Trying to Conceive & Infertility

This Seder Kabbalat Akharoot--a seder for accepting the loss of the dream for a biological child--expresses this couple's movement from despair to hope.

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After everyone read from Ecclesiastes 3:5, ending with the line, "A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing," we jointly declared:

"Our time to plant has ended; our time to mourn has begun; we must weep before we can laugh. In the recesses of our minds, however, there still lingers a thought that it might have worked the next time. Therefore, we need to cast away our regrets and 'what ifs' into the ocean like the symbolic sins we throw into the water on Rosh Hashanah to begin the year with a clean slate [the tashlikh ceremony]. To paraphrase the prophet Micah, 'God will have compassion on us. We will cast all our qualms and dim hopes into the depths of the sea' (Micah 6:19).

We crumbled some bread in our hands and threw it into the water.

The Memorial Service

We mourned the death of our dream by performing a keriah ritual [the traditional tearing of one's clothing, or a black ribbon, after the death of a close relative], but instead of cutting a black ribbon, we cut and wore blue and pink ribbons because we will never know what the gender of our baby would have been. Next we read a prayer originally written to memorialize a miscarriage:

"May the One who shares sorrow with Your creation be with us now as we experience the loss of potential life. We are sad as we think of our hopes for this unborn one, as in our minds we imagine what might have been.

"Life is a fabric of different emotions and experiences. Now, while we experience life's bitterness and pain, be with us and sustain us. Help us to gather strength from within ourselves, from each other, and from our friends.

"Blessed Are You, O Divine Presence, Who shares sorrow with Your Creation (Rebecca T. Alpert, The Reconstructionist, Sept. 1985, p. 4)."

Following this, everyone joined us in the recitation of the Kaddish [memorial prayer in praise of God] in both Hebrew and English.

The Seder of Condolence

We explained the traditional significance of the following foods eaten at the shiva meal after a funeral, the Passover seder, and Rosh Hashanah: hard-boiled eggs symbolizing the lifecycle, bread symbolizing the staff of life, salt-water symbolizing the tears of our despair, horseradish symbolizing the bitterness of failure, honey symbolizing the sweetness of liberation from infertility, and wine symbolizing joy.

We listed the 10 plagues of our infertility, taking a drop of wine out of the cup for each one: denial, anger, shame, marital stress, isolation from and envy of friends who have biological children, reproductive regimentation, uncompensated medical costs, depression, loss of control, and death of the dream of the firstborn.

We dipped the egg into the water and ate it to remember the tears we shed over the two miscarriages we experienced. We made and ate a sandwich of horseradish, honey, and bread to signify how a bitter ending may precede a sweet beginning and that happiness and sadness are part of human existence. Everyone said the traditional blessings over maror [bitter herbs] and bread.

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Bonnie Baron is a licensed clinical social worker. She runs a support group for infertile couples for Jewish Family Service of San Diego.

Lawrence Baron

Lawrence Baron is a professor of history and the director of the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies at San Diego State University.