In case of a miscarriage, stillbirth, or death of a new baby, the sense of loss can be overwhelming. Here’s how to cope.
Each journey the soul travels takes her higher.
There are journeys that are painful, because there is struggle. Struggle to wrestle out of one place to reach another, struggle to discern the good from the bad and put each in place, struggle to face ugliness and replace it with beauty. But in each of these, a sense of purpose overwhelms the pain and brings its own joy.
Then there are journeys that seem to have no purpose. Where nothing appears to be accomplished, all seems futile. There is no medicine to wash away the pain.
But every journey the soul travels takes her higher. It is only that in some, the destination is a place so distant, so lofty, she could never have imagined. Until she arrives.
by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski
My precious daughter carried a perfect little ‘angel’ for exactly nine months. Two days after due date, she suddenly did not feel life and upon rushing to the hospital, was told that the baby had died.
Why oh why, does my child have to suffer this immeasurable pain? I understand the ‘mystical’ side here and that they were chosen to carry this soul, but my pain, as a mother, watching my precious daughter give birth, knowing that this ‘angel’ was no longer alive, is so indescribably painful, that for months I thought I could never wake up again.
My daughter did everything so perfectly throughout her pregnancy. Never for one moment did we imagine that anything like this would happen. During her entire pregnancy, I prayed for this baby to be born healthy and well. What good were all my fervent prayers?
Since there is no funeral, no shiva and no Kaddish, how does one actually ‘mourn’ for this loss? I felt that there was no conclusion to the grief — it just went on and on with nothing to console me. To any woman who has carried a child for nine months with all the trials and discomfort, to suddenly be ’empty’ with nothing — how much more painful can anything be in this world?
Rebbetzin Feige replies:
Your pain is palpable, real, and totally understandable, especially to those of us who have shared the agonizing experience of losing a baby at or prior to birth.
Intellectual, religious, and Kabbalistic insight don’t assuage the pain or speak directly to the bleeding heart. The Mishnah so wisely advises: “Do not try to comfort the mourner, as long as the deceased is still before him.” There are no arguments, rationales, or theories that can address suffering and pain which are emotional expressions of the heart. The heart and mind deal in totally different currencies.
Nonetheless, borrowing from the verse in the Shema: “these words shall be placed upon your heart” — a commentary suggests that it would have been better articulated if we were charged to “place the words within your heart.” There are times, such as a grievous loss, that our hearts are not open or ready to absorb words of reason. The wound is too fresh and too raw. This thought is captured by the wise Yiddish adage: “What mind and reason cannot do, time will eventually accomplish.” And when time has exercised its healing effect, the words that we were unable to relate to — that we had placed “upon” our hearts — will then penetrate, be heard, and support the healing process.
REALMS OF ETERNITY
For the duration of the nine months of pregnancy, a woman has the unparalleled privilege of carrying and nurturing new life within her. She feels alive and creative. The death of the newborn, whether prior to or at the time of birth is a heartbreaking and grotesque betrayal of the primal maternal instinct. Death and sadness are the very antithesis of the life and joy she legitimately anticipated bringing into the world.
The Jewish mystical tradition informs that every soul enters this world with a mission. The context and challenges of a person’s life provide the necessary tools to discharge the raison d’etre of this individual. Our definition of what is “good” or “bad” in life conforms to our finite vision and limited experience in the here and now. The Kabbalistic view, in contrast, encompasses past, present, and future — both our temporal world and the supernal realms of eternity. The “full picture” is not within our human grasp. In the framework of ultimate reality, this little soul might have completed its journey, its mission in its brief nine months sojourn in-utero.
Your daughter, perhaps paradoxically, precisely because she was not blessed with the joys of raising this child, provided a totally loving and selfless environment for this soul to finish its work and achieve its eternal peace. In this vein, the definition of “life” is expanded. Providing the eternal peace and serenity to a soul whose life’s objective has thus been completed can certainly, from a spiritual prospective, be seen as a conferral of “life” of the highest order.
