by Shira M. Cohen-Goldberg
Here I am at Mayyim Hayyim. This water, this mikveh, lets me write my life, marking time with every visit. I remember immersing as my heart burst with joy, ready to be married. Soon I was visiting monthly; the mikveh a place to reflect upon my life a month later; an errand; a stopping point before relations with my husband. Some months later, my husband joined me here, as we immersed, praying to conceive a healthy child. More than nine months pregnant, I immersed to receive motherhood, praying for a strong delivery. Again, I immersed after my darling son entered the world. Until now, I immersed out of joy, hope, and exaltation.
Today I immerse in sorrow. At a routine ultrasound, at twelve weeks gestation, I did not see what I expected to see. As I remember it at this stage, pregnant with our first child: A person-shaped little fetus, all curled up and cozy, floating from place to place inside of the womb and the slight and rapid movement flashing there; the heart doing its work to make the baby grow.
No, that day my husband and I actually didn’t see much of anything: just a gestational sack with nothing in it, and no visible fetus, and no visible heartbeat and really nothing much except a space where hope once lived. At once, I knew what had happened. The baby stopped growing yet continued to stay inside of me. My heart broke.
They say that half of women experience miscarriage. They say that 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. My mother miscarried before she conceived me. These are all facts that I now know. But this information- does it bring comfort? As you are reading this, you may say, “Her story sounds like mine.” Or you may say, “I can’t imagine.” Or you may say, “She doesn’t know from pain.” I never would have thought that a baby growing inside of me would die, or that I would be here, in this place, at this time, trying not to hurt.
The story of the baby that I never had is short and sad, but the story of my life is richly textured and happy and silly and wild and predictable and would never fit on this page. I am a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a friend, a wife and a mother. I am a person who cries and a person who laughs and a person who feels. I am also a person who counts days and blessings and who records my life in the waters of the mikveh. Mayyim Hayyim has been a way to remember my story, to celebrate the highs and lows of who I am as an adult woman. The waters know me and I am grateful.
Four weeks later, my physical body has healed and is stronger than ever. I am reminded that in yoga, you lean into the discomfort and breathe through it. You cause yourself to experience it. Over time, we learn that our bodies are capable of so much more than we ever thought and that feeling pain brings forth accomplishment, growth and new capabilities.
But for my emotional body, I turn to my tradition, my ritual, and my G-d. I pray:
Oh G-d, who knows my pain, who sees me through boundless joy and bottomless sorrow, who holds me strong and lets me fall, in these waters, I immerse. Keep me grounded, when all I can do is float away; keep me buoyant when my body sinks. Please help me heal. Please strengthen me. Please let these waters embrace me and send me away with another chance to feel whole again.
Shira Cohen-Goldberg is a long-time member of the Cambridge-Somerville Jewish community. She works as a literacy specialist at an educational non-profit focused on organizational change. She spends most of her time working and rearing her 2-year-old son, Hallel, in partnership with her husband, Ari.