Entering into Uncertainty

Starting IVF in the times of Coronavirus is the ultimate act of uncertainty:

This process is always uncertain enough, but Coronavirus adds new factors, like possible potential quarantine. For me, every time, throughout IVF, there is the underlying, biggest uncertainty of all: Not knowing if you will ever be given the gift of motherhood.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Eve, the first mother, who is cursed with pain and travail during childbirth as punishment for eating from the fruit of knowledge. I have come to believe that this reality describes not only the pain of pregnancy and childbirth, but also, the pain that some women must endure in order to become pregnant. The cruel realities of biology impose themselves over and over again; My husband is extremely supportive, but at the end of the day, I must be the one to take the drugs and have a procedure under general anaesthesia in order for us to have children.

But what was Eve’s sin?

Reading over the serpent’s tempting words, he says, “You shall be as God, knowing good and bad.” (Genesis 3:5).

Surely, Eve must have already had intelligence and a moral compass before she ate from the tree, or it would have been unfair for God to punish her. So this “knowledge of good and bad” that the serpent describes must be a different type of knowledge, a knowledge that will make a person “be as God”. What kind of knowledge is this Godly knowledge? Absolute knowledge – certainty. This includes (but is not limited to) absolute moral clarity, and knowing all outcomes of all actions.

For most of us humans, we walk in shades of grey, trying – but often failing – to see all the consequences of a certain path, making the best moral decisions we can while knowing that we may never have all the facts of our disposal. And of course, we have uncertainty about our very existence -how and when we may die; if our existence may beget the existence of other souls into this universe.

Eve was looking for absolute certainty, a type of absolute knowledge that is reserved for God alone. Her punishment is meted out, measure for measure: Absolute uncertainty when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Adam, who shared Eve’s sin, is also given his punishment measure for measure: uncertainty over his financial future; dependence on an agricultural cycle in which many factors are beyond his control.

Today, women share in the “burdens of Adam”: Women have their own careers and are financially independent. But, for those who wish to become mothers, they still share in the burdens of Eve as well. In fact, the protracted nature of pregnancy and childbirth (including a necessary recovery period) means that women’s decisions to become mothers often have a negative impact on their careers. Men don’t have to take time off of work in order to become fathers. But for mothers, extended maternity leave may easily slide into stay-at-home motherhood; even for women who go back to work, studies show that many heterosexual couples with an egalitarian household model before kids fall into more traditional gender roles once children are born.

The sin of seeking absolute certainty was repaired by Abraham. God tells Abraham “Go for/to yourself….to the land that I will show you”. (Genesis 12:1)

God is asking Abraham to enter into the uncertainty. In order to go to and for himself, towards the person who he wants to be, his essential soul, Abraham must journey to the land that God will promise him: the future that can be seen by God alone. Each of us, in our lives, in our journey towards self-actualization, is always journeying towards that land, because none of us knows what the future holds. But it is only by having the courage to keep on walking, in pursuit of the people we feel we were meant to be, that we can arrive at our desired destination.

Coronavirus heightens that sense of uncertainty that, as human beings, is our constant accompaniment. So does IVF. And that can be difficult, sometimes. But the choice is ours: to futilely pursue a fruit of certainty that is constantly beyond our grasp, or to continue walking, having faith in God -and in ourselves -that we have the strength to reach the promised land: the place where we can look at the universe, and feel ourselves whole within it. That sense of wholeness is within our grasp, but it cannot be pursued by shortcuts, like grabbing an under ripe peach. Instead, we must teach it to ourselves, inch by inch, as we traverse our own paths.

I still don’t know what the future holds for me on this path to motherhood. Some moments, I am able to tell myself that that’s ok, and to enjoy the sounds of the birds on my bedroom window. Other moments, I want to lay down in a ball and cry. But I can choose to embrace all of my emotions, as my own way of dealing with this uncertain moment, understanding that in doing so, I choose to embrace my own humanity.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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