God’s ways are inscrutable, beyond our comprehension. But it is a fundamental principle of our faith that He knows what He is doing. There is consolation in the certainty that this was not a meaningless fate — nor that it was an arbitrary occurrence. There is purpose and meaning to everything that happens.
This brings to mind the classic exchange between Sir Bertrand Russell and a cleric. Russell commented, “I cannot believe in a God in whose world a child cries out in pain.” To which the cleric responded, “As for me, I cannot believe in a world in which a child cries out in pain and there is no God to justify it.”
You describe so beautifully your children’s excited anticipation and attendant religious ceremonies, juxtaposed by the subsequent poignant pain of loss and deprivation. Your description resounds with that age-old and ever-prevalent question of “why them?” Why do the righteous have to suffer?
The Talmud tells us that this very question was presented to God by Moses, whose prophetic powers are unrivaled in history. The text relates that the Almighty answered Moses with the words, “No man can look upon my face and live,” meaning that no mortal can comprehend God’s just but unfathomable governance of the world. Ultimately, only God, who has the master plan for the destiny of humankind, can answer that question.
As for us, we have to do our thing — choose to celebrate the good in life, attempting day by day to get a longer glimpse of the sun shining, and closer bonding with spouse, parents, family, and friends.
There are many questions about the provisions in Jewish law — halacha — and Jewish practice attending the loss of a baby prior, during, or following birth.
The rituals of shiva — the 7-day mourning period, eulogy, public burial, Kaddish, Yizkor, and gravestone unveiling are not observed for a baby who did not reach the age of 30 days. Two explanatory points are in order:
(1) The soul that has not survived the 30 days in this world is certainly of no less significance. However, their soul is not seen as having had a presence in the social and communal parameters of conventional existence. The above rituals are seen as public manifestations directly related to the impact on the community and society, and since this child did not have an existence, presence, or role within these parameters, rituals such as these would be superfluous and inappropriate.
(2) One must not see this as a reflection on the preciousness of this soul. This soul, as mentioned before, completed its mission, and while its existence is not acknowledged in a public modality, it is celebrated in the place it will forever occupy — in the hearts and minds of the parents of whom it was an integral part, and by the Almighty from whose essence it was hewn.
We must remember that our culture gives undue attention and importance to what is public, but for Jews the private and the personal has always been the domain venerated and respected as being the more authentic. I have known parents who in lieu of public ceremonies and in a desire to benefit this little soul, have dedicated learning, acts of charity, and the assumption of self-improvement modalities.
One rabbi and teacher, upon the loss of his own baby, painstakingly developed a comprehensive, Torah-based curriculum for grieving parents. He has presented this to hundreds of families who have received this desperately-needed guidance and comfort based on wisdom and expertise. Perhaps, he suggested, this was the contribution, the gift that his child’s loss had brought to the world. Without the loss, he said, none of this would have happened.
It must be noted that the absence of a public ritual may leave friends and family at a loss as how to respond. It does not however, relieve them from extending expression of sympathy and caring — a card, a call, an offer of assistance, etc. We dare not allow the bereaved to feel shunned and abandoned in their time of grief.
DEALING WITH DEATH
There is the cultural and generational gap between grieving practices of today and yesteryear. In both Europe and America, death was always very much an everyday, hands-on part of life. Infant mortality was very high and in an effort to encourage moving on with their lives, members of the burial society would unceremoniously remove the miscarried and stillborn from the home and bring them to proper burial. Since they had a healthy way of dealing with death, rituals and ceremonies did not seem to be necessary.
In our culture, there is an illusion perpetrated that if we are lucky, death does not have to be a part of life. Hence we have a tangible discomfort with the concept of death. We seek to keep it at a distance. It is kept sterile and anesthetized, and perhaps it is this discomfort that necessitates rituals for psychological closure.
