Because I’m pregnant, this is the first Yom Kippur in a long time (since my bat mitzvah!) that I can’t fast. While I’m not 100% observant, I do cling to a patchwork of Jewish practices, and fasting on Yom Kippur is one of them. Fasting is always a challenge to different degrees, and sometimes distracting from the reflective, spiritual intention of the day. But at the same time, fasting tends to be meaningful for me. This ancient ascetic practice can help one enter into a state of mind that is out of the ordinary and ripe for spiritual insight.
Nevertheless, I won’t miss it this year. Fasting is antithetical, and obviously dangerous, to pregnancy, and the rabbis knew enough about basic biology to forbid it. But I wonder how not fasting will change the meaning and tenor of the holiday for me. It might be easy to forego the fast, but how easy will it be to pray?
Whether or not one is pregnant, food is nourishment for body and soul. Feeding oneself is a fundamental act of self-care–and for a pregnant woman, we are even more acutely aware of the life-giving power of food. Every week new fetal tissue, ligaments, and cells are formed–seemingly miraculously, by the simple act of feeding our bodies and by extension the bodies of our growing babies. Pregnancy can attune oneself to the act of unconditional giving and receiving, an appropriate practice for motherhood.
And yet, as I contemplate this holiday season, which asks us to reflect on the year that is passing and the year to come, I worry that Yom Kippur may have little resonance for me. The liturgy tends not to be nourishing: Who will live, who will die, chest-pounding repentance for our sins. This is not the vibe I’m drawn to at the moment. It’s bad enough pregnant women are bombarded with a constant stream of advice, and sometimes admonition, for whatever choices they might make during pregnancy and beyond. Do we also need the wagging finger of God to remind us what we’ve done wrong?
Instead, I’m looking forward to Rosh Hashanah. The new year holiday is all sweetness, hopefulness, and appropriately, foodiness. I’ve been collecting recipes in anticipation, looking forward to feeding my holiday guests, myself, and my Jew-to-be baby. I’m imagining all the future holidays we’ll celebrate together in this growing family, lighting candles, singing songs, passing the brisket. But even in this fantasy, my Jewish guilt pokes in. Certainly I have something to repent for this year! Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m absolved from this crucial act of self-reflection.
And yet how strange to take stock of last year, while looking ahead to how next year I might be different? Normally on Yom Kippur (and during the weeks before), I can come up with a few things I’d like to work on next year. Try not to hold a grudge, let go of unhealthy relationships, practice better habits. There’s no reason I can’t do this inner work this year. But perhaps I can do so with a bit more compassion and self-acceptance than usual. I will not hold myself to unreasonable standards; I will not berate myself for mistakes.
Next year is a big unknown. I will be encountering myself in a whole new way, learning how to be a mother. In this time of transition, can I be mother to myself? Can I give myself the nourishment necessary to enter the unknown and to grow? I may or may not find the space within the Yom Kippur liturgy for these reflections, but I will try to use this time to enter the new year with less fear and more strength and love for myself. I will need it.