BY DOREEN WACHMANN
MIRIAM Petashnick had reached the age of 38 without finding a husband-to-be.
But the religious special needs teacher, living in Jerusalem, was more worried about her biological clock ticking away than the fact that she had yet to find her beshert (the husband destined for her).
So, on rabbinic advice, she decided to freeze her eggs.
After spending a lot of money on the expensive medicine necessary for the process, American-born Miriam discovered that at her age, egg freezing was not a viable option.
So, inspired by the organisation Kayama, which encourages older religious single women to become mothers, last year unmarried Miriam gave birth to darling daughter Rose, who was conceived through IVF.
"A lot of the rabbis say you can freeze your eggs and, when you meet Prince Charming, you can defrost and use them," she told me.
"I spent thousands of dollars on the medication. Little did I know at the time that it was one big bluff."
It was at a Kayama convention that Miriam heard a doctor say that eggs harvested after the age of 35 had little chance of success, particularly if used after the age of 40.
The Kayama convention was a life-changing event for her.
"Kayama, which means existence and continuity, actually encourages religious girls after a certain age to bring a child into this world," Miriam said.
"Not only do the rabbis who support it, such as Rabbi Benny Lau and Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, say it's an OK thing, but that it is even a mitzva, the fulfilment of peru u'revu (the commandment to be fruitful and multiply), that it's not a right, but a must.
"You need to fulfil the right to be a mother."
She added: "At the convention a doctor totally burst my bubble about freezing eggs after the age of 35.
"He said that if you have already hit 40, just forget about it. I was like, Oh my gosh! There's a big bluff in the religious public that they make you feel you can freeze your eggs and then use them whenever you want. It's totally not true. I just believed the rabbis.
"I burst out crying and I said to someone sitting next to me, whom I barely knew, I'm bringing a child into this world, I don't want to live and be alone without a kid.
"I want to have a kid and fulfil motherhood. Husbands you can find later. It's not like I don't want to meet someone to marry. That's something you can do at any age.
"But having a child of your own is something you can't do at any age."
Miriam kept on dating, not realising how badly her biological clock was ticking away until she miraculously conceived Rose through IVF at the age of 44.
She said: "It was more of a miracle than anything else. At the time I didn't realise that I should have done it five or 10 years ago.
"I only realise in retrospect that my whole story is one big miracle. My first try of IVF succeeded. That's a complete miracle.
"Usually you have to try a lot of times. The pregnancy went smoothly. Rose was born last August."
In order to avoid the halachic problem of entering into a forbidden relationship with an anonymous Jewish donor who may be a Cohen or a mamzer, Miriam's sperm donor was a non-Jewish medical student in Israel.
She said: "They told me his background. He was originally from Russia. They tell you everything about him. You don't see a picture, but you know his age group.
"I did a lot of genetic testing so I had to make sure that he did also to make sure we were not carriers of genetic diseases. But you are not told his name."
Miriam added: "He was a donor, not a father. I don't want my daughter growing up thinking there's a father around. It's not a father. It's someone who did it for the sake of money.
"As far as I know, he could have 100 kids. My argument was that psychologically I prefer it this way, where my daughter can never find out. She needs to know that it's not a real father."
Miriam has decided to be very open with Rose when she starts asking questions.
She said: "I will tell her she was born like a flower. That's why her name is Rose, like a plant, a seed, that's how she grew in my stomach. I really believe in being upfront as much as I can."
Then she added: "Of course, if I meet a husband, obviously she'll have a father."
Miriam was pleasantly surprised about how accepting her religious friends and family were of her single motherhood.
She said: "I had a co-teacher, who was very religious. I didn't tell her I was pregnant until late on. She came up to me and said that her rabbi husband had said that I did the right thing.
"My parents are very religious and were a bit concerned. My mum got all the religious information from the rabbis.
"Then she was very accepting. In the beginning it might have been hard for her because she really wanted me to marry, but both my parents are very accepting and loving and are very happy about it."
Nor does Miriam, who has now gone back to work part-time, find it a burden rearing a child alone.
She said: "I enjoy my daughter 24/7. Only about twice when she woke in the middle of the night, did I think it would have been so nice to have someone to help.
"As much as I'm an independent person, I realise my schedule totally revolves around hers. She chooses my timetable. She goes with me everywhere I go."
One of Kayama's co-founders is London-born Dina Pinner, who recently spoke about her organisation at a Limmud conference in which a video of Miriam and Rose was shown.
Miriam understands that British rabbis are resistant to change and don't support older single women who want to conceive through IDF.
She said: "Rabbis in Britain should be more open about the truth.
"Women should know that after a certain age, they won't be able to conceive even if they can freeze their eggs.
"There has to be more education in the religious world, not hush-hush. America is much more open than England."