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Coming to Terms

Coming to Terms

It's not only a baby we're expecting.

by

I grew up thinking that life was supposed to follow a certain pattern. You reach such and such age and you get married, then the kids come. Each one is carried for nine months and born into a world that is deliriously happy to see him, where they grow up with the balanced parenting of two harmonious partners.

Although I seem to have been somewhat mistaken in my rosy perception of the universe, I also discovered that some of these wonderful things do happen to some people. But it is rare to find a person for whom all of these things go smoothly.

That is why I did not feel bitterness that cold November, when I found myself laid up in the hospital with premature contractions, expecting kid number two. Kid number one had arrived in the seventh month, and the doctors were just a wee bit nervous about the outcome of this one.

My roommate was a woman who had been through the long struggle of infertility, and now that she was finally full with new life, the doctors weren't taking any chances.

Listening to the steady "thump, thump" of our unborn children, there was a palpable sense that there were four of us in that room.

We struck up a fast and tender friendship, as these situations often lend themselves to doing. We were at exactly the same stage of the game. We lay there together each morning, strapped with monitor belts, listening to the steady "thump, thump" of our unborn children. We fell in love with the signs of life within us. There was a palpable sense that there were four of us in that room.

At the end of the week, we were both discharged to continue our hibernation in our respective homes. We exchanged phone numbers.

As we lay in our homes, whiling away the empty hours of bed-rest, we called each other with updates.

"We passed the 30-week mark -- could you believe it!"
"We made it to 31. Our babies have a fighting chance of making it to term!
"32 weeks! They're bigger than three pounds!" Things were really looking up.

We never had the 33-week conversation. My baby was already out and fighting to breathe every breath by then.

The phone rang. It was her.

"Tell her I can't come to the phone," I told my husband. It was true. I couldn't come to the phone to hear about her baby, kicking and growing inside her protected womb, while mine lay minuscule and helpless in the neo-natal unit.

I bumped into her in the hospital; she was there for a routine visit. She saw me carrying a bottle of milk.

"You had the baby!" She was exuberant. And then, "I tried calling so many times." I gave her a weak smile.

"It's hard," I said. I looked at her swollen middle enviously.

"I understand." She looked at me with genuine sympathy and I felt genuinely sorry for myself.

That night, I tossed about in bed. Conflicting emotions raged within me.

"Do you not believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, doles out to each what they can handle? Don't you know that this is the test that was crafted just for you?"

And then, "You already have a child. Stop with the righteous indignation. You are not entitled to anything in this world. Everything is a gift."

And yet, I found no peace.

My feelings ballooned to include all fertile women who were able to carry a baby for nine full months. They had earned a token badge of womanhood that I was never to wear. Every friend who delivered on time was a threat to my sense of self worth, and it marred my ability to be happy for them.

"Envy, greed and thirst for honor take a man out from this world" (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:28). Was I not guilty of all three of these vices? I felt the truth behind these words -- I had removed myself from my life as I knew it, and I was moving into an acrid tasting territory.

A few weeks later, I was in the hospital delivering milk to my baby. I saw her there again. She was with another woman, perhaps her labor coach. She must be due about now, I surmised.

She walked up to me and looked at me, her eyes were strong and clear. In a firm voice she told me, "I have to be strong, it's all over."

My heart shattered into a thousand shards of pain, as she subtly informed me that she was about to deliver a stillborn child.

If you could have seen the maternity ward on that day, you would have seen two women embracing. One had a child in the neo-natal unit, reaching and grasping for new life each day. Her guilt found respite in the tears that coursed down her cheeks. The other was accepting the profound loss of what would never be.

And the master plan for me became clear.

Seeing the blessing of a child who survived, I was more than amply grateful for my portion.

From that day forward, my heart became clean of envy, greed and thirst for honor in regard to this issue. I did not beg for the lot of others, only for what was meant for me. Seeing the blessing of a child who survived, I was more than amply grateful for my portion. Having the great merit to bear children at all was honor enough. I did not want for more.

The equanimity with which my friend accepted her loss created a stirring within me that I will never forget. She was grateful to have had the chance to carry a child, and that brought her some measure of solace. She was a bulwark of faith in the face of adversity.

"We will find the message in this," she said.

Any strength of character that resulted from the experience was drawn from her well and poured into mine -- and for that I am forever grateful.