Common practice recommended by grief counselors in hospitals everywhere suggests seeing and holding the deceased baby. Though picture taking provides a sterile image of the soul that was, some may find it therapeutic. For some, these practices lend realty and confirm at an emotional level that the nine months of gestation did indeed produce a real baby. Other rituals, seen as acts of possible closure, if deemed helpful, are not objectionable. It would however, be advisable to seek the guidance of a qualified rabbi.
There are many customs regarding naming the baby before burial. A fetus born with a recognizable human form should be given a name before being buried. Some suggest choosing a name that one would not use in the future for other children. Others suggest names that are expressive of the themes of consolation (Nechama) or mercy (Rachamim). Yet others have the custom of naming this child with a name they would hope to give in the future, but modified at that time by an additional name.
LESSONS OF THE SAGES
My friend Judy, who lost a baby at birth, sought the advice of a renowned sage. He inquired about her family and asked her how many children she had. She responded that she had 2 sons, ages 3 and 6, but that she had also had a daughter, Esther, who would have now been 8 years old. The sage gently but very sternly and empathetically corrected her. “No,” he said, “Esther would never have been 8 years old. She wasn’t meant to live or have a presence in this world.”
As hard as we try, it is difficult for us to disabuse ourselves of the illusion, the mistaken notion that these, our babies, were unrealized and unactualized potential. Coming to terms with the certainty that they were not meant to be, spares us the torturous self-blaming trips we subject ourselves to. The “if-only” trips: if only I’d had a better doctor, if only hadn’t exerted myself, if only I had prayed more, if only I had been a better person, etc.
While positive steps toward self-improvement are always beneficial, blaming yourself and others is counterproductive and totally off the mark.
Rabbi Moses Feinstein, of blessed memory, a revered halachic authority of the past half century, unequivocally states in his responsa that all that issues from the union between husband and wife, while unviable in this world, will be united with their mother in the future, with the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead.
Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory, in consoling one of his students who had just buried his oldest child, told him that the merit of his family, in being the crucible through which this soul found its peace, would make possible blessings for the entire family that were heretofore obstructed and could not have been possible. The student reports that indeed the child born thereafter was very special and that many other unexplainable and remarkable shifts occurred in his extended family shortly thereafter. The merit of being the vehicle for enabling the rectification of a soul, painful though it was, was rewarded. It opened doors of joy for many.
My daughter Yocheved lives in Manchester, England. Over the years, I was privileged to hear about and on one occasion to meet the saintly Rosh Yeshiva of Manchester, Rabbi Segal. He was that enviable combination of extraordinary Torah knowledge and a human being of magnificent proportions. His humility was legendary. He was accessible to all, and people flocked from everywhere to seek his wise counsel. He was vital up to the last moments of his life, and upon his passing, they found that he had left instructions declining burial in Israel or other desirable family plots. He requested to be buried in the lot reserved for and among the miscarried, stillborn, and very young departed children.
It seemed that his purpose was twofold. The first was that these were the purest and most exalted of souls and he sought the privilege of making his eternal rest among them. The second was that Rabbi Segal wanted to assure the mothers who had not had the opportunity or the joy to care for these children, that he would care for them until they would be reunited with their families at the time to come.
NEVER QUITE THE SAME
Some practical notes are in order. The postpartum condition of weight gain and hormone fluctuation can be challenging even in the best of times, but certainly when there is no baby to love and care for. There is no compensatory factor, only the negative effects of pregnancy. In recognition of this, the family needs to be especially sensitive, understanding, and patient with the process of recovery.
Your daughter needs to help herself by actively seeking ways to promote her own well-being; a vacation with her husband, new scenery, exercise, a class she has been wanting to take, reading, writing, meditation. Constructive pursuits will give her something of a growth mode that will have been born and nurtured in a time that has been punctuated by death and loss. She needs to know that her roller coaster emotions are normal and will abate with time and eventual healing.
