The red light on my phone flashed again. It was just a few hours after my birth, and I already got 13 e‑mails and 22 text messages wishing me mazel tov, congratulations. Everyone was incredibly happy for me, and they would love to talk to me when I have a minute, no pressure.
My baby was 6 hours old. He was a blond who looked red-haired in the light, weighed a lot less than expected, and was serious about his job as a newborn. That means he cried a lot.
And so did I. It was a difficult birth. I had a C-section averted last minute, and an epidural that wore off, not to mention swelling and complications. Nursing got off to a bad start, with cuts and bruises to bear witness.
The unwanted thought kept repeating itself, at first timidly but gaining more confidence. "Everyone is so happy. I have a beautiful, healthy baby boy, thank G‑d. I'm also happy. But I am in pain! Every part of my body is screaming for attention with an itch, ache, or deficit of some sort (think sleep)."
Before I knew it, the mantra got shortened to "Everyone is happy, and I am in pain. Everyone is happy, and I am in pain."
And to my horror, it somehow got twisted to "What's there to be happy about? I am in pain!"
I knew I had to reach out. Through the fog I managed to send an e‑mail, propelled by my inner disequilibrium.
I received a short reply. "Don't worry. The pain will go away, and the baby will stay."
"The baby will stay. The baby will stay." I reread the last four words and they grew larger in my head, like the letters on an eye exam chart. There's something about black on white dancing off a little screen at 3 in the morning that can penetrate a distorted perspective. That can give a gentle and soothing reminder. This baby will stay.
My first one didn't.
It had been a normal pregnancy. Prenatals, maternity shopping and routine checkups. Two weeks before my due date, my doctor suspected that my baby was breeched, and he decided to do a sonogram.
He fidgeted with the thing for too long. What's the big deal to figure out where the head was?
My doctor looked up and said grimly, "There is something wrong with your baby's head."
That's how I was introduced to a page in What to Expect When You're Expecting that I had conveniently skipped over. The diagnostic term was "anencephaly." It meant my baby wouldn't make it.
I wasn't spared any pain then either. The labor was long, and the delivery excruciating. With all the medical interventions out there, none could medicate the searing pain of holding a child for the first and last time.
In the depth of my sorrow I questioned the pain, and I questioned the process I had just been through. A few short weeks later, as I sat through Rosh Hashanah services, I cried for the fresh wound piercing my heart. I cried for a womb which helped develop a child, but which did not produce life. And I wondered about the purpose of it all.
It seemed to me that the theme of Rosh Hashanah was childless women, hearing about it in the Torah reading, a haftorah, and in the rabbi's sermon. To me, that somehow validated my pain. I identified strongly with Chanah, mother of Samuel the prophet, as she struggled to deal with Peninah's growing family. I ached for Sarah, who eventually gave birth at 99, as I thought for the first time what it means for a woman not to bear children. She, too, must question why she must go through physical and emotional pain without seeing results.
In a very subtle way, I was uplifted as well. Sarah did eventually have children. Chanah too had a son, and she was able to fulfill her promise to raise him surrounded by holiness. As I read about Chanah's prayers, I visualized my own fusing with hers, tugging at a rope reaching the heavens. Maybe it wasn't so subtle; I felt a palpable sense of optimism as I neared the end of the reading. Chanah brought him to the House of G‑d and proudly said, "El hana'ar hazeh hitpalalti—this is the child I prayed for."
"This baby will stay." This year, I was going to stay home on Rosh Hashanah. I had a newborn baby to take care of, one who awoke three times a night and needed much love and care. I slowly allowed a new mantra to enter my consciousness. "El hana'ar hazeh hitpalalti"—this is the child I prayed so hard for. This is the purpose of it all! To raise a child of G‑d, one who will know Him and serve Him lovingly. I am in pain, yet there is reason to be happy.
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