By Lisa Stein, LMSW
In this life, there are many things to be grateful for: the air that we breathe, the functioning of our bodies, our children. When I found out I was pregnant again, I was elated! My husband and I have been hoping and praying for a third child. My youngest child is seven years old. I memorized each doctor’s appointment and looked forward to seeing my baby’s heartbeat. Each time I saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound I fell more and more in love. The “baby” and I already had a connection that nobody could understand—not even my husband. But at the next doctor’s visit I saw with my own eyes that it was not to be. I had lost another one. The heartbeat ceased to exist. The sadness that ensued is indescribable. This would be miscarriage number five.
If there is one thing we can say about Judaism, it is that nothing is left to chance—everything happens for a reason. Well, if that was true, then I had a lot of questions.
To quote one of my favorite teachers, Rebbetzin Heller, “The times of challenge are the times of greatest growth.” I didn’t want to grow. I wanted to hold my baby in my arms! I felt singled out in my pain. I felt alone. I felt inadequate. I was mad, upset, and kept thinking how unfair life could be. What did I do to deserve this? How it is so easy for the woman standing next to me to conceive her millionth child while I am having so much trouble? Am I being punished for something I did or didn’t do?
But I couldn’t wallow in self-pity for too long. The desire to turn this into something positive started to take shape. I decided that I was not going to keep this a secret anymore, as I had in the past. I took away the power of shame and guilt by expressing to my family and friends what I was going through and how I was feeling about it. As soon as I started talking about my recurring miscarriages, other women let me know about their own challenges with pregnancy. The comfort I felt in knowing I was not alone was important in my healing process.
We know from the Torah that all of the matriarchs had problems with infertility (yes, even Leah). I tried to find comfort in that fact and tried hard to learn from their examples. There is a great book called Infertility in the Bible, by Jessie Fischbein, that gave me a lot of insight into the reproductive lives of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, Leah, and Hannah. Even though they did not have the medical interventions that we have today, there are references to Rachel taking dudaim to help her conceive. What are dudaim? It has been explained that they are a type of plant that grows at the time of the wheat harvest. Other commentators say dudaim was an herb or a mood-setting perfume. Rachel tried to use all resources available to her and approached her infertility with both physical and spiritual means. From this I learned that the action/prayer partnership might be the right recipe to try for myself. I have to physically do what is within my power in order to achieve my goal (e.g., see the NYC specialists that were recommended to me—even though I did not want to do any invasive tests).
Another woman in Judaism, who used prayer to help her situation, was Hannah. She was able to bring about divine intervention by opening her heart to Hashem and pleading with Him to help her conceive. She also had a supportive husband, Elkana, who loved her. He took great care of her and never wanted her to be upset because they did not have a child. He worried about her and wanted her to be happy. This is not unlike my own husband, who is always telling me how happy he is with the family he has and that he loves me no matter what. He would support any decisions I would make regarding going forward with any treatments.
Jewish women are trained from birth to want and to have many children. When this does not happen, one can feel inadequate and sometimes even embarrassed. This is how I felt, and it is what I expressed in the North Shore University Hospital pregnancy loss support group last year that my doctor suggested to me. It was one of the best things I could have done for myself. Everyone in that room had an opportunity to speak about what they had gone through and how it was affecting them and their family. We all had different stories but very similar feelings. This normalized what I was going through and we became instant friends.
Some people have said some hurtful things to me, though I am sure they didn’t mean to, or didn’t even know that they had. I have heard comments such as “But don’t you want to try for a girl since you have two boys?” Or “Wow! I have not seen you since you had a baby.” (I must have looked a little fat that day.) Or the best was when someone asked me how many children I had, and when I told him I had two boys, he responded with “That’s it?” I guess it’s hard for people who have never had any troubles in this department, or those who come from large families, to understand how I can only have two children. Sensitivity to miscarriage and stillbirth is so important to a woman. Unless you know someone is for sure pregnant, there is no reason to comment on her belly. If you see a frum woman with only one or two children, please don’t ask if she plans to have any more—chances are she is trying.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh has said that every soul that comes into this world comes with a specific mission. The holiest of souls need so little time in this world that some never make it outside the womb. Some merely need their heart to beat once, others not even that. And the revered Rabbi Moshe Feinstein stated in his responsa that all miscarried and stillborns, while unviable in this world, will be reunited with their mothers in the future, with the coming of Mashiach and the resurrection of the dead. Although this will not bring back the precious souls that my husband and I have “lost,” it gives me comfort and reassurance that we will be together with the coming of Mashiach. v
Lisa Stein is a social worker and founder of Steincounseling.com. She welcomes your comments at Steinismine@gmail.com.