by Rabbi Ilana C. Garber
While it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve spent most of my married life attending the local mikveh in my small town. It’s not as beautiful as Mayyim Hayyim, but the warm waters and kind mikveh guide have welcomed me each month, and I truly enjoy the mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha, family purity. I know it isn’t traditional to add the “Shehecheyanu” prayer, thanking God for enabling us to reach this special occasion, at each monthly immersion, but at each mikveh visit, I politely excuse the shomeret (mikveh guide) and take a few private moments to pray, adding in this special blessing.
I’ve thanked God for returning my menses after the births of my sons; I’ve thanked God for reuniting me with my husband after our days of separation. I’ve prayed to conceive; I’ve cried over failed cycles of IVF; and I’ve resolved to be a more attentive mother and a more loving wife. The secrets of the mikveh are powerful and the hope, the tikvah, I always find in the mikveh is what sustains me in my relationships and life.
When we made the decision not to try to conceive anymore (I am a carrier of a genetic pre-mutation and our younger son has Fragile X Syndrome, so the only way we can safely have a child is through IVF), I cried. I cried in the shower in the preparation room. I cried as the shomeret checked my back for stray hairs. And I cried as I immersed in the mikveh.
Who am I now, I cried, now that I am not trying to get pregnant? What is the point of the mikveh?
With compassion and genuine concern, the shomeret offered me words of comfort: the mikveh is about hope, but not only hope to conceive. It’s about the hopeful reunion and reconnection with my husband; the hope and renewal of our time together. As I immersed in the mikveh that night, I considered her words. It was a new beginning for me. I will continue to menstruate, God willing, for years, and I will continue to visit the mikveh each month. My mikveh visits will not mark the death of potential life and they will not give me hope that we will conceive a baby. But as the warm waters surround me, I will emerge refreshed and renewed, with hope for my relationship with my husband and hope for all that I can be in my life. And, grateful to God for enabling me to reach this special occasion, I will recite the “Shehecheyanu”.
Rabbi Ilana C. Garber is originally from Brookline, MA. She is a rabbi at Beth El Temple, West Hartford, CT. She wrote the original mikveh guide training curriculum for Mayyim Hayyim. Rabbi Garber is on the board of Mikveh Bess Israel in Hartford, CT. Visit her at ilanagarber.com and follow her tweets @ilanagarber.
[This piece originally appeared on the Mayyim Hayyim Blog on November 13, 2013]