A few years later I heard through the grapevine that she had given birth to twins. I had just given birth to my third premature baby. I called her up, and hearing her voice, a delight so pure and real flowed through me. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this time, my tears -- tears of joy -- were for her, and her alone.

Published: December 10, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) linda, July 10, 2008 10:11 AM

only human

thankyou for sharing your heartfelt story,which I'm sure will help others in dealing with their own situations. We all understand that nobody take any pleasure in the suffering or pain of others, and being human, we sometimes cannot help feelings of envy of others. Yes, it would be great if all of us could learn to appreciate what we have without being reminded to by seeing what others don't have. This is what all of us must strive to do every day. I conceived triplets after 2 miscarriages.
I lost one baby very early on. While I was carrying the twins I went to a shiur, and we were learning about the double portion of man given for Shabbat. I so distinctly remember the Rabbi commenting that this double portion was a blessing, and what is a blessing? It is when you receive more than you had expected. I remember how I kept thinking that my twin pregnancy was exactly what he was talking about, and how it was so prophetic. I had gotten pregnant at an older age, and felt particularly blessed. Then I lost my second baby at about 20 weeks. To say it was a nightmare is an understatement.
I woke up every morning with panic if I could't feel movement from my remaining baby, and went weekly for checkups and ultrsounds. Thank G-d my son was born healthy and well. In the same room as me was a woman who I remembered seeing, who had just delivered her twins. Why did she have to be in my room? I am ashamed to say that I felt this way. I remember the response of a friend when I told her what had happened shortly after. Instead of focusing on the babies who were lost and feeling sorry for me,like others. she said " So this is truly a miracle baby". It struck me how right she was. It really is all in the perception, and seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty. Although that was almost 12 years ago, I can honestly say that the pain of that experience has not disappeared,nor do I expect it ever will. However I realize how truly blessed I am to have both of my sons (my second was born 2 years later) and I am grateful every single minute of every day for this. Humorously so, I particularly feel this when I am folding their clothes and putting them on their shelf. I just have such a sense of comfort and appreciation that I have been given the opportunity of folding these clothes for the kids I love so much. Silly, huh?
Its so easy to get lost in worrying over stupid and unimportant things in our lives, but it is often in the very small and mundane activities we do for those we love that we can often come to realize the greatest appreciation for what we have. I wish this for everyone.

(15) Anonymous, July 2, 2008 1:02 AM

you only now when you go trough it

hi i would like to share .that till you dont become a mother .you dont no how it feels .people used to asked me all the time .nu are you pregnant!whats going on .your family and friends.its very painful believe me i now .it took my husband and i 6 years.of running to every rabbi we heard of .going to every doctor .after a while you just go crazy .i hate when people say i wanne boy or girl .who cares say thank you g-d if its healthy thats all.and also instead of screaming and yelling at your kids .think of the people who dont have kids love them .i went to doctor grazy in bay ridge his nr is 17182838600 he is amazing .one more thing never ask a woman if they are pregnant what if she is trying to get .

(14) J. Ellis, May 13, 2008 11:03 PM

We do not know the end from the begining.

My husband and I were not blessed with any live birth children. After 16 years of marriage we were able to adopt. The child tried our love and as a teen was very disruptive. At that point my husband asked me what had we been thinking when we asked to have this child in our lives who brought so little joy and so much stress. I had no good answer other than we had followed what we thought HaShem would have us do. When the child was in his mid twenties, my husband was dieing of cancer. Almost daily, though he was a third way around the world and the time difference made it difficult, he called his father to visit, extend his love, and cheer him. He did not ask how he was feeling but shared his every day happenings, drawing his father into his life and giving him hope. One day,very early in the over two years of his illness, my husband answered his own question when he told me, "Now I understand that we adopted our son for this time in our life. He is the true son to us." And he has continued to be a blessing to me as I continue without my husband. We do not know the end from the beginning, but the One who plans our lives does.

(13) Anonymous, December 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Thank you

Thank you for your sensitive article.
I just gave birth to a healthy baby after a very hard pregnancy and birth (really hard). Your article helped me appreciate God's chesed even more. A healthy baby is not something to be taken for granted, although, we often do.

(12) Mary Jo, December 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Stillborn

I too have had a stillborn baby. It is a very empty feeling. I did not like the years of loss. I adopted and have endured pain of rebellion in him. Only G-D knows the final outcome with him. Mary Jo

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