Finally, while no one deliberately seeks adversity, there is a profound well of sensitivity, creativity, and wisdom that only deep pain can excavate from the recesses of our being. We are never quite the same. What we have endured and overcome makes us bigger, stronger, and wiser. A secular writer echoes this very sentiment when he asks: “Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”
Though there were times when we thought we would not survive the pain, we find out that situations such as these can bring us closer to God and closer to our loved ones. And we realize that we are resilient and equal to life despite — or perhaps even because of — its pitfalls.
The sudden loss of a pregnancy shakes the world of a young mother-to-be.
At the age of 11 I told my mother that I wanted to be a midwife when I grew up. By the age of 16 I was in a midwifery study group learning sterile technique. By the age of 20 I was a certified labor coach.
When I moved to Israel, married my husband, and became pregnant at the age of 21, I was certain that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood were going to be beautiful, fulfilling, and all the rest. Why shouldn’t they be? I had attended 27 births and had read every book I could lay my hands on about pregnancy, birth, and beyond. What could go wrong? I was an expert.
My doctor assured me at my regular checkups that I was one of the lucky ones. I had been blessed with a very healthy pregnancy. My husband and I spent countless hours playing guitar, singing, and bonding with our daughter-to-be. We called her “Little One.”
When my blood pressure sky-rocketed in my last trimester I took it as a personal insult. Wasn’t I eating the healthiest possible food? Wasn’t I resting, exercising, and taking my vitamins? What had I done wrong?
For the first time in my life, I felt that I was not in control. I was doing everything right, but everything was still wrong. As my due date approached, I was relieved that soon the nightmare would be over, or so I thought.
But I was wrong. The nightmare was just beginning.
One morning, I woke up and I did not feel any fetal movement. I rushed to the hospital terrified that my baby was in distress. In the ultrasound the doctor could not find a heartbeat. My Little One, it turned out, was dead.
Like one in 2000 pregnant women I had been stricken with Toxemia. This deadly illness had killed our unborn daughter, and, we later found out, it had nearly killed me as well.
When my husband held our lifeless baby in the delivery room, I saw him cry for the first time in my life. She had my husband’s ears and my husband’s feet. She had my nose and my dark curly hair. She was the most beautiful baby I ever saw. We buried her near our home in the Golan in the cemetery of Tiberias, one of the four holy cities of the Land of Israel.
As I began the long haul to recuperation from the birth and the Toxemia, I also began looking for someone to blame. I started with myself. I would call my mom or my husband almost every day with a new reason why Little One had died. Before long, my husband would begin conversations with me by saying, “No, Rachel. You didn’t kill your kid.” That was a hard phase to be in.
Acquaintances would ask me, “What happened? How did your baby die?” but all I could hear was the accusation, “Why didn’t you save your daughter? Didn’t you love her?” One lady asked me why I hadn’t done an emergency C-section to save the baby. As if I could have.
When I started getting my health back, and all the help and meals stopped a few weeks after the birth, the true sadness set in. The sadness was like an anvil that came to live over our home. I was supposed to be up to my ears in diapers and dealing with a baby. Instead, I felt like there was a gaping chasm of emptiness in my heart to fill.
A lot of people during that period told me that I looked good and seemed happy. I let them keep their illusions. These people only saw me after three hours of talking myself into getting out of bed.
I tried to distract myself from my grief by burying myself in work. The problem was that by profession I am a labor coach. I went to a few births and I would come home so depressed that my husband begged me to stop blaming myself and punishing myself by going to births when I was far from ready.
Then there came a point a few months after the birth that I could function better and felt healthier. That was when I started to get angry. Very angry. I was angry at God and at just about everything He created. I was angry at the injustice. How could God do this to me? Why had God let me carry my daughter so long just in order to lose her at the last moment?
After one really hard day I sat down and just screamed out my frustration at God. I told Him exactly how furious I was at Him.
