whom they tie around their well-toned bodies in hemp baby-slings and breastfeed until they are 10.
In the middle of our tour of the Lis Maternity Hospital, where I would eventually give birth, two expecting dads almost took it outside after being separated by a nurse amid a very vocal argument. Throughout the tour, the hippie expectant dad wouldn’t stop asking the nurse/tour-guide questions. He wanted a guarantee that his wife would experience natural childbirth and bargained over how many minutes his newborn baby would be allowed to lie on his mother without his umbilical cord being cut. After asking if he could bring mood lighting from home (apparently he found the dimmer unsatisfactory), another expectant dad, sporting a leather jacket and designer watch, finally snapped. He told the hippie to shut up, which is understandable—had he not been stopped, the guy would have probably requested a tank of dolphins be brought to the delivery room. Not that this justifies the aggressive macho behavior or anything.
Being pregnant is sort of like going to the army: You get to meet the kind of people you usually wouldn’t. And, sadly, they don’t go away after you give birth. After getting dirty looks on the playground for letting my kid snack on a non-organic banana and visiting one too many online mommy groups in which mothers refer to their offspring as “our little prince/princess” and lovingly complain about their husbands as if they were married to Ray Romano, I started to come to terms with the fact that most parents are not my kind of people. On the other hand, my kind of people usually don’t have kids. Luckily, I have my kid to hang out with.
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