I can still feel a tiny twinge of pain deep inside me as I reach my hand out to turn on the bath water. It’s not quite six weeks after my complete hysterectomy and I am still somewhat sore. The pain doesn’t really bother me, though. It’s negligible, basically non-existent compared to the emotional turmoil that churns inside my heart. Tonight is the last night that I will ever immerse in the mikveh for the mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha.
I gaze at my reflection in the mirror, partially hidden by the spreading condensation. It was just nine years ago that I stood in this exact spot, my body nearly trembling with the excitement of taking on a new mitzvah and a new stage of life. The excruciatingly ironic way my life has come full circle brings tears to my eyes. I swiftly swipe them away. It’s not the time for tears yet- I need to focus on committing every part of these next moments to memory.
The steam rising from the scalding water unfurls into opaque clouds that swirl around the bathroom. I take a deep breath, savoring the pure, thick air, and walk over to the light switch to shut the light. It is only in this womb-like environment that I feel safe enough to begin my preparations.
I undress slowly and deliberately, taking a moment to focus on each part of my body that I expose. The curves I’ve worked so hard to love. My bare stomach- a roadmap of sacrifice, each mark a reminder of the difficult choices I’ve had to make. I gently run my fingers over the newest scar, a furiously red slash that contrasts shockingly with my pale skin. I shiver involuntarily despite the room’s warmth, suddenly anxious and overwhelmed.
I lower myself into the water, savoring its balmy embrace, and lean back so that I am lying on the bottom of the tub. I submerge my ears in the water and close my eyes, creating a cocoon of sensory deprivation that immediately relaxes me. I take a deep, cleansing breath and allow my mind to wander to the tune of my steadying heartbeats.
I think about the role the mikveh has played in my life up until this point; the effects its consistent presence has had on my relationship with husband, and more importantly, myself. I’m reminded of the tingles of anticipation that coursed through my body as I jumped into my husband’s arms after my first mikveh night; the sighs of contentment that blew from my mouth each time I returned to the comfort and safety of his embrace.
As a survivor of sexual trauma, the mikveh helped me heal, teaching me that my sexuality was something to be celebrated instead of feared; my body revered instead of hated. Each month, as I nourished my body with tender care, I allowed my soul to grow stronger and braver as well.
The mikvah has also held space for me, supporting me while my tears mixed with its waters as I mourned the loss of a precious pregnancy. While I waited three more years to conceive, it dared me to hope once again, and after each of my children’s births, it celebrated joyfully with me.
A faint, metallic taste sours my mouth as it occurs to me that I will never have this relationship with the mikvah again. I stand up suddenly, shaking my head to free it from this thought. I will not go there yet. Instead, I numb my aching mind by feeling my senses ignite as I wash my body. The water droplets, light and free, that create a path down my skin as they drip, and the tender caress of the soap lather as it foams. I relish the harsh pounding of water from the shower head that rinses me off, as its strength jolts me back to focus.
My stomach churns as my hand shakily turns off the shower. The sudden silence is sticky and heavy on my chest and I struggle to take a full breath. Inwardly commanding myself to breathe, I begin counting; 1,2,3, inhale, 1,2,3, exhale, until my lungs compassionately fill with air. I step out of the tub and firmly plant my feet on the bathroom tile. Checking my body one last time, I savor the beauty that glows from beneath my skin; a light that is created from absolute devotion to a mitzvah. As I reach for the robe to cover myself, time seems to suddenly slow down, each moment becoming more surreal and harder to comprehend.
The mikveh attendant enters the room and recites her checklist with the expertise and dedication of a seasoned professional. As she checks my hands and feet, I can feel her gentle touch nudging me to remain grounded. I follow her to the mikveh, the pure smell of clean water keeping me present. She takes my robe and subtly averts her eyes, giving me the space, and privacy I need to continue. I walk down the steps, feeling the heat of the water permeate my skin.
Baruch Atah Hashem…al hatevilah. Thank you Hashem for allowing me to keep this mitzvah for as long as I did. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to love You by loving myself.
And as I allow my body to be engulfed by this holy water for the last time, I finally let my tears fall.