What came out of that was something incredible, something I didn’t expect.
That dark day, with tears streaming down my face, I finally let go.
I realized that I am not in control. And that’s okay. I realized that I’m just not going to be able to understand everything that God does in this world. And that’s also okay. I know these sound like simple concepts, but accepting them was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
It was around that time that I read the beautiful poem “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson that helped me a lot over the following months. In the poem, a man dreams that he is walking along a beach with God. Across the sky he sees the scenes of his life, and he sees two sets of footprints in the sand accompanying each scene: one set belonging to him, and one set belonging to God. When the man sees the last scene of his life, he looks back and sees that during the lowest, saddest points of his life, there is only one set of footprints in the sand.
In anger and disappointment the man challenges God,
‘…during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?’ The Lord replied, ‘The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.’
During those difficult months of recovery I kept this poem in my mind even on those days that I didn’t believe it. And then, without noticing, I began to believe it. I decided that even when life is difficult, I still need to live here. I still need to live.
Over the past 15 months since the birth, my husband and I have changed so much. Our faith has grown. Our humility has grown. Our sensitivity to the suffering of others has grown.
As part of our own healing process, last spring my husband and I decided to start an organization called HUG (Holistic Understanding of Grief) so that other couples would have a place to turn to for their physical and emotional needs following the loss of a pregnancy or baby. My husband and I both feel that Little One was one of HUG’s cofounders.
Looking back, I see that I spent the year following the birth like a caterpillar in a cocoon of grief. Nobody could see what was happening inside that cocoon. I couldn’t see either, until I flew out of that cocoon, from darkness to the light of day — transformed.
Looking back, I realize that our baby was never born. But in the end, I was
Labors of Light & Darkness
By Robyn Cuspin, http://www.chabad.org
The night before my routine ultrasound, I cried for two hours, as waves of sadness crashed over me, and took me deeper and deeper into a sea of grief, a grief so deep there were no words, only tears, a grief so deep I couldn’t reach its center. Finally, exhausted I slept. I dreamt then that I began to bleed, and a small amount of tissue, as soft and boneless as a strawberry flowed out with the bleeding.
When I awoke in the morning, I remembered the dream, but since I wasn’t actually bleeding, I wasn’t very disturbed by the dream. Rather, I found myself still overcome by the waves of grief crashing over me. I went about my day fighting back tears, but since I couldn’t identify the source of the grief, I didn’t cry.
That afternoon, I went for the ultrasound. As I lay on the table, I eagerly watched my baby appear on the screen. There was its head, its spine, a mystery finally revealed. Although we don’t usually find out a baby’s gender, I was overcome by a feeling that this time I would find out, as though after this ultrasound there would be no more mysteries.
We have a problem, the doctor informed me. And slowly he broke the news that the baby I was now seeing had in fact passed away a month previously. For the past month, I had been carrying a baby who was already dead. Impossible, I thought. How could my baby have died, and my body not have known. And yet I remembered the dream, and the waves of grief that had crashed over me all last night and this morning. My body had known. My body had been trying to tell me, to prepare me for this moment. Finally I understood the source of my pain. Finally I cried.
Meeting with the doctor, we discussed the problem. Obviously, the situation could not continue. The baby would need to come out. Usually, in such cases, the mother’s body spontaneously begins to expel the baby, but since my body had not, I would need to go into the hospital for medical intervention.
At almost six months, an induced labor seemed the best solution, although another procedure also existed, of removing the baby under general anesthesia. Not every hospital preformed the procedure, called D & E, at this stage. The doctor recommended that I return home, and call the hospitals in the morning to make an appointment. Obviously, if I began to bleed, I should go straight to the emergency room.
