(Kveller via JTA) — I had hoped for a mikveh immersion at the end of my first pregnancy. I wanted the ritual waters to embrace me as a soon-to-be mother as openly as they had to Judaism and to marriage. I had dreamed of how I wanted every aspect of my pregnancy to be. In retrospect, I lovingly refer to it as “granola-inspired naivete” – healthy eating, prenatal yoga, perineal massage and an unmedicated birth culminating with me cradling my vernix-covered infant and then nursing on demand.
But all those things slipped away as my pregnancy became complicated. Hospitalization and bed rest had me paralyzed with fear and feelings of inadequacy. And the mikveh? My doctor explained that with a prematurely dilated cervix, risking infection in a public bath was out of the question.
I was able to carry my son to the nine-month point, but the birth was more medicalized than I had hoped. Both my body and spirit were weak, and the post-partum period wasn’t easy on me. It was a defining time in my life. Motherhood cut like a knife, but being that vulnerable and lost was a blessing in disguise. I climbed out of that place where I didn’t know how to mother. Building myself back up took grit and determination I didn’t know I had. I can still close my eyes and summon that place deep inside where I carry the scars of how raw and exposed my soul felt.
After that came my miscarriage, another scar my heart bears but bravely endures.
So when I became pregnant for a third time, my excitement was muted with worry. Thirteen weeks spent fearing miscarriage followed by another 13 weeks fearing preterm labor. And at week 26, the same point things took a turn with my first pregnancy, I ate, slept, and breathed those fears.
I needed a new beginning.
I started prenatal yoga and hired a doula. I began to plan for the birth I wanted. I let myself bask in the joy of a healthy pregnancy. I soaked up an entire summer with my firstborn and found myself fearlessly awaiting the birth of my second. And I finally made that trip to the mikveh.
It was 37 weeks to the day. I trimmed and scrubbed my nails. I showered and twisted my wet hair into a bun as I drove to pick up a friend. We chatted on the short drive and I remember the sky was pink with dusky summer’s end. We passed carefully tended rows of tomato plants as we buzzed the side door to the old brick house.
An old woman led my friend to a waiting room and me to the dressing room. She told me to shower and finish any cleaning I had not done at home, and to ring the bell when I had finished. I stood in the mirror combing out my wet hair, staring at the roundness of my figure, in awe of how far I’d come.
I rang the bell.
The attendant came and checked my body carefully. She asked if water could flow freely between my skin and the red string on my wrist. I told her it could.
She and my friend helped me down into the pool. I felt the warm waters around me like a familiar embrace, welcoming me home. I had to breathe deeply so as not to cry. My friend held the prayers where I could see them and I read (in part):
As I stand here today in the fullness of pregnancy, I am grateful for the miraculous workings of my body…
You within your waters and me within this pool, together we immerse in honor of all the generations that came before us…
Immersion. Breath. “Kosher,” the old woman’s gruff voice echoed.
You and I have traveled together as one for nine months. Soon we will separate …
Immersion. Breath. “Kosher.”
I pray that we will be guided safely through the passage of labor and birth and that you will arrive with strength and vigor …
Immersion. Breath. “Kosher.”
As I become a mother, I pray for patience and the ability to ask for help, for a willingness to listen to my intuition and to trust myself …
Blessed are you Eternal our God, for giving me life, for sustaining me and through one miracle after another, bringing me to this moment.
“Kosher. That was just beautiful,” she said to me.
I felt as if I finally owned motherhood, like the past three-and-a-half years were an uphill trek to this moment where God wrapped me in water and told me to trust myself. The mikveh waters washed away my fears and replaced them with an indescribable closeness to God and my unborn child. My tears blended unnoticed under the water as the prayers echoed back to me.
The waters welcomed me again when I returned to the mikveh a year later, pregnant with my daughter. I will tell my children their stories of the mikveh – how the waters held us while I cried, about the same raspy “Kosher” after each emerging breathe, and the blessings on us all.
The Ninth Month of Pregnancy Immersion Ceremony was provided by the Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh. Only small parts of the ceremony were shared in this piece; to learn more visit www.mayyimhayyim.org.
Kveller is a thriving community of women and parents who convene online to share, celebrate, and commiserate their experiences of raising kids through a Jewish lens. Visit Kveller.com.