A ritual in recognition of the author's miscarriage emerged from a year of studying about the infertile Hannah, who eventually had a child.

Print this page Print this page

Reprinted by permission of the author from  Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality: A Sourcebook (Beacon Press).

Conceiving a child did not come easily to me. Neither did the words to convey my frustration, despair, and uncertainty to those who might have helped. But stories have been a source of strength and nourishment to me since I was a little girl. I devoured the books of the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang like hills of chocolate chip cookies. Myths of the Greek gods and goddesses were more substantial, like roasted meat with gravy. In later years, I began to feast on the tales of my biblical ancestors. When my life has presented a problem or paradox, I have sought a solution in close study of the sacred text.sad mother


I learned to do this by studying the midrash, collections of rabbinic interpretations and parables which aim to clarify particular aspects of the Tanakh [Bible]. One of my teachers, Judah Goldin, explained that when the rabbis found something in the text that disturbed them, from a grammatical deviation to a perplexing character flaw, they responded with a midrash.

A Miscarriage Creates a Sense of Imbalance

When I lost my first pregnancy after trying to conceive for a prolonged period of time, my sense of living harmoniously with Nature was sufficiently disturbed to impel me to make a midrash in response. This midrash would be a hybrid creature, part story, part ritual.lifecycle quiz

Nobody I knew well had ever lost a baby. I had heard horror stories of friends of friends and their pregnancies-turned-nightmares, but these were remote occurrences. When Death came to our household, my husband and I had only each other. Our parents (the grandparents-to-be) seemed puzzled and overwhelmed by this tragic break from the norm. They wanted to help, but how could they give us a live child? While I was in the hospital recovering from the laparotomy that removed the Fallopian tube where the pregnancy had been trapped, phone calls and visitors kept coming. But when I was finally settled once more at home, I looked at my husband, Steve, and asked: What do we do now? How do we start to live again?

A Miscarriage is Like a Death

What nobody could tell us was that we had experienced the real death of a potential being. We were grieving, but we could not put words to it; we could not invite people over to sit shiva [the intense mourning that occurs during the first seven days after the death of a close relative] for our dead baby. Then I remembered all those disgusting dead-baby jokes I used to hear in fifth grade. Humor fills the vacuum caused by taboo. Talking about and mourning for the death of an abstract being, one that was never held or touched, was taboo in our society and in Judaism.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Penina Adelman

Penina Adelman is a writer and folklorist. She is the author of Miriam's Well: Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year (Biblio, 1986) and The Bible from Alef to Tav, a book for families. A book for Jewish pre-teen girls is forthcoming. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.