by Shira M. Cohen-Goldberg
This has been a hard year. At this time last year my heart was a well of despair. Some of you may have read about how I emerged from having a miscarriage at 12 weeks gestation last year on this blog. Writing that post was extremely healing for me. Many of you reached out to me with your stories of despair and then of hope; or of great happiness to be followed by great devastation to be followed by great happiness again. You are a community of individuals who helped me feel loved and cared for. You reminded me that I was not alone in my despair.
This year I gave birth to a daughter. She was born on Shabbat of Sukkot, the very holiday where we celebrate our bounty. We named her Ya’ara (honeysuckle) Zimra (song/first fruits) Aliya (ascendence) which we felt was the perfect name for our perfect child, born on the Sabbath during a festival of harvest. Our daughter is now 12 weeks old. She has fat cheeks, smiles, and a brother who adores her. My husband and I fell in love again. And in our sleep-deprived state, when we are not discussing logistics or managing her three-year-old brother, we are falling in love with her; our happiness filling up the deep hole left by the child I never had.
But real life brings stories with peaks and valleys that don’t wrap up neatly into the shiny jewels of fairy tale fantasies. Just after Thanksgiving, my 15-month-old nephew was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. My sister’s life has since been turned upside down. She and her husband take turns living in the hospital as they support their baby through chemotherapy and an upcoming bone marrow transplant, and my parents have moved across the country to provide care and support for their other two children, ages five and three. It is literally amazing how, as time marches on, we are subject to the twisting and turning, and breathing and yearning that is necessary to get us through today and into tomorrow.
And so, as I found myself back at the mikveh this year, marking, almost to the day, my transition out of, and now into, second-time motherhood, my heart was filled with yearning. I am not so much a person to ask, “Why is this happening to me/to us?” in the shadow of a traumatic event. I am, however, a person who cries out to G-d, “Help me! Help us!” in the face of despair.
In our Jewish year, the festival of Sukkot marks the end of the Yamim Noraim, the high holy days. We just read about Chanah who yearned for a child, and Yonah who ran to the water attempting to run away from G-d. We emerge into Sukkot, a festival of bounty, in awe of G-d’s power. G-d can help and heal; G-d can provide.
Chanah called out to G-d without a formula, and I, too, have none. Yonah hid from G-d within the waters. That is where I go; I cry out everything that swells inside of me like tears that can’t get out.
We cry out to G-d when we have done all we can do. We cry out because we want, we need, we desire, we hope. The deepest, most bottomless outcry is that of yearning; of feeling that we cannot exist any longer unless this deep yearning is quelled and quieted.
And in the mikveh’s waters, I cry out: Ana Hashem hoshiah na! G-d, please help us!
For the health of my family. For the happiness of my children. For the continued partnership of my husband. For my ability to work, laugh, mother and love, I yearn to do it and do it better each day.
I stand in the waters, my shoulders covered with warmth. I am protected. I pray. One breath of yearning for each who is beloved to me, and one for myself.
Shira M. 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 3-year-old son, Hallel, and infant daughter, Ya’ara, in partnership with her husband, Ari.