I returned home, convinced that now, its message finally revealed, my body would act as in the dream, and begin bleeding. But no, in the morning I called the various hospitals, and discussed the options they offered. The thought of going through labor with no baby to birth seemed intensely sad, and made the D&E more appealing. Yet the thought of the baby being removed while I was unconscious seemed somehow like a rape, an intrusion on my body’s right to say goodbye to the baby it had nurtured for almost six months. I sensed my body’s need to be involved in this process, despite my natural aversion to pain.
Furthermore, no appointments for a D&E were available for a full week, and I could not carry this baby I now knew had died for another week. I accepted Shaarei Tzedek Hospital’s option of a vaginally induced abbreviated labor as the best option, and checked into the hospital.
The messages were confusing. This would be a labor, this would not be a labor, there would be contractions, there wouldn’t be real contractions, essentially I would lie in bed, and the baby would fall out. I would not need to push.
After a chemical substance was introduced into my uterus, I was told to lie down with my legs together and not move so the substance wouldn’t flow out. Painkiller would be available if I needed it. Almost immediately I was gripped by powerful and painful contractions, made excruciating by my immobilized position. Here was labor as I had always dreaded and avoided in my previous active and informed labors. Unable to use movement to cope with the pain, which had begun with no buildup, I accepted the painkillers.
I was transferred back to my room to labor until the baby would slide out. Painkiller was administered intravenously, but now I was told, having accepted painkiller, I was forbidden to get out of bed. Still, I utilized every position available to me while technically remaining on the bed. I rocked through my contractions, and for a time it helped. Still the intensity built until I felt an intense need to move in a way the bed did not allow.
Although I had briefly considered taking a labor coach to the hospital, since I didn’t really understand what I was getting in for, I found it hard to ask someone to accompany me into the unknown. I regret this now. The induction procedure had rendered me a niddah immediately, while simultaneously ushering me into an intense and active labor, for which there had been no preparation, as in a natural labor in which the body slowly accustoms itself to the successive stages of labor. My husband, although a supportive presence, could not suffer me the physical support I needed as an anchor in the endless sea of contractions.
Despite what I had been told, this was indeed real labor. I was shaking, vomiting, and in severe pain without anyone who could offer physical comfort. Defeated I accepted the next level of painkillers, narcotics, which I was assured would remove the pain entirely. The narcotics administered, the sides of my bed were now put up to ensure that I wouldn’t fall out. Luckily for me, one side was broken, which would ultimately provide me with an escape from this nightmare of passive, bed-confined labor.
The next few hours passed in a drug induced haze. I slept, waking up to experience intense contractions which the drugs did not relieve, only to fall asleep immediately afterwards. I lost all sense of time and self. I was still experiencing pain, but I was powerless to respond to it in any way.
Yet a sense of betrayal remained. They promised me the narcotics would take the pain away, and they didn’t. In rebellion, I crawled out of my bed, into the comfortable armchair at the side of the bed. I rocked in the armchair, dozed, and woke to powerful contractions. I was still caught in a nightmare, and yet I felt more in control, more self-aware, more supported by the armchair in which I had chosen than the bed they had forced on me.
Hours later, the narcotics began to wear off. During all this time, no staff had come to check on me or inquire about my well-being. I was very much alone. As the medicine wore off, I realized that labor is composed of two simultaneous processes – a woman in labor and a baby being born. Here, in this labor of darkness with no birth to focus on as the reward for this pain, there was only one process – my labor and how it would proceed. The medical world has always been blind to the dual nature of this process, and now with no birth to monitor, they were oblivious to the reality of the labor proceeding in room 116, or the experience of the woman who labored there.
As the narcotics relinquished their hold, I was faced with a decision how to proceed. I was still experiencing painful and intense contractions, which the painkillers had not alleviated. Should I take an epidural, and relinquish control completely, in the hope of finally being pain free, or should I take an active role, get up, and begin to use gravity and movement as I had learned in my previous labors of light to advance the labor and help it progress. I wanted help deciding. I wanted to know how much progress had been made. I sent my husband to ask a nurse to come check me.
