Even before I became pregnant I knew the rules: Don’t say the baby’s name. Don’t buy anything for the baby. Don’t plan a bris. (God-forbid!) Oh, and don’t talk about what life will be like when the baby arrives. Because, of course, the Evil Eye is always watching and you don’t want to tempt fate.
I’ve spoken to many rabbis about this since having my baby boy last year – and according to them, there’s no halachic justification for this medieval belief system. Just plain old superstition.
There is, however, a strong cultural precedence that can be interpreted as some sort of spiritual safety net for pregnant women, who before the advent of modern medicine were likely to see many infant and prenatal deaths. This same line of thought explains why there aren’t Jewish mourning rituals for miscarriage (more on that later).
I found out that I would be losing my first pregnancy when I was 5 months along. It didn’t make sense. We didn’t own a single baby item. We didn’t have a registry. I hardly even spoke about the fact that I was pregnant. I had a difficult time spiritually grieving the loss, and I desperately wanted to hold onto something from the pregnancy. To have a physical memento of a child who I would never meet. I thought about how if I had just had a blanket embroidered with his name on it, that it would be a nice thing to keep in my nightstand and hold while I wept those many months after the loss.
When a year later I gave birth to a healthy baby boy I arrived home to a state of total disarray. The only baby item we had purchased was the legally required car seat to take the baby home in, and two plain onesies for him to wear. I did have a secret list of items on Amazon that could ship next day once the baby was born. (I hadn’t even put them in my online cart, because kenahora!) I thought this was a smart practical idea, until we were in the hospital after a slightly traumatic delivery, and instead of being able to be totally present with me, my husband, understandably, was frantically searching online for things like diapers and thermometers on his phone.
The lovely homecoming we’ve all seen so many photos of on Instagram was instead a jumble of boxes and family members quickly trying to assemble something for the baby to sleep in while I sat on the edge of the bed in my pajamas too exhausted to help or even direct much of the action.
Before I had a baby I would look at Nursery Tour videos online with the baby’s name in big wooden block letters mounted on the wall months before it’s even been born and think, “So silly — what are they thinking?” Now I look at those same images and think, “This makes sense, I was an idiot.” Nesting is a natural instinct, and I believe the physical preparation of the home does wonders for putting a nervous mom-to-be’s mind at ease.
If I am lucky enough to have more children I will prepare for them however I wish. I’ll buy some baby clothes, I’ll wash crib sheets and I’ll think about the future with hope and happiness in my heart. I’ve already suffered loss without doing anything to deserve it, and I don’t believe bad things happen to good people because they go to buybuy Baby.