By Rebbetzin Lisa Septimus
A number of years ago, I knew a woman who was in her ninth month of pregnancy and lost the baby. Word spread quickly, and everyone whispered about how sad it was, but nothing more was done. The couple was encouraged to move on and try again, but there was no formal acknowledgment–as if perhaps they should hide the loss, as if perhaps there was something to be ashamed of. I find myself thinking of that couple from time to time and wondering how that impacted their lives then and now.
Three years ago, when I was studying to be a yoetzet halachah, I met Reva Judas. Reva came to speak to us about her organization, NechamaComfort, which assists Jewish families that have experienced infant and pregnancy loss. Reva told us her personal story of losing her firstborn son, Pesach, twelve hours after he was born, and also experiencing six miscarriages. Reva is blessed to have four healthy children and two grandchildren. Her story moved me and I wanted others to be able to hear her.
Two weeks ago, Mrs. Judas came to the Five Towns as a scholar-in-residence. She spoke on Shabbos morning at the Young Israel of North Woodmere and in the afternoon at the home of a member of the Irving Place Minyan. Mrs. Judas pointed out that in the parashah of Tazria-Metzora, the Torah relays the laws of tumah and taharah after the birth of a child. She noted that the Torah only talks about the law when the pregnancy and birth both go as planned. There is no mention of what happens if there is a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or infant loss. And in fact this is a matter that is barely covered by halachah. There are no laws surrounding the loss, no shivah to observe, no specific burial requirements. The focus is on moving forward.
Mrs. Judas had three main points to convey to the community. The first is the importance of choice. Every couple that experiences a loss, whether of a fetus of two months or a two-day-old baby, must be presented with choices of what to do–choices of burial, keeping memories, or even naming. The choices will allow each couple to mourn or be comforted in their own way. The second point was not to judge. Do not challenge the choices that couples make as either being too much or too little. The third point is to reach out to people who have suffered a loss. Acknowledge it and check in with them so that they have an opportunity to share their feelings if they want to.
Mrs. Judas referred to her list of do’s and don’ts that she created for interacting with families experiencing loss. The list can be downloaded from her website, www.nechamacomfort.com. The website also contains more information about the various services that her organization provides, as well as a link to a very moving interview.
I had the privilege of introducing Mrs. Judas before she spoke. I mentioned that one of our greatest gifts, as Orthodox Jews, is community. The community enriches our lives through celebrations, lifecycles, Shabbat experience, and education, and it is there for us in times of pain and need. However, for couples experiencing infant or pregnancy loss, the community can be a burden. Being around all the small children and pregnant women can be a painful reminder. Reva Judas expanded upon this by saying that we are raised to dream and plan about our future families from a young age. The disappointment and loss is therefore that much heavier, challenging our assumptions and expectations of what we will be and how our lives will unfold.
Recognizing how difficult it is in these situations to be a part of the usually comforting Orthodox community, we must try even harder to recognize the pain of our friends and help them through it. To those who have experienced this painful loss, Ms. Judas says it is never too late to reach out.
Reva Judas can be reached at 201-724-4093 or at email@example.com. Donations to her organization can be made on her website at www.nechamacomfort.com. v
Lisa Septimus is yoetzet halachah of the Five Towns. She lectures widely and is available for phone or e-mail consultation on all matters of taharat mishpachah and women’s health. She can be reached at 516-900-2109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.