At the age of 11 I told my mother that I wanted to be a midwife when I grew up. By the age of 16 I was in a midwifery study group learning sterile technique. By the age of 20 I was a certified labor coach.
When I moved to Israel, married my husband, and became pregnant at the age of 21, I was certain that pregnancy, birth, and motherhood were going to be beautiful, fulfilling, and all the rest. Why shouldn't they be? I had attended 27 births and had read every book I could lay my hands on about pregnancy, birth, and beyond. What could go wrong? I was an expert.
My doctor assured me at my regular checkups that I was one of the lucky ones. I had been blessed with a very healthy pregnancy. My husband and I spent countless hours playing guitar, singing, and bonding with our daughter-to-be. We called her "Little One."
When my blood pressure sky-rocketed in my last trimester I took it as a personal insult. Wasn't I eating the healthiest possible food? Wasn't I resting, exercising, and taking my vitamins? What had I done wrong?
For the first time in my life, I felt that I was not in control. I was doing everything right, but everything was still wrong. As my due date approached, I was relieved that soon the nightmare would be over, or so I thought.
But I was wrong. The nightmare was just beginning.
One morning, I woke up and I did not feel any fetal movement. I rushed to the hospital terrified that my baby was in distress. In the ultrasound the doctor could not find a heartbeat. My Little One, it turned out, was dead.
Like one in 2000 pregnant women I had been stricken with Toxemia. This deadly illness had killed our unborn daughter, and, we later found out, it had nearly killed me as well.
When my husband held our lifeless baby in the delivery room, I saw him cry for the first time in my life.
When my husband held our lifeless baby in the delivery room, I saw him cry for the first time in my life. She had my husband's ears and my husband's feet. She had my nose and my dark curly hair. She was the most beautiful baby I ever saw. We buried her near our home in the Golan in the cemetery of Tiberias, one of the four holy cities of the Land of Israel.
As I began the long haul to recuperation from the birth and the Toxemia, I also began looking for someone to blame. I started with myself. I would call my mom or my husband almost every day with a new reason why Little One had died. Before long, my husband would begin conversations with me by saying, "No, Rachel. You didn't kill your kid." That was a hard phase to be in.
Acquaintances would ask me, "What happened? How did your baby die?" but all I could hear was the accusation, "Why didn't you save your daughter? Didn't you love her?" One lady asked me why I hadn't done an emergency C-section to save the baby. As if I could have.
When I started getting my health back, and all the help and meals stopped a few weeks after the birth, the true sadness set in. The sadness was like an anvil that came to live over our home. I was supposed to be up to my ears in diapers and dealing with a baby. Instead, I felt like there was a gaping chasm of emptiness in my heart to fill.
A lot of people during that period told me that I looked good and seemed happy. I let them keep their illusions. These people only saw me after three hours of talking myself into getting out of bed.
I tried to distract myself from my grief by burying myself in work. The problem was that by profession I am a labor coach. I went to a few births and I would come home so depressed that my husband begged me to stop blaming myself and punishing myself by going to births when I was far from ready.
After one really hard day I sat down and just screamed out my frustration at God.
Then there came a point a few months after the birth that I could function better and felt healthier. That was when I started to get angry. Very angry. I was angry at God and at just about everything He created. I was angry at the injustice. How could God do this to me? Why had God let me carry my daughter so long just in order to lose her at the last moment?
After one really hard day I sat down and just screamed out my frustration at God. I told Him exactly how furious I was at Him.
What came out of that was something incredible, something I didn't expect.
That dark day, with tears streaming down my face, I finally let go.
I realized that I am not in control. And that's okay. I realized that I'm just not going to be able to understand everything that God does in this world. And that's also okay. I know these sound like simple concepts, but accepting them was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
It was around that time that I read the beautiful poem "Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson that helped me a lot over the following months. In the poem, a man dreams that he is walking along a beach with God. Across the sky he sees the scenes of his life, and he sees two sets of footprints in the sand accompanying each scene: one set belonging to him, and one set belonging to God. When the man sees the last scene of his life, he looks back and sees that during the lowest, saddest points of his life, there is only one set of footprints in the sand.
In anger and disappointment the man challenges God,
‘...during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?' The Lord replied, ‘The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.'
During those difficult months of recovery I kept this poem in my mind even on those days that I didn't believe it. And then, without noticing, I began to believe it. I decided that even when life is difficult, I still need to live here. I still need to live.
Over the past 15 months since the birth, my husband and I have changed so much. Our faith has grown. Our humility has grown. Our sensitivity to the suffering of others has grown.
As part of our own healing process, last spring my husband and I decided to start an organization called HUG (Holistic Understanding of Grief) so that other couples would have a place to turn to for their physical and emotional needs following the loss of a pregnancy or baby. My husband and I both feel that Little One was one of HUG's cofounders.
Looking back I see that I spent the year following the birth like a caterpillar in a cocoon of grief.
Looking back, I see that I spent the year following the birth like a caterpillar in a cocoon of grief. Nobody could see what was happening inside that cocoon. I couldn't see either, until I flew out of that cocoon, from darkness to the light of day -- transformed.
Looking back, I realize that our baby was never born. But in the end, I was.