Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Guest Post: How I Learned to Love Boobin'

 By Ani Lipitz

Ani lives in Brooklyn with her awesome husband and adorable baby. She runs the (sadly neglected) Jewish mysticism blog, Light & Coffee. Ani will get her Lactation Counselor certification at the end of the summer.

Looking back, I don't know how I managed to soldier through those first few months, but I'm glad I did. There was no secret recipe for boobin' success, no expert tricks or tips. Just plain old persistence. 

How I Learned to Love Boobin'
by Ani Lipitz

As I sit here typing this, my seven-month old is laying on a pillow in my lap, happily enjoying what our little family has come to call “boobin'”. He nurses with a look of pure bliss on his face, stopping to smile at me as I gaze down at him. He reaches his sweet little hand up and strokes my hair. I melt a little.

Then, with demon-like speed, he grabs a handful and yanks a clump right out of my scalp. I screech in pain. He giggles.

Ah, the joys of breastfeeding.

Despite my bald patches (and the occasional bite mark, now that he's sprouted two razor-sharp chompers), I love nursing. And frankly, that's a miracle, given the way we kicked off our boobin' relationship.  

My baby was delivered via C-section after a labor filled with pretty much every intervention imaginable. After he was born, we were separated for more than three hours. When the nurses finally brought him to me, the very first thing I did was put him to the boob as I proudly checked off the “Exclusively Breastfed” box on his