My husband returned alone. The nurse had declined to come, saying that since I did not have to be completely dilated for the baby to come out, there was no point in her checking. I was angry. I was abandoned. I was alone with no guide, except for my previous experiences in labor. I davened for strength.
I sensed somehow, that my labor had lost its momentum during the hours that I had drifted in a narcotic haze, and that if I would continue to not respond to the contractions in an effective manor, the labor could continue indefinitely. My husband reported independently experiencing the same feeling at the same point in the labor, although we did not discuss it.
I also felt that having now experienced contractions for several hours, I was prepared to deal with them in a way that initially I had not. My body had become accustomed to the pain, and regained its equilibrium. I no longer needed to escape this pain, which had begun so suddenly and intensely. Now I could cope with it.
I was suffering. I decided I had to act. I would tell no one, but I would begin to actively push the baby out. They had told me I would not need to push, but it had not been true. I would push this baby out. Alone, I would deliver this baby, and thus bring an end to this seeming endless pain. I could not bring my baby into the world, but I could bring myself out of this labor.
My decision was strengthened by another conviction that I wanted to hold my baby in my arms, and say goodbye before we parted, and though my contact with the medical staff had been very limited, nevertheless, I sensed that they would not approve of this decision, and would perhaps even attempt to prevent it. But my body had labored to bring this baby out, and I believed it deserved an opportunity to say goodbye.
I went deep into myself. I told my body that it was time to release this baby. The baby had already been dead for a month as my body continued to hold on. But it was time to stop being pregnant now. It was time to move on. I willed my body to let go, just as I had in previous labors when I had told myself to open up and let the baby be born. Now I told my body that it was time to give this baby up, to let the baby go to the next world.
I got up. I walked around. I tried different positions. I went back and forth to the bathroom. Soon I was in constant motion, not sitting, just moving, rocking, walking. I went back to the bathroom. Alone in that room, the door closed to the world, I told my body again it was time to let go. I pushed, and the baby slid out easily, still encased in the fetal sac. I held it in my hand, and felt its tiny head and spine, that I had seen on the ultrasound monitor. I said goodbye.
Then I came out of the bathroom, and told my husband to go tell the staff the baby had come. The nurses came in hysterical. How had this happened? Why hadn’t I called them? How could I stand there, holding my dead baby? Why didn’t I care that I was bleeding? Why was I not in bed? Why had I not done things their way?
I took a shower. I got into bed. Their hysteria was far away from me. In their decision not to be part of my labor, in their declining to come check me and help me make the decision how to proceed, they had lost the right to be part of when and how this labor would end.
That decision was made as it began, in a private conversation between my body and me, when my body first began to communicate its deep waves of grief.
I write this story, which is not a birth story but a story of labor, and how a woman can choose to communicate with her body even in a time of pain, sadness, and deep loneliness. Even in a hospital environment that is alien and hostile to that communication process. Even if initially she gives up the right to that communication.
Even as I walk through the valley of death, I will not fear evil, because You are with me. Some labors are a walk through the valley of death. But we can still walk upright and with dignity, knowing that Hashem walks with us. I don’t know why I had to make this walk, but I know that I needed to make it consciously and actively, to escort my baby into the next world.
Goodbye baby. I’m glad I got to hold you, if only for a moment. I’m glad I overcame my fear of pain so I could consciously labor to bring you release from this world.
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Courage to Cry
By Debbie Shapiro
I recently took part in a two-day retreat for couples that had experienced the loss of a child or of a potential child. Baruch Hashem, my husband and I are blessed with a beautiful family, however, as with most couples, we have also had our share of trials and tribulations. About sixteen years ago we lost a daughter shortly after birth. Although it was an extremely difficult time for us as a family and for me personally, ultimately our family gained immensely from the challenge. And as I explained to the other women at the retreat, as the surrounding tapestry of life becomes increasingly full and vibrant, that empty black hole becomes less noticeable. But it will never disappear completely, and I hope that it will never disappear completely.
