Guest Column by Caryn Hanrahan
“Don’t you miss delivering babies” is a question I often get these days. After leaving a clinical practice of many years, I admit I do miss delivering babies. But I have found other ways to nurture my midwife’s heart.
I am spending the majority of my time moving my elderly parents to Atlanta, which involves a different type of caretaking.
One of the similarities between being a midwife and a caretaker is the amount of waiting involved. Between waiting in doctors’ offices and sitting with my mother, who lives with dementia, my mind is free to wander and to contemplate midwifery and life’s bigger questions.
Recently, I wondered why there are so many opportunities for Jewish ceremonies and rituals after the birth of a child and so few (if any) during pregnancy.
Many Jewish women refrain from baby showers or other celebrations because of the unpredictability of pregnancy. Historically, any celebration may have caught the attention of the evil eye (or similar superstition) and invited catastrophe.
Even the traditional response to a new pregnancy is not mazel tov but b’sha-ah tovah, which literally means “in a good hour,” referring to the timing of the birth, as opposed to any kind of congratulations. Our Jewish culture, always cautious, reserves mazel tov until the baby and mother are delivered safely.
Childbearing years can be filled with happiness, but some women are forced to deal with the heartache of infertility and miscarriage. Many women find that this can be a very lonely and isolating time.
No formal rituals exist for those struggling with fertility issues. This needs to change, and it is changing, albeit slowly. We can take the customs and prayers of previous generations and create rituals that nurture us in good times as well as bad.
Fortunately in Atlanta, we have a new space to explore and create ceremonies and rituals for many of life’s transitions. Volunteers and leaders at the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah are busy writing rituals to help people spiritually address the good transitions as well as the difficult ones in life.
Pregnancy encompasses the body, mind and soul. Most Jewish women get prenatal care to monitor their pregnancy and promote physical health. What do they do to nurture their minds and their souls? This is one of the big questions that my midwife’s heart wants to answer.
I encourage any Jewish woman who is pregnant or wants to explore new and innovative ways to set intentions (kavanot) for pregnancy to join me and massage therapist Rebecca Leary Safon, the founder of Mother to Mother Massage and Yoga Therapy, for a one-time workshop at MACoM on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. The program is free, but please RSVP to RSVP@atlantamikvah.org.
We will explore some contemporary uses of mikvah for pregnant women. These include immersion during the ninth month, as well as other times one might want to immerse during pregnancy or the postnatal period.
We also will explore meditation and yoga as tools to heighten this sacred period in a woman’s life.
Lastly, we will gather to discuss the wondrous possibilities to reconnect with your soul and Judaism in a way that feels just right for each women.
I may not be delivering babies right now, but I can certainly continue to help nurture the bodies, minds and souls of pregnant women in new and meaningfully equal ways. I hope you will join me.
Caryn Hanrahan is a certified nurse-midwife who serves as vice president of MACoM.