A woman holds her hands on her lap nervously. by the Forward

Having a miscarriage made me realize how badly we are failing Jewish women

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The most shocking thing was how quickly it happened. One moment I was full of hope, and the next I was crying in a hospital bed while my husband held my hand.

“Don’t worry,” cooed the nurse. “You are young and healthy. You’ll have another baby soon.”

After leaving the hospital, my husband drove me to my cousin’s house, where our 4-year-old daughter was sleeping. They fed me couscous and tea. We thanked them for taking care of our daughter, carried her home and went to bed.

That was it. On Thursday, June 24, 2021, I had a miscarriage. Throughout the day, I just wanted for it to be over and to go to bed. But once it was over, I felt totally lost. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next.

I was taught not to talk about miscarriages —to shush them away, fold them up with the laundry and close the drawer, a secret sadness not to be discussed or shared. At the same time, because pregnancy loss is so common, women are often advised not to share the news of their pregnancy early, lest they miscarry. Some Jewish women have a concern, dating back generations, that if we talk about our pregnancies we are tempting the evil eye.

When we miscarry, we are locked into secrecy and shame. No one knows how to support us — because no one even knows something is wrong. It’s one thing to keep a pregnancy quiet until you are ready to share it, but it’s entirely another to bear your grief in silence and isolation.

We come up short in helping women and families cope with pregnancy loss, and are failing so many people. Miscarriages shouldn’t be isolating — they should be a moment where you are enveloped in love. It’s time to work towards meaningful changes within our communities so that Jewish women don’t have to suffer in silence.

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My husband told a close friend of mine about my miscarriage while I was in the emergency room. We hadn’t planned on telling people, but we were supposed to see her that evening.

When I opened my door a few days later to find she had left an enormous gift box, overflowing with bubble bath, tea, beauty products, journals, medicine and a note full of hope detailing her own struggles.

I wept with gratitude — not just for the gifts, but because I felt seen and loved.

When someone in our community has a miscarriage, there are no instructions, no recipes, no halachic obligations. No one quite knows what to do or how to talk about it.

One of the best parts of Jewish communal life is that we show up for one another. I’ve been trained my whole life to know how to show up for big moments. When you get married, I will drink and dance to celebrate. When you mourn, I will bring a roast chicken to your house and sit quietly with you. When you have a baby, I will come to see the child be named, and bring a gift.

When the pandemic was at its cruelest, I found solace and purpose in the rhythms of Jewish life. The yearly cycle, and our sacred rituals, provide structure and support during many of life’s most triumphant — and challenging — moments.

But those who experience miscarriages have no such formal rituals and communal support to rely upon; too many women feel ashamed and alone.

The day after my miscarriage, I woke up and everything was different. I am the same, just empty and devastated. When a member of our community is sick or grieving, we rally around them. So why should this type of loss be subjected to shame and silence?

I wished there was something better to do than listen to Debbie Friedman’s “Misheberach” by myself as I sit with my grief.

Fortunately, Judaism is ever evolving, and we can work to change this reality. Perhaps after a miscarriage, our synagogue sisterhoods can take care of providing Shabbat dinner for a grieving mother’s family. Maybe friends can all take turns taking their other children out to play, so that the parents have some space to grieve. There should be a special prayer, a song you sing to yourself.

And we as individuals can learn to show up for each other, like my friend did for me.

While I have the utmost respect for halacha, I think the men who wrote the guidelines on miscarriage and mourning couldn’t fully grasp the physical and emotional trauma involed. It’s well past time for women’s voices to be reflected in rituals that honor our experiences.

I don’t know exactly what shape this support should take — but I know it’s a conversation that we need to have.

I am processing a lot of strong feelings right now. But I refuse to have secrecy and shame be a part of my Jewish life.

I have stumbled into the position of being a trusted leader and friend to those who have read my work for years, especially other Jewish women. To continue the silence around miscarriages, to enable it by being quiet when I have always been loud, would feel like an enormous betrayal of the Jewish women who read my work.

And today, I need to talk not just about joy, but about my longing for children and sadness at the loss of potential life. If women like me will continue to face intense pressure to have multiple children, we also need a place where the discussion of what it takes to have those kids is supported and embraced. We should acknowledge that American motherhood is really difficult, and the community should step in to support families as much as we can.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Author

Carly Pildis

Carly Pildis

Carly Pildis is an organizing and advocacy professional living in Washington, DC.

Having a miscarriage made me realize how badly we are failing Jewish women

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