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Shani Weinmann Kay

The Silent Pain of Miscarriage

A few months ago, I published an article called Mikvah in Miluim, an account of what it meant to be an observant and married woman in reserve duty in the IDF. To my greatest surprise, I received overwhelming support, speaking opportunities, and collaborations with organizations such as the Eden Center and Chochmat Nashim that I have admired and looked up to as pioneers for Jewish women. I have been so honored to receive such responses and all I did was share something personal about myself. Something not often talked about in public. The mikvah and surrounding subjects have been tabooed for a long time and I simply would like them not to be. I feel a sense of duty to address these things and therefore I would like to address another issue that affects many women and often: miscarriage.

If I am to speak honestly, I was never a woman who desired children in the same cooing and maternal way as many do. I did not obsess over babies in the street, and I did not particularly enjoy discussing pregnancy and the inevitable result at the Shabbat table. I was fearful of the process and especially about raising children. Every time the subject arose, I simply felt uncomfortable. In addition, I suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome and early ovarian aging, making the choice to have children not necessarily mine and therefore, something I shy away from discussing. 

However, I found myself feeling alone with this approach, as those around me seemed destined to be parents and adoring ones at that. They enjoyed speaking about pregnancy, children, and parenting and I felt isolated because I just couldn’t relate to them and the way they expressed themselves. I assumed that something must be wrong with me if this was the case and that I was unfit to be a mother if this was my attitude towards the greatest miracle that could ever occur in anyone’s life. I also was never asked, as an observant Jewish woman, if I even wanted kids. The common date question was always formulated as, “How many do you want?” instead of “Do you want children?”. This further pushed me to have a serious chat with myself about what would happen if this wasn’t a path for me and what would happen to the marriage that I treasured, knowing that children were an unbreakable desire of my partner and family. 

It’s terrifying to have this conversation because I was halfway there; I found someone, dated them for as long as I could before deciding I could go ahead with marriage, and then standing on the precipice of the natural next step, but completely frozen with fear and trepidation. Although I did ultimately come to the decision that I would deeply regret not expanding my family, this was a conscious choice that took much thought and discussion with those around me. Being classically “maternal” was not a requirement that my partner demanded of me and reassured me that I would bring my own skills to the table. 

After months in miluim and the effect it had on my body, miracles did happen and I found myself pregnant soon and naturally which, for someone like me, is a very big deal. I was terrified and clueless, but also surprisingly relaxed about being pregnant. Every doctor appointment I found myself just hoping for the best and throwing off the control. I began to get excited about the future and spent time planning and plotting the life my partner and I desired. We became emotional at the thought that this baby could be born around my brother-in-law, Eli Kay’s yahrzeit and that he would never get to be the uncle he always wished to be. We formed a relationship with the being growing inside of me, giving it a nickname, and saying Shema every night with it in mind. I even took my first brave steps into the baby stores that used to overwhelm me (and still do, I’m not completely cured) just to see what in the world babies even need, being as naive as I could be about this subject. 

Just as I found myself getting used to the idea, becoming ready, and feeling confident, we received the news from the doctor that this was not to be. I did not know what to say or how to react, all I wanted in that moment was to reassure my nervous husband that I was alright and that it was going to be okay no matter what happened. We really wanted to run into the arms of our parents which is exactly what we did, relieved to share the burden of losing our child with those to whom we are their children. We waited and waited for the big moment, thinking maybe there was a chance after nothing happened. However, on Shabbat Chol Hamoed, just as we finished our meal, it started. What followed was the worst pain I have ever experienced, so strong and terrible that I felt myself slipping away from consciousness. This was going to be the hardest thing I had done in my life up until now, but I so badly wanted to do it naturally, to feel that I had some sort of power in this process that was so far beyond my control. I willed it not to be true even as it was happening. The next day, I had passed the worst of it, receiving help from some amazing friends we had the pleasure of being with for Shabbat. A week after, it was all really over. So fast and so slow all at the same time. 

This is starting to sound more memoir than article, but I just wanted to emphasize the struggle, the feelings of emptiness, the pain, and the loss that make this, albeit incredibly common, also incredibly terrible. That just because we know many who have suffered doesn’t mean we should whisper about it to each other under the pretense of privacy. Sure, not everyone wants or has to share, but for those who do and don’t feel they have a place, I want them to know they do. For me, I will say it over and over again, for anyone that wants to listen and hear, private details and all. I want to normalize admitting it was awful and I am very sad. I also think about what going to the mikvah will be like and what I will feel. The same place I go after having a normal period, the sign of fertility, is the same place I have to go with an empty womb as if nothing happened and I’m preparing myself for trying again? Is there a place for sadness and upset at the mikvah, when I actually feel like being far away from G-d and myself at the same time? I have no detailed answers for these questions, but I am going to say yes, just as I said last time, I am allowed to go through the motions because this is what we do as Jewish women. We are the queens of powering through because life just has to go on. 

Life is continuing. Although I am having a hard time physically, emotionally, and mentally, I am also getting better and hopeful that one day I will be able to have children. I have gotten a glimpse of the process that had so troubled me before and while my whole attitude towards pregnancy and children hasn’t changed as drastically as one might think, when I do have children, I can guarantee I will approach it in my own way, and I will absolutely not take it for granted.

About the Author
Shani Weinmann Kay was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF. She is studying Dance and Psychology.