Prayers for women, families in childbirth sorrow

Rabbi Josef Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.

BY RABBI JOSEF DAVIDSON

In Denver, I was based in the community’s nominally Jewish hospital and spent half of my time there delivering pastoral care to a wide variety of people and families.

One of the areas in which I was called to specialize came as a result a need identified by a particular support group. This group consisted of parents who had experienced the tragedy of fetal demise or a newborn death. The childbirth experience for them was not what they expected at all. What should have been a joyous moment in their lives was a lifelong grief.

As if to compound the grief, no one had thought to compile a list of resources for these parents, because everyone takes for granted that pregnancies are going to end with the birth of a healthy child, with all 10 fingers and toes and an entire future of possibilities.

I became that resource for the hospital and cared for all parents who faced this, regardless of religious identification.

Throughout my years in the rabbinate I have been with couples who desperately wish even to conceive, or who experience multiple miscarriages. I have ministered to those parents who have made the most difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy rather than to deliver a child with a fatal condition or genetic disease, as well as with those who chose to deliver such a child. Over those years and continuing throughout my career, I came to realize that not everyone who wished to do so was blessed to take home a bundle of joy.

Our double Torah portion for this week, Tazri`a/Metzora, begins with the assumption that most people have: “When a woman delivers …” The text continues with the assumption that she bears either a male or a female child, and it prescribes a period of separation from the community that follows, the length of which is determined by the sex of the baby. After this time has elapsed, she is to bring offerings to the sanctuary signifying and celebrating, perhaps, her re-entry. Underlining this ritual and its mention in the Torah is an assumption that she delivers a healthy, living child.

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Most people are able to have the desired outcome, and childbirth for most is an exciting, joyous, anxious, miraculous experience. Even for those couples who have difficulty conceiving, there are medical methods available to enable them to do so, though they are costly and may not always be successful.

With the amazing knowledge available about the genetic code, tests can be run to determine carriers of 40 or more Jewish genetic diseases so that potential parents can plan accordingly. Intrauterine surgeries can be performed in some cases to relieve swelling or other conditions that might otherwise be fatal to the fetus. All of these advances enable more and more women to give birth to a healthy child. And yet, there is still no guarantee.

My experience as hospital chaplain and as a rabbi for more than four decades has sensitized me to the fact that despite all of the advances humankind has made in medicine and science, giving birth continues to be a miracle, not to be taken for granted.

As we read the beginning of this week’s Torah portion – “When a woman delivers …” – may we also recall and embrace those women who do not, or whose babies are ill, either temporarily or for their entire lifetimes, or whose babies die before, during or after delivery.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Josef Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.