The Key: A Ritual for Perinatal Loss

close up of white woman wearing white t-shirt with a few colorful horizontal stripes. she's wearing a necklace with a key hanging on it, and she's holding the key with two fingers. she has rings on her pointer and middle fingers.


Jewish tradition tells us that the management of the world is overseen by God and God’s dedicated heavenly troupe of messengers, malakhim, who are dispatched on various errands with keys to facilitate their tasks, like helping our bread to rise or urging each blade of grass to grow (Bereishit Rabbah 10:6).

But there are three keys, three tasks, that God does not delegate: the life-giving key to the rains, the secret to the world to come, and childbirth.

The Italian Jewish tradition latched onto this image regarding childbirth and created amulets in the shape of keys to be worn by women seeking to become pregnant—and carrying a healthy baby to term. We have adapted this tradition for modern fertility desires.

Purpose: providing an opportunity to ritually acknowledge grief related to infertility or perinatal loss and the opening of a pathway forward

Materials: a key or a piece of paper and a writing implement

Ritual text: From the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 2a

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: שְׁלֹשָׁה מַפְתְּחוֹת בְּיָדוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁלֹּא נִמְסְרוּ בְּיַד שָׁלִיחַ, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: מַפְתֵּחַ שֶׁל גְּשָׁמִים, מַפְתֵּחַ שֶׁל חַיָּה, וּמַפְתֵּחַ שֶׁל תְּחִיַּית הַמֵּתִים

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: “There are three keys maintained in the hand of the Holy One, Blessed be He, which were not transmitted to an intermediary; [that is] G-d tends to these matters G-dself. And they are: The key of rain, the key of birthing, and the key to eternal life.”

Ritual steps:

1. Listen to the text as it is read aloud. Consider your relationship to the key of birth.

2. Select a key from your possible collection of keys whose purpose has been forgotten. Or, if you prefer, draw the outline of a key on a piece of paper.

3. With the key in front of you, consider your intention: what do you need to be locked or unlocked? Imagine all the steps of opening and closing that happens during conception and pregnancy—mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, medical.

4. Write your intention/prayer. If you have drawn a key, write above, below, around or inside your key. If you have an actual key, write your intention/prayer on a tag and attach it to or wrap it around your key.

5. If you wish, carry your key and its prayer/intention with you throughout the day in your wallet or pocket, or wear it as a necklace.

If you wish to keep your key at home, mindfully choose a place that has meaning for you—perhaps a jewelry or keepsake box, or tucked under a pillow or nestled somewhere beside your bed.

If the time comes that your key and its intention/prayer is no longer of service to you, you may wish to bury it in a garden or a pot containing a plant in acknowledgment that the mysteries of life and death are in the hands of the Holy One.

Or, you  may wish to gift your key to another person who is on a fertility journey.

Note: While this tradition specifically associates the key with procreation, this ritual can be adapted to other transitional moments and times of unlocking potential.

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