In Judaism, the archetype of prayer is Hana, a barren woman praying for a child. But since my infertility diagnosis, my lips have fallen silent.
It’s not that I no longer believe in God, or even that I’m angry at Him. I’m not bothered by the question of why I’m struggling to conceive. As a religious Jew, I believe there will be times I don’t understand God’s reasons. This is one of those times.
I don’t particularly feel like talking to God about this. He knows how I feel, we’ve discussed it numerous times, and I’m tired of the conversation. And in order to deal with the ongoing pain of wanting children and not having any, I numb the area, carefully demarcating it from the rest of my life. I focus instead on what I can do, such as show up for blood-tests, ultrasounds and injections and take my medicine, not on what I can’t control, the outcome of the process. This gives me the illusion of control.
But talking to God means acknowledging that I’m not in control. It means acknowledging that I may never have children. And though the doctor assures me that my odds are good, I don’t believe in medical odds; I believe in God. And I don’t know whether He plans on granting me the gift of motherhood.
Sometimes, I wonder if it’s because I don’t pray enough that I don’t have kids. After all, the Bible is full of stories of God granting barren women children — but only after they ask. Maybe I’m not asking hard enough. Maybe I need to shed more tears.
I try. Every month, when I go to mikvah, I try to force myself to ask God to make this the month that I get pregnant. But I feel frozen. I don’t want to cry — I cannot let the mikvah lady see me cry. I don’t want her to know that this is an aspect of my life in which I am powerless. I don’t want her pity, her kind words, or even worse – her judgement.
I tried using “Birkat Emunah” [ a booklet of prayers for women going through loss or infertility; title translates to “the blessing of faith”], but the name makes me feel like I need to be “blessed” with more faith, when in fact, I don’t feel my faith to be lacking. Of course, that might change. How long can I keep on believing? I hope I never have to find out.
What I want is notmore faith in God, but more faith in myself, and more faith that I will one day reach the goal of motherhood. What I want is not more faith, but better communication skills, so I can find a way to speak to God about this topic without breaking down the fragile facade of invulnerability that I wipe on with my lipstick every morning.
But of course, in a real relationship, sometimes you have to make yourself vulnerable. Sometimes you have to be like Hana: You have to cry and share your deepest secrets, and not care if witnesses think that you’re drunk, or hormonal.
I guess that’s probably what you have to do to have kids too, because what could be more vulnerable than creating a new life?That life is a part of you, a part of you that you have to be able to simultaneously nurture and let go, and sometimes you have to sing to it in the streets and not care if anybody is watching. And by create, I don’t necessarily mean biologically create. Abraham and Sarah are said to have “made souls” by adopting people into their family.
They’re the Bible’s first infertile couple: God grants them a miracle baby, Isaac, when Sarah is 90. In some ways, this story is empowering. It’s a reminder not to give up hope, and also, a reminder that you can be a good person, and a strong leader, while struggling with infertility. But every time I read the story, I imagine all the months that Sarah saw blood between her legs, and cried.
Unlike Hana, we don’t see Sarah praying for a child. Her only words about the issue are addressed to her husband. I wonder if she too, struggled to communicate to God about her pain.
So perhaps this month, at mikvah, I will try again to pray. I will try to combine the openness and vulnerability of Hana crying to God for a baby, with the strength Sarah, busying herself with “making souls” by teaching them Torah, and not letting her infertility define her.
I composed a personal prayer to say before embarking on the next round of treatment.
Since I found that many prayers weren’t resonating with me, I purposefully eschewed making this too formulaic. I know that it does not follow the traditional rules of prayer, and is not correct according to the laws of Hebrew grammar. But I wanted to create a prayer that can be said by men or women. I alternate between masculine and feminine forms of Hebrew, in order to express my wish to God that I want a child, and the gender is unimportant to me. I used the word זריעה-the rabbinic Hebrew word planting -rather than הזרעה, the modern Hebrew word for insemination. I did so because the metaphor of a woman’s body as the earth, where the baby takes root, really resonates with me. I am sharing it here in case it is helpful to others:
יהי רצון מלפניך, ה אלוקינו ואלוקי אבותינו ואמותינו, שהזריעה הזאת תהיה זריעה פוריה, זריעה מבורכת, זריעה שתתן לנו בן או בת אשר תגדל באור פניך, אשר יגדל לתורה וחופה ומעשים טובים, וזכֵּנו להיות הורים טובים, ולגדל בנים ובנות בשמחה וברחמים. מי שענה לאמהות ולאבות, לעקרים ולעקרות, הוא יעננו. (אמן. סלה.)
May it be your will, God of our forefathers and foremothers, that this planting be a fruitful planting, a planting that gives us a son or daughter who will grow in Your light, who will grow up to study Torah, stand under a wedding canopy, and perform good deeds, and may we merit to be good parents, and to grow daughters and sons with joy and compassion. He who answered the foremothers and forefathers, may he answer us. (Amen. Selah.)