Infertility has many faces. In its most common guise, it is silent and invisible. Its presence is an absence — when something we desperately want doesn’t happen, when despite our most fervent efforts, no egg is fertilized and no life begins. No one else can see this loss of nothing; no one else can see the pain. Yet to the would-be parents, this is an all-consuming nothing. And it is devastating.
Or infertility might begin, as all life begins, with a little something, when wombs and dreams and hope begin to grow. And then suddenly they stop. This too happens before others (besides the parents) even know there was a something. To say “I had a miscarriage” is to jumble together the celebration of life and the tragedy of death in one word, one breath.
Jewish tradition is no stranger to infertility. All our matriarchs except Rebecca suffered from an inability to conceive, and Rebecca seems to have struggled through her pregnancy. Yet despite the frequency of this physical and spiritual pain, it is only recently that we have begun to craft liturgical responses to this sad commonplace of life.
And since infertility is not a single moment but experienced over days and weeks and months and perhaps even years, we need a whole litany of prayers to respond to the various stages and cycles of hope, waiting, anxiety, loss, hope, procedures, waiting, anxiety.
Below is a selection of contemporary prayers for seeking a child, mourning the loss of a pregnancy, and a prayer of hope to be said prior to undergoing a procedure (based on the traditional blessing celebrating the intricacies of a fully-functioning body). They may be recited as is, adapted or used as inspiration to create personal prayers.
A prayer for pregnancy
Dear God, and God of our ancestors, You have blessed untold loving couples across time, providing each with children in a tumble of generations. May it be your will that we join their lot tonight. Make tonight a night of joy and tenderness, a night in which my beloved and I conceive a child. Hold us close in your embrace, God, just as we hold each other tightly. Remember us as you remembered Sarah. Care for us as you cared for Rebecca. Tend to us as you tended to our mothers, Leah and Rachel.
You alone hold the key to the womb. Open our chambers of life. Choose from your sacred treasury of souls, and send us a child who is wise and caring, healthy and whole. With your help, may our family grow through the years, and through your kindness may we be a blessing to all who know us.
May the words of our mouths and the desires of our hearts please You, our Strength and our Deliverer.
Prayer for a couple on first trimester loss
Light a fragrant candle and recite:
Here we are, the two of us together. The two of us alone. We counted the days and measured the weeks that our child grew within. But we count no more. Our eyes longed to see the birth of our child, our arms yearned to cradle our new little one. Our mouths longed to sing soft lullabies of love. But now our child, our dreams, are no more. Sing us a lullaby, God, to fill our silence. Sing us a lullaby to soothe our fears, comfort our sadness and make the darkness go away. Source of healing and light, sing us a lullaby and help us to find healing in your embrace and among those who love and care for us. And when the time is right, help us dare to choose life again. Blessed are you God, whose compassion continually renews us.
Prayer for hope after suffering loss
Dear God, you made the world overflow with water, with streams and rivers that nourish the earth, pools and ponds that teem with life. But not me. I am like a wadi; I fill up and empty to no purpose. Nothing is held by me, nothing nourished. That is not the way it should be. It is you God who causes the day to break, assigning dawn its place in the east. It is you, God, who sets the world on its course, guiding its paths as it glides through the heavens. It is you, God, who closed the sea behind doors when it burst forth from its womb, swaddling the new waters in dense clouds (Job 38). You know the joy of birth. Share a bit of that joy with me, God. Hear my prayers and heal my broken heart. Send me a child so I may rejoice in them as mothers have rejoiced throughout the generations.
Prayer to be said prior to a procedure to aid fertility
God, creator of all, you wisely formed the human body. You created it with openings upon openings and vessels upon vessels. You know well that should even one of these open when it should remain closed, or close when it should remain open, we could not long survive. God of life with the key to the womb, guide the ways of my openings and closings so that they receive and hold and then safely release a child. Blessed are you God, healer of all flesh, who guides the wonders of creation.
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the founding associate director of the National Center for Jewish Healing. These prayers are adapted from the 2007 edition of her book “Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope,” published by Jewish Lights.