Creating the Jewish Pregnancy
Making unique Jewish experiences before the baby is born.
When my husband and I first learned that we were expecting a baby, we spontaneously decided to say the sheheheyanu blessing over the pregnancy test.
Awkwardly holding the purple plastic wand in front of us, we struggled against giggling and crying as we gave thanks to God for sustaining us and bringing us to that day. It seemed right to celebrate the moment with prayer--even over such an unlikely “ritual object”--and this marked the beginning of nine months of figuring out how to make my pregnancy more Jewishly meaningful.
First I set out to find Jewish sources about how to have a traditional pregnancy and birth experience. This seemed appropriate, since I had a fairly traditional Jewish wedding, and as an adult I have enjoyed discovering Jewish prayers, blessings, and rituals that can punctuate my daily life.
So I felt rather disappointed--well, actually, kind of cheated--when I found almost nothing in our tradition to guide an expecting mother. I discovered that those talmudic rabbis who discussed, debated, and opined about what part of the field to harvest first, and when a woman was ritually pure enough to have sex with her husband, had very little to say about how to carry a child for nine months.
Perhaps this is because the sages were never pregnant. As Sandy Falk and Rabbi Daniel Judson write in The Jewish Pregnancy Book ( 2004): “the Talmudic Rabbis, who formulated the basis of traditional Jewish prayer, ritual and law, were men, so they never experienced pregnancy. As a result, there are a dearth of prayers, rituals and blessings that Judaism has for pregnancy and delivery.”
The challenge, therefore, was my own. In the ultimate creative time, as I nurtured the growth and completion of another being, I also had the opportunity to be creative with Jewish practice.
Over the centuries, Jewish women like me have whipped up a wonderful buffet of pregnancy observances, many uniquely created for and by individuals. Going to the mikveh, chanting psalms, reading poems, lighting candles, and gathering friends together to share stories of birth and motherhood are some of the ways that women have sought to amplify the spiritual experience of pregnancy.
For me, a modern translation of Psalm 118 formed the basis for my personal pregnancy ritual. I regularly recited these words, liberally translated by a friend: "Open up the gates of justice, sing a song to life, give tzedakah (do good works, be generous) and walk the path of freedom." This helped me focus on the work of “opening up” and creating space for new life throughout pregnancy.
I also found that giving tzedakah helped me stay grounded and grateful for my healthy pregnancy. Prior to conception, I had donated blood, and as my waistband expanded, I researched and donated money to organizations promoting maternal and neonatal health around the world.