During My High-Risk Pregnancy, I Found Comfort In Jewish Prayer – Kveller
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During My High-Risk Pregnancy, I Found Comfort In Jewish Prayer

Growing up mostly secular, praying as a means for support would have rarely occurred to me. But in the throes of my second high-risk pregnancy, it seemed like the only way to find peace.


Photo by Charles Deluvio via Unsplash

Growing up, my family was what some people called “holiday Jews.” We got presents on Hanukkah, went to services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and ate matzah on Passover. But we never went to a Shabbat service. I didn’t know what the word pareve meant until college. And I never set foot in a sukkah until I was in my 20s. 

Likewise, the idea of utilizing Jewish prayer as a means for comfort and support would have rarely occurred to me. But in the throes of my second high-risk pregnancy, prayer seemed like the only way to find peace. 

When I was pregnant with my first child, I developed gestational diabetes. My pregnancy was deemed high-risk, and, as someone with a history of anxiety, I followed all the rules to keep my daughter safe. I kept the diet, sometimes even stricter than my nutritionist said I needed to be. I made sure every blood sugar check never even inched near the cut off numbers. I controlled the situation to the best of my abilities. I may have been high-risk, but I did everything in my power to keep my baby safe. When she was born, I knew that everything I did was worth it. 

So last June, when the pregnancy test came back positive once again, I felt like I could handle it. After all, as my husband and I had said, I already had a high-risk pregnancy and a tough delivery; what could be harder than that?

I went into this second pregnancy nauseous, moody and strictly following a healthy diet coupled with intensive prenatal cardio to ward off gestational diabetes a second time. I was in control. I was preventing the high-risk label a second time. That is until I went for my anatomy scan at 20 weeks. My daughter was home sick and my parents were watching her while my husband and I went to the hospital for the scan. I had timed her doctor’s appointment for the late afternoon, giving us plenty of time, even if the wait was long for my appointment. When they walked us to the room, I mentioned to my husband that this was the same room I was in when they did a scan of my daughter (two days before I delivered) and told me she had stopped growing, and I had to return in a few days. I thought about how nothing could feel worse than getting that news. 

The scan started off normally, checking each organ, but then it seemed to be taking a long time. The ultrasound technician kept circling back to the umbilical cord, then more pictures of the heart. I was getting annoyed. I needed to text my parents to see if they could take my daughter to her appointment. I couldn’t believe how incompetent the technician was that she could not get the image she needed. I rationalized. When she left the room saying the doctor would be in shortly, I complained to my husband. I complained about this messing with my daughter’s doctor’s appointment; I complained about missing work; I complained about how long it was taking for the doctor to come in. 

Finally, I had enough. I had to pee, and we had been waiting for nearly a half hour for the doctor. I stood up and opened the door and found that the doctor’s office was right outside our room. The doctor, ultrasound technician and a team of nurses stood up and spun around to look at me. My heart sank. “Go use the bathroom, take your time. We have a few more things to discuss, and I will be in shortly,” the doctor said.

I wanted to keep rationalizing. I wanted to keep blaming the ultrasound technician. But I knew then she had done nothing wrong. I looked to my husband. “There is something wrong,” I told him. Shortly after the doctor came in with his team. I was informed that I had what was known as a single umbilical artery, and the baby seemed to be experiencing restricted growth. He was barely at the 3rd percentile. The doctor went on to tell me all the awful things that could cause this, and all the potentially devastating outcomes. It felt like I was listening to him through a fishbowl. I could see and hear him, but everything felt distorted. This was not how this appointment was supposed to go. This was not how this pregnancy was supposed to go.

When everything was done and they walked us out, I realized no one else was there. The office had been closed for over an hour; they had stayed open late for me. My heart sank again. This wasn’t a run of the mill high-risk. 

Over the next few days, Google became my enemy, showing me everything that could be wrong, everything I had to fear, and how little I could do to control the situation. There was no diet, no vitamin, no fix. I could only wait and see. But doing nothing has never worked for me.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had bought a women’s prayer book. I had said the prayer for expectant mothers periodically, and it helped me feel connected to my Judaism as I embarked on a new phase in my life. Now, I went back to that prayer, this time earnestly trying to be heard by a higher power who could keep my baby safe. “May it be Your will, Hashem, God and the God of my forefathers, that You ease the pain of my pregnancy, and that You continue to grant me strength and power for all the days of my pregnancy, and that my strength and the strength of my fetus not be diminished by anything in the world…”

Since having my daughter, we had made Shabbat a weekly part of life. I’d recite the Hebrew prayer for lighting the candles and my daughter would help me by waiving her hands over the candles three times. And then, in a whisper, I would plead to the void for my baby to be safe and healthy. Each week, the same words: “Please keep him safe and let him be healthy.”   

As the weeks ticked on, I returned to the high-risk specialist every Friday, my own bizarro Shabbat ritual. I heard good news — it was an isolated form, no underlying problems — and I heard bad news, like when the baby dropped below the 3rd percentile and a doctor so bluntly told me that if the baby had to be delivered that day, it would not survive. Each week I asked what more I could do. Rest was the only response. Rest! How could I rest? I was working full-time and came home to a toddler; who has time for rest? 

I approached my job for help. They so kindly told me the only thing they could do was cut my hours. They also informed me that if the stress of my job led to something happening with my pregnancy, they could not be held liable. How nice. I smiled through the meetings, cried when I got home, and prayed some more. 

Each time I prayed for the life of my unborn child, I felt calmer. I was actively working to help a situation that I otherwise had no control over. Life felt chaotic, but prayer kept me grounded. 

Then at 36 weeks and six days, I began shaking at work. I felt terrible. I was having horrible cramps. Afraid I was in labor, I went to the hospital. No labor yet, but I did test positive for COVID-19. My heart sank. How could this have happened? I wore a mask at work. We had removed my daughter from daycare to try to keep the baby safe. The cramps were false labor brought on by dehydration. The baby’s heart rate was elevated. I was days away from my induction date, which now had to be moved because of COVID. I went home to rest in bed, as did my husband and daughter, who now were also sick. What could I do? How could I help my unborn baby? I prayed. 

Two days later I woke up to blood. Back to the hospital I flew. And, after a few hours of monitoring, back I was sent home. That night, my water broke. For the third time in three days, I returned to the hospital. Through contractions, Pitocin, the baby’s heart rate dropping and a poorly done epidural — all moments when I thought I could not go on, when I was certain I could not make it through — I would close my eyes and pray. I prayed to have the strength to continue, prayed that my baby was safe and would make it into the world unharmed. Finally, after over 18 hours of labor, a beautiful baby boy entered the world. He was small, and he was born with COVID, but he was safe. 

Ultimately, prayer helped keep me (somewhat) sane during the experience. It gave me a way to feel empowered when life felt so out of control. And also, I like to think, it let me know that there is something, or someone, out there looking over him, listening to my words and keeping him safe. 

Now, as I ask my son to please sleep (what newborn likes to stay awake for three-hour stretches?), I thank God for bringing me my baby boy. And I continue to pray. 

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