Liz Shayne recently wrote here about how the mikvah experience feels meaningless for her. It’s not anguishing, she says, but it’s not inspiring either. It’s just something that she does, out of duty. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that spectrum that she mapped out — the one that starts with “The mikvah inspires me!” and ends with “I can’t bear the thought of going there!”, with ambivalence in between — and how all Jewish women, throughout time and place, can locate themselves somewhere along that line. And how I’ve always been kind of embarrassed to admit that I enjoy the mikvah. Worried that people will dismiss me as a Pollyanna, or somehow lacking in nuance, or tone-deaf to the very real struggle that so many women endure in confronting this mitzvah.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t like everything about the mikvah. For one thing, there’s the preparation. Scrubbing my ankles and clipping my nails doesn’t bother me, but making time for it in an already overloaded day, pressed between work and family demands, sure is stressful. And then there’s the awkwardness of standing there, undressed, before the mikvah attendant — trying to pretend that it’s not awkward, reminding myself that I’m an adult, that they do this every day, that we both have the same parts, but still — it’s awkward. And then there’s the self-consciousness that comes with knowing that there are other women waiting to take their turn, so I’d better hustle. Whatever meaningful words of tefillah I might want to offer to God, they’d better total 20 seconds or less. And of course there’s the sadness — like when I was trying to conceive a child, and my monthly visits were an unwelcome reminder that I hadn’t. [Read more…]