new moms

Letter to a New Mom in a Scary Time

Mother with her newborn baby

Dear Mama,

Because, like me, you are Jewish, you gave your baby her name today, on the eighth day of her life, according to tradition.

Because you are Jewish, we celebrated with bagels and lox.

Because you live in Portland, we also celebrated with artisanal donuts.

We gathered in a small yoga studio, shoeless, joyful, forming a circle around you and your partner and the baby. You poured a bit of warm water on her tiny feet in a sign of respect and welcoming. You blessed her with a long and beautiful life. You and your partner announced the baby’s name, which no one knew before that moment, not even your mother.

And you cried, a lot, reading the significance of the name. You kept saying, “This is not going well,” even though we all knew it was proceeding perfectly, that your love for her was so profound—and the transition to motherhood so powerful—that tears mean it is as it should be. You made it through the speech. You recalled those she was named after, those who had come before her, her great-grandparents who lived in Poland when World War II began—the ones who escaped, the ones who didn’t. You said you had hoped, during your pregnancy, to bring this baby into a world where our country had its first female president.

You acknowledged that this is not the case.

We recited the ancient priestly blessing over your baby as she slept, wrapped in her father’s prayer shawl, which was about twenty times bigger than her body. She looked cozy and happy.

I was in your situation five years ago, and again two years ago: my hormones a Jackson Pollock in progress, my body a basketball deflated only slightly by the birth, my self shattered and blossoming wildly, all at once.

But those were different days. We are in the Trump Era now. I don’t need to detail what that means. Those of us who believe in health care and racial justice and gender equality and environmental protection and financial regulation— we feel threatened right now. We feel our country is threatened, too. We are on new ground.

It is a scary time to welcome a baby into the world.

But because we are Jewish, we also know that this is nothing new.

We grew up hearing the stories. We know that hatred and evil will recur, as they always have, and it will be our job—and the job of our great-grandchildren, in their turn—to fight those dark forces.

And we also know that power, however monolithic it may seem, does not last. We recently read the story of Purim, in which an evil adviser directs a foolish king towards genocide. We shook our heads in recognition. This is not a new story.

The beginning of Ecclesiastes is often translated “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” But in Hebrew, it really means something more like “Breath, breath, all is breath.” The word translated as “vanity” is really the word for the steam that comes out of our mouths as we exhale.

Our bodies are miracles. We give birth to miracles. And part of the miracle is that we pass away.

And so, mama, we do what we can while we are here. We love our children fiercely. We teach them to fight for peace, to learn the traditions, to serve others, to love themselves, to love beyond themselves. And one day it will be their job to teach their children the same thing. And so it goes.

And the baby namings, and the songs, and the holidays, and the carbohydrates: these things bring us together. We keep our tradition strong, and in exchange, it keeps us strong. Through the darkest times, and also the most joyful. We’ll get through this together.

With love,

Alicia

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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