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“Born From Loss: Birkat Emunah”

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This essay is brought to The Layers Project Magazine in partnership with The Eden Center.

“That lady at the mikvah…She caught my eye and I just stood there staring.  

The person staring back at me looked so familiar and yet I couldn’t place her.

The mikvah is a funny place.  On the one hand it is supposed to be the most private place; everyone pretends they don’t know the person they surely recognize as they cross paths in the doorway.  And yet it is also a place that everyone is so open; so vulnerable; stripped down literally and spiritually to the bear essence of being.

I would always find it so interesting to stop for a minute and look at the women around me; trying to grab a glimpse into their eyes; recognizing that each woman walking through that door has her own story. Her own wants, her own needs, and her own prayers.

On this particular mikvah night I was caught staring into the eyes of that lady at the mikvah.  Her eyes, enveloped by dark circles looked tired and heavy. They appeared red from crying and withdrawn in thought; barely noticing that I was watching her.  I suspected from the way she was dressed and tying her mitpachat that she was most probably an anglo; similarly aged to me. Her back was bent, as if afraid to make any eye contact.  Her arms seemed heavy- almost as if she was holding something- but they were empty.

She was about to go into her prep room where I knew layers would be peeled off, but it was bothering me that I still couldn’t place her.

I reached my hand slowly out as if to stop and grab her attention-knowing that I was breaking all of the unwritten rules women have in the mikvah, and suddenly I realized she was staring back at me.  

And as I touched the cold, stark glass in front of me and took a deep breath before beginning my preparations, I realized what I might have known all along.

That lady at the mikvah was me.

Could it really be possible?  I stared in disbelief at the mirror in front of me.  I could barely find myself in those aged eyes; in that foreign body; amongst those tears.  

It wasn’t only my appearance that confused me, though it continued to do so as I began to get ready, but my thoughts and emotions at and about the mikvah felt strange and distant.  I always loved the mikvah; always felt it was inspiring, invigorating, refreshing. I used to miss it when I couldn’t go.

Tonight it all felt alarmingly different. I was exhausted and angry, feeling like the hour was a tedious chore I needed to get through. I wanted it to be over and done with.

I withdrew a little, trying to once again just view myself as some random lady at the mikvah as I moved through my preparations. I continued to feel unrecognizable to myself.  

As I sat preparing, trying to avoid looking down at the giant scar stretching across my body, I couldn’t avoid noticing the pure, creamy, white “liquid gold” milk drip down my body, and as matching tears began streaming down my face, I was forced to remember.

Forced to remember, that I am that lady at the mikvah. That lady who I almost couldn’t recognize because she looked so different then the girl who had last been standing in the very same room only a few months earlier.  

That lady, no longer a girl, whose trip to the mikvah was the utmost reminder of the lack of life inside of her. That lady who despite today being her due date, had no baby waiting for her at home, yearning for that dripping milk.  That lady whose scar beneath her belly will be a constant reminder of the beautiful little girl she tried to give the best chance at life to, but after only to few, heart wrenching and extremely special days, was taken from this world.  And that lady who standing vulnerable at the mikvah, is confused by the person staring back at her.

The mikvah is the spot that brings these reminders.  It is the place where I am compelled to look in the mirror and confront the fact that, that broken, scarred lady is me.

The mirror, the images, the reality are all so important and yet they are so hard.  I know in just a few minutes the reflection I will be seeing will be from the waters of the mikvah.  The waters that I know are supposed to represent the womb and yet that thought makes my womb feel so starkly empty.  The waters that are supposed to represent rebirth and yet this is not the birth I envisioned for today. The waters that are supposed to invoke the tefillot of a “shaat rachamim” and yet my heart feels numb.

I close my eyes and the tears stream down as I hope that somehow my tears will be translated into prayers as they fall into and converge with the waters of the mikvah.  It’s not only my tears but the tears and hopes and prayers of all of women who came into the mikvah before me and will come after, literally pooling together. This is what makes the water I will immerse in so special.  The tears of this lady, and that lady; each with her own story.

The tears that I never knew and could have never imagined I would know how to cry.

I take one more look in the mirror as I ring the bell, signaling that I’m ready.  And I wonder if when I emerge from immersion, I’ll recognize that lady at the mikvah.”

***Note From The Eden Center***

Cheryl was driven with a passion to help others in similar situations and we began to talk about how to transition from pain to action; from mourning to meaning – in order to help others. We realized together that for the mikveh to hold her pain — and that of thousands of others — and even move beyond the pain to offer healing — it would be helpful to create a collection of tefillot, thoughts and practical tips to get through that time. We worked with a team to compile a resource guide for women who have suffered infertility and/or pregnancy or neonatal loss, published together with Yesh Tikva, called Birkat Emunah that we share with the wider community. We hope that you will never need it, but it’s here for you or to share with a loved one if necessary.

“Born From Loss: Birkat Emunah”- written by Cheryl Burnat, originally published in 2015 in The Eden Center Blog. Republished in our month-long partnership with The Eden Center on the topic of “Mikvah.”

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Cheryl made aliyah from New Jersey 10 years ago and serves as the Director of Programming at Midreshet Lindenbaum. In her spare time she dabbles in legal translations, hadrachat kallot and medical advocacy. Cheryl lives in her dream town of Jerusalem with her husband Adam and two handsome princes – Gavi and Ori.

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