This is uncomfortable to admit, but I feel a tremendous relief when my period starts. It’s not because I’m worried about an unplanned, or, honestly, unwanted pregnancy. It’s because I know sex is off the horizon until I immerse.
A few years ago my husband and I decided to take on the mitzvah of taharat ha-mishpacha, the intentional physical separation during menstrual flow with the unfortunate label of family purity. We came to this decision because 1) I brought it to him and 2) we didn’t have sex then anyway. It wasn’t a huge physical change and we didn’t go out and buy new mattresses and we came up with parameters that felt comfortable to us.
This was supposed to help. This was supposed to take the pressure off both of us. This was a clear delineation: game on/game off; yes/no.
It has not turned out to be the boon to our sex lives I’d hoped for.
Our marriage is strong and happy and thriving. We have had our ups and downs like many other couples. We worked through issues that have torn others apart. We continue to become better partners and parents as the years go by and as we learn to adapt to each other as we grow, change, explore, grieve, rejoice, despair, succeed, slide back. We don’t have a great sex life. It is a heartache and a source of anxiety, but at times so meaningful and amazing that it’s what keeps us coming back to it—but with trepidation, fear of disappointment, the unbearable feeling of rejection when things don’t go smoothly. An image that comes to mind is our kind of struggling along in the wilderness, bamidbar, searching for a way to each other. So it is with great relief that I greet that bright red against the white of the paper. I even go so far, in rough months, as to use a bedikah (a white cloth used to determine whether there is bleeding internally) to check and see if my period is on its way.
This is not easy stuff to talk about—I don’t even like to think about it. It makes me feel sad, alone, inadequate, and undesirable which quickly avalanches into fat, ugly, stupid, lazy, and boring. I am, in actuality, few if any of those things. And just because feelings aren’t facts doesn’t mean I can’t feel like shit about it sometimes.
So when I come to the mikveh, to Mayyim Hayyim, to immerse it is not unfraught. I look forward to the preparation—the time in the beautiful prep rooms with the Jerusalem granite, the hot water, the time and space to be; the time in the mikveh with the warm embrace of the living waters. I offer my prayers, connect to my faith, my ancestors, and the sisterhood of women who have taken on this mitzvah. And I hope that the coming month will bring a pleasing and successful physical connection to the person I love most in this world. But I am not at ease.
Mayyim Hayyim is a beautiful and welcoming space. There are thoughtfully conceived ceremonies written and available for almost all situations—halachic/commanded as well as for new traditions and challenges. I imagine that the mikva’ot hold tears immersees have shed, for joy and determination as well as sadness, frustration, and grief. I imagine sometimes after someone has immersed for a significant event she / he may share about his / her experience with friends or loved ones, or perhaps the Mikveh Guide. With whom could I possibly share this?