Only months after giving birth did I realize how much I could have benefited from a spiritual birth plan
One of the most surprising aspects of Jewish tradition is its absenteeism during childbirth. Although Judaism is rich in prayer and minhag (custom) during almost every other significant life cycle event, there is no religious ritual for women during the birth experience. Maybe it’s because our sages were male or because women aren’t traditionally restricted by the same time-bound mitzvotLit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." as men, but as a result we are left with a life-altering experience that can be lacking in spiritual support.
Birth in the United States is especially focused around caring for the newborn and not for the mom (emotionally or physically). The phrase to “give” birth in English implies that the mother is making a sacrifice. In Hebrew there’s an added connotation. Special words in the Hebrew language have meaning woven into their letters. For example, the word for “womb” in Hebrew is rekhem; the root of the word rekhem means mercy and compassion. Intrinsically Judaism recognizes that a mother has a deep and ancient connection to her baby, and during birth the concepts of mercy and compassion really come to fruition.
As a mother who personally suffered a traumatic birth experience when my son was born two years ago, I know firsthand how a woman in labor is at the mercy and control of others around her. My attention was so solely focused on bringing my baby into this world that I had little compassion for myself, and for my own spiritual and emotional experience giving birth. It is only through unpacking the events in my mind months later I realize how much I could have benefited from bringing a spiritual birth plan with me to the hospital.
Traditionally in Judaism there are some verses that are said at the time of birth, including Psalm 126, which includes the words: “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy” and Psalm 118, which speaks about coming close to death but trusting in God to answer our prayers. It is also traditional for the baby’s mother to recite Birkat Ha-gomel with a minyanThe group of ten adult Jews needed to read from the Torah and to recite some of the most important communal prayers. In Orthodox communities, a quorum of ten men is traditionally required. Today, most liberal Jewish communities count all Jewish adults as part of a minyan. at synagogue, a blessing used to thank God when we have survived a perilous journey. Yet there are no specific prayers for the woman in labor to say during her struggle or even to first utter when the baby is finally pushed (or pulled!) into this world.
I am currently drafting a book on the Jewish women’s experience during pregnancy (to be published by Ben Yehuda Press and released in the Fall of 2019). I wrote the chapter on giving birth in a way that will hopefully reclaim some sense of control and agency during the birth process, at least in spiritual terms. I want to encourage women to create their own spiritual birth plans and to provide here the tools to do so.
Two years ago when I packed my hospital bag for my son’s birth I included a siddurLit. Order of prayers. The prayer book. and a B’kol Ekhad (a Jewish song book), thinking that I might have time to pray during labor and delivery. I paused as I placed it neatly into my curated little carry on because I wasn’t sure which prayers I should actually try to remember to say. As it turns out, I never did open either one and I think part of the reason for that is I had no idea which prayers to turn to. As I am pregnant again now I want to create a ritual to comfort and care for myself during what I know will be one of the most significant days of my life.
My “Spiritual Birth Plan” is to keep it simple. I know from experience that I may not have long stretches of time to read or recite something, so when active labor really begins and I head to the hospital I will simply say the Shema—the same prayer I sing to my son each night before he falls asleep. I use that time to ask God to watch over him during the night, and I’ll use the prayer this time around to ask God to watch over me during what might be a painful and scary time in the hospital.
Then, when God willing the baby is here, I will say the Shehekheyanu, the same prayer I recited when I found out I was pregnant and what I will say when I immerse in the mikvehThe ritual bath. The waters of the mikveh symbolically purify – they are seen as waters of rebirth. A convert immerses in the mikveh as part of conversion. Many Orthodox married women go to the mikveh following their period and before resuming sexual relations. Couples go to the mikveh before being married. Many, including some men, immerse before Yom Kippur; some go every Friday before Shabbat. at my ninth month. I’ll say it to thank God for sustaining me through a long nine months of pregnancy, for keeping me alive during the dangers of childbirth and enabling me to reach such a blessed day as to see my own baby come into this world.
Barukh atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh ha-olam, shehekheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
If you are considering creating a Spiritual Birth Plan I encourage you to consider these specific times listed below during the process and to choose prayers that are meaningful to you. You can also include your own personal thoughts and writings to read during these moments. And if things turn out to be more hectic than you had expected (which often they do), consider saying them together with your partner as you leave the hospital or in your first days at home with your newborn.
- Before Labor Begins – in your Ninth Month
- As Labor Begins
- On Your Way to the Hospital
- When Baby Arrives into the World
- Upon Returning Home
Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her MyJewishMommyLife YouTube channel www.youtube.com/myjewishmommylife and @MyJewishMommyLife Instagram page where she shares her experiences as a mother to her baby boy, focused on living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life.