My eldest goddaughter had her amazing bat mitzvah on the weekend of Sept. 10. At Friday night services and dinner, I was amazed at the resemblance she held to her mother’s nephew. I had always commented on how much she looked like her mother (my best friend, the sister I never had), but I was struck at the variations in resemblance to the other numerous family members in attendance at this amazing celebration. My god-daughter had certain characteristics of her sisters, her mother, her father, her aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Then sitting at dinner, it struck me, that my children will likely never look much of anything like me or my husband. That saddened me, a great deal more than I expected it to. I was not sure what that meant to me in that moment, or how much that really hurt inside. But in retrospect, it hurt, an awful lot.
My dad’s family has always talked about how much I look like his sister and mother. There is a set of three pictures in which we all have a very similar haircut with bangs. I always took pride in saying that if it weren’t for the obvious 30-year difference in the photos, we might be mistaken for the same 3 year old. That will likely never be the case with the future generation of children among our family, and I have to let that sink in and be ok with it. Our story will have different twists and turns and characteristics.
I have also been going through a lot of turmoil with the decisions I made about attending High Holiday services this year. So for most American Jews, we are not given our holidays off like our Christian co-workers. I have always accepted this and just used my paid time off (PTO). Well, when a “typical mother” gets pregnant and gives birth, if she has a short-term disability policy, she gets a partially paid 6-to-8 weeks off for maternity leave. But when a person adopts a child, there is no medical event that affects the adoptive mother. Therefore, short-term disability does not cover any kind of maternity leave. Any maternity leave I take will be completely unpaid, with the exception of any PTO I save up and use. With that knowledge, I went through my year and cancelled as much PTO as I could possibly stand, to save up for our future. Both my husband and I cancelled a vacation to Omaha to visit his family. We shortened a few other times this year we had travel plans.
Lastly, I looked at our PTO plans for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is my absolute, favorite holiday of the year. It is the holiday that I learned about as a 16-year-old girl, and became intrigued with Judaism. Rosh Hashanah is the holiday that brought me home to Judaism. (I converted when I was 21 years old, but that is a completely different story). My husband, Hal, has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off with his work schedule, so he was only using PTO for Monday of Rosh Hashanah this year. But I needed to use two-day’s worth. So I made the painful decision to work on Monday, and only attend services on Tuesday.
It was not until after I made this decision that it occurred to me our synagogue has a ceremonial gathering and blessing over all the new babies born to our community in the past year, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. For the first eight years, this was in my top three favorite parts of the service, (preceded by the blowing of the shofar, and the tashlich service). I would watch the babies and their parents congregate on the bimah, and dream of the day my husband and I would be up there with our child. But the last two years, this blessing and celebration has been rather painful for me as I go through infertility treatments with my husband. Instead of hope, awe, happiness, excitement, and love, I have experienced feelings of jealousy, frustration, loss, abandonment, and anger.
I had to accept that this was simply how my Rosh Hashanah was going to be this year. I would miss the first day, I would miss the community tashlich service, and I would be present for the blessing over the newborns. But I thought to myself, I will still hear the shofar. I will still go do a tashlich service with my best friend and family, I will get to spend one extra day with my future new born infant, eventually one day.
So on Rosh Hashanah, I thought I was prepared. But that morning as I drove to synagogue, I learned the news that my best friend’s brother-in-law had passed away that morning. That was devastating. During the blessing ceremony with the newborns, I wasn’t just sad; I completely lost it, bawling my eyes out on my husband’s shoulder in the pew. Then the first blowing of the shofar came. I closed my eyes as I always do, and let the sound flood over my body. I openly pray to G-d silently in my head, and focus on feeling the vibrations of the beautiful sound resonate through my bones and heart. But as I stood there this year, not quite sure what to pray for specifically, my prayers from the previous year came rushing back to me. I almost broke out into laughter, I didn’t know how else to respond, but I managed to just keep a smile. Last year, the week before Rosh Hashanah, I had undergone an intra-uterine insemination, and we were in the waiting period to find out if I had indeed gotten pregnant. I remember praying to G-d, asking that the vibrations of the beautiful shofar, to somehow help our little embryo find just the right spot and implant into my uterus. I stood with my eyes closed last year, imagining this happening. And I couldn’t help but feel the urge to laugh remembering it all as I listened to the shofar this year. What a ridiculous, absurd, absolutely beautiful and heart-wrenching prayer for me to offer up. It was completely ludicrous, but so poignant and desperate at the same time. But these are things men and women experience as they go along the journey of infertility.
So after this memory came flooding back to me, I simply asked G-d to help me on the path that has been set out before us this year. Wherever that path may lead, I asked for the assistance to find acceptance, love, and joy with my husband. After services, we went to Minnehaha Falls for tashlich like we usually do with our dear friends, but this year just the two of us on account of the deeply sad news they had gotten earlier in the morning. I took the opportunity to walk down the trail a great deal further along Minnehaha Creek on my own, past where most visitors go. And as I walked along, I remembered something I had read many years ago during my conversion process. I remember reading a belief that those of us who find Judaism and choose to convert, are lost Jewish souls. Whether these lost souls are from the Holocaust, the Diaspora, or a belief that they were created by Sarah and Abraham long ago. Conversions are these lost souls coming home to their Jewish roots. And I realized that almost certainly any child we adopt, will indeed need to also go through a conversion. (The chance of us adopting a child born to a Jewish mother is extremely slim, although possible). So, what if our journey is taking as long as it has been, because we are waiting for this beautiful soul to come home? What if I have not been able to get pregnant, because this soul hasn’t found its way down to earth? What if G-d is just waiting, because G-d knows there is a Jewish soul waiting to come home just like I did? What if G-d knows, that with my experience, I can be the best Jewish mother to this soul? And suddenly, I felt a great deal of comfort.
Some days it is infuriating that we have to wait for three different state governments to process our paperwork, and one still hasn’t. Some days I still get angry or sad that my husband and I couldn’t conceive a child ourselves. But most days, I am patient and excited as our journey progresses, because I know with some kind of certainty, that our child will be brought home to us eventually. And that is what I heard in the shofar blast this year on Rosh Hashanah. Shana tova u’metuka!