Hating the Mikveh: Halakhic Infertility
Here is the story of my friend, Chana bat Leah:
A month after my husband and I got married, I had a dream that I gave birth to a baby boy. The next night I had another dream that I attended the bris of our son. The dreams were incredibly vivid, and I had never dreamt about babies before. So I told my husband, Gedaliah, “Either Hashem is playing tricks on us, or we’re going to have a baby boy in 9 months.”
And 9 months later, sure enough, I gave birth to our son, Aryeh. I had been really scared of the pain of labor, but in the end I had an incredible home birth, and I loved the experience and felt really empowered by it. I dedicated my life to mothering. I was passionate about nursing, making homemade baby food, and reading about parenting and children’s health.
That was over 6 years ago. And Aryeh is still our only child.
I nursed Aryeh for 3 years, and only started ovulating again when he was 2. I was excited about the prospect of getting pregnant and having another child. I was really looking forward to the prospect of having a little girl, and naming her after my beloved grandmother. Yet month after month, my long-awaited daughter did not come.
I soon figured out the reason I wasn’t getting pregnant. I was ovulating before I went to the mikvah, which meant I was “halachically infertile.”
For me, having a child wasn’t just something I wanted, it was something that I yearned for on a physical level, like a starving person needs food. My body yearned to carry another baby within me, and to nurse another child. After I discovered that I was experiencing halachic infertility, I did many different natural treatments to try to get to the mikvah earlier. I also took hormones for four months, but I felt extremely uncomfortable with it, so I stopped.
One of the hardest aspects of infertility is that, in order to get pregnant, I need to be taking my temperature and checking my cervical mucus every day, and I need to meet regularly with doctors. And that constant hyper-monitoring throws the issue in my face all the time. It brings stress to what should be a very beautiful and natural process of two people meeting in love and affection and, through this love, bringing life into the world.
Having more children became something I had to work very hard to do. And it felt like if I didn’t make a huge effort, it was as though I didn’t deserve to have child. This, of course, is incredibly ironic considering how many people make a huge effort not to have a baby.
Another very difficult aspect of halachic infertility was how it made me hate the mikvah. I had totally connected trying to have a baby with mikvah night, because it was the one night a month I had even a slim chance at conceiving. I almost always ovulate before I go to the mikvah, so I know most months that I have no chance of getting pregnant. The mikvah, therefore, became a total slap in the face. Many nights, after immersion, I found myself bawling in the bathroom of the mikvah, feeling totally broken, physically and spiritually.
The mikvah ladies got to know me and my situation very well over the years. Maybe it was my imagination, but I felt like they were being extra nice to me because they pitied me. And somehow their being so nice made the experience even worse.
About 2 years ago, I reached the point where I just couldn’t stand going to the mikvah anymore. The mikvah was a place where I felt embarrassed and humiliated and grief-stricken. It always felt like the mikvah ladies were thinking, “Oh, it’s you again….” It also felt like having to go through all the required checks and preparations made this monthly slap in the face sting even worse. I hated that I would come home from the mikvah month after month and fall weeping into my husband’s arms. Not exactly violins playing in the background.
And that was the point when I realized that I had to do something to somehow alleviate the suffering going to the mikvah was causing me. So I did two things.
The first thing I did, which really helped me to feel more positive towards mikvah, was write a song about it.
The second thing I did was study to become a Kallah teacher, to teach brides the laws of Family Purity. Since completing that course, I’ve never actually taught a bride, but the experience of studying these laws was totally transformative for me and my attitude towards mikvah.
There were difficult points in the course, like when the lecturers would talk about having children for example, and I would feel so upset that I would have to leave the classroom. But the course as a whole enabled me to see the mikvah in a more positive and spiritual light.
Our teacher, Rabbanit Esther Levanon of Binyan Shalem, taught us how holy Jewish women are, and how Family Purity is the key to the spiritual and physical continuation of the Jewish people. She taught us that when God commanded us “Kedoshim Tihiyu” (You shall be holy) that He was referring in large part to the holiness we attain through the Family Purity laws.
Most importantly, Rabbanit Levanon made me understand that mikvah has three aspects:
1. It’s something I do for God.
2. It’s something I do for my husband.
3. It’s something I do in order to have children.
And that made me understand that a big reason I was getting so depressed at the mikvah was the fact that I had been focusing nearly exclusively on the third aspect— my unfulfilled desire to have children.
So, instead of focusing on my disappointment about being infertile on Mikvah night, I forced myself to focus, instead, on how performing this important mitzvah was strengthening my connection with Hashem and my husband.
One of the challenges of halachic infertility is that it can make you resent the halachic system. We have a mitzvah from the Torah to have children. And yet the halacha itself says we must wait seven extra days to go to the mikvah, which puts a number of women in my situation: ovulating before mikvah night. I decided not to put my energies into getting upset and frustrated with the halachic system. I really believe the halacha changes the way the world works for Jews, and that Hashem works within the context that halacha creates. I believe that the Jewish people exists above nature. I have a friend who has never ovulated in her whole life, and she is now expecting her third child. All the doctors agree that I am fertile, and that at this point there’s no physical reason I’m not getting pregnant. Additionally, last year we received a halachic ruling from an important rabbi that has enabled me to get earlier to the mikvah. And I’m hopeful that this will finally enable me to get pregnant.
But the truth is that deep down I agree with a Kabbalist we met earlier this year who told us that there’s some tikkunim (spiritual fixings) that my husband and I need to make in order to have another child.
It’s far from easy for me to be going through this, but I do try to see the blessings in our current situation. Not having another child means that we are able to learn with our son and play with him and give him a lot more attention than we would be able to if we had other children. And maybe he is a special child who needs this extra attention in order to prepare him for his role in life? We are also able to invest time and energy in other projects and into enriching our marriage.
I know that if Hashem wanted me to get pregnant, I’d be getting pregnant. And I’m just waiting for that day when I will be blessed with another pregnancy and baby. And I’m praying that that day, please God, will be very soon.
Please pray for Chana bat Leah and Gedaliah Yechezkel ben Bracha that they should be blessed with a healthy child.