Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I became a doula, and specifically, a doula specializing in Jewish birth, because of my own experiences in labor and delivery. I had planned for a home birth with my first child. We had a tub in our kitchen for a month; we had practiced breathing; we had thought through lighting and music. We were pumped. And then my daughter refused to come out. We had to go to the hospital three times for the drug that induces labor and then when I went into labor at the hospital, I had to stay. This change in birth plan and place threw me. And the intense contractions brought on by the drugs and the back labor didn’t help. I had one intervention and then another, finally ending in a cesarean.
Luckily, my daughter is healthy and wonderful and although it was a tough birth, the outcomes were good. Still, it took some healing to get over how she came into the world.
With my second child, I wanted to prepare differently. I knew labor and birth can go any which way, but I also knew that I needed to mentally prepare myself differently than I had the first time. For me, that meant going to my cultural roots. I am a rabbi — in my personal and professional life, Jewish learning, culture, and ritual are important to me. Why had there been none of that integrated into my preparation and experience of birth — one of the most transformative experiences of my life?
I began researching Jewish birth rituals, blessings, practices, and stories. I got my hands on Jewish birth art and affirmations. You should have seen my bag ready to take to the birth center — it was loaded with stuff. And then, of course, the birth went nothing like how I had imagined. This time, it was fast and furious. I went into labor at my daughter’s second birthday party and didn’t make it to the cake before I had to leave. I was concerned I’d give birth in the car on the way to the birth center. Thankfully, all was well and I had a beautiful birth in a large, luxurious, birthing tub, and my son came into the world healthy and happy. The bag full of the Jewish birth stuff? Still in the car.
Once I started looking for Jewish blessings, art, literature, practices, ritual for birth, there was so much there. Yet, when I speak to Jewish women and their partners they are always surprised. There is a cultural treasure trove waiting to be accessed, a world of meaning that can be incorporated into the powerful time and experiences of pregnancy and birth, and yet these treasures are buried. It took me a lot of time and deep research to collect all of this and I didn’t want it to go to waste. So, I became one of the first Rabbi/Doulas in the world!
As a Jewish Doula, my passion is helping women all over the world bring Jewish ritual, culture, and practice to the birth experience. I use traditional blessings, either from Psalms( Tehillim) and prayers written in Yiddish by women themselves (tekhines), or modern sources. I use the tradition of the mikvah to aid women in birth preparation or healing. I give examples of birth art to use as focal points and meditations rooted in Talmud and Aggadah.
In this age of women reclaiming our histories, voices, and spaces in Jewish life, pregnancy and birth can be powerful and meaningful areas to explore. We can bring Judaism to these transformative moments and use these moments to deepen our Judaism.