Many of the young women who were at the retreat had recently suffered the loss of a small child. I was awed by their ability to allow themselves to feel the pain, and to use their emuna to integrate that pain into the tapestry of their lives. As one of the women who recently lost a child expressed herself, “There’s such a distance between what I know to be true – this child completed what he had to do in this world, that Hashem is giving me this challenge as my personal Tikkun – and the intense emotional pain I am feeling right now. But that, too, is part of Torah. I am supposed to mourn.”
INTEGRATING EMUNA INTO OUR LIVES
About six years ago I was asked to speak to a newly religious young woman whose mother had been killed in a terrorist several months earlier. The young woman gave me an entire lecture on emuna – that her mother had concluded her mission in life, that she had gone to a better place, and that now that she had Torah, there was no reason for her to feel sad about what happened. “I never cried, or felt sad. I’m happy about what happened, because I know that that is what had to be.”
“Everything you’re saying is true. But the Torah says that we are supposed to mourn. Don’t use Torah as an excuse to escape reality. Use it to help you face reality,” was, in a nutshell, my response.
It’s a common mistake to think that Torah is a “quick fix.” “I’ve got Torah, so now I don’t need anything else.” Sorry folks, but becoming fully Torah observant; integrating Torah into our lives so that we are totally one with Torah, is hard work. We can’t use emuna to escape the realities of life.
In “Garden of Joy” Rabbi Arush points at the fallacy of people who use emuna to escape their responsibilities.
The marriage contract states that the husband is required to support his family. Our Rabbis derive from this that it if a husband cannot properly support his wife, he must go to work to support her. This contradicts the arguments of those people who claim to be such great believers in God that they have no need to work. When their wives complain that there is no food to feed their families, these “great believers” chastise their wives saying, “What? Don’t you have emuna? God wants us to have financial problems, so accept those difficulties with love. Where is your trust in God? Don’t you believe that everything that happens to us is for the best?” Rabbi Arush, Garden of Joy
I recently spoke with a woman with an addiction problem. She told me that when she became religious, she thought that she could do away with her support groups and “program.” In other words, she thought that now that she had Torah, she could forget about the hard work of growth and change. Instead, she plunged back into her addiction. Today, she is taking the bull by the horns – davening, turning to Hashem, and using her emuna to help her change her life around. And as she is growing and changing, her emuna is becoming deeper and stronger, integrated into the deepest part of her being.
Being religious is not about escaping reality. Being religious is about facing reality head on, with the knowledge that that reality is our challenge in life, to be used wisely to sharpen our clarity and bring us closer to the Almighty. It takes deep courage to face our realities, to use our challenges as tools of growth.
During the two days that I spent at the retreat for women who had lost a child, I met several women who had faced their challenge with true emuna, and as a result they had grown and gained greater clarity. These women said that although they would have never asked for such a difficult and painful test, facing that challenge had brought them to a place they could have never attained without it. They had crossed a spiritual bridge and grown immensely.
In today’s world, we are bombarded with messages to “go out and have a good time.” The media screams to us, constantly, to stop thinking and listen to the latest earthshaking report, or to watch the just released award winning movie, or play the latest video game. The malls are open twenty four hours a day, begging us to numb our senses and buy, buy, buy! Internet is always there, luring us to become a zombie as we surf the web.
But that’s not life – that’s escaping life! Life is about facing our challenges, and growing from them. Life is feeling the pain, yet having full emuna that that is what we must do, because that is how we will discover our own lives and gain a deeper relationship with the Almighty. And yes, of course, just as we can feel the pain, we can – and will – feel joy, and use that joy to grow. We will really feel joy because we are truly living to our fullest.
It is my blessing that we use our challenges as tools of growth; that rather than escaping life, we face life head-on to become the best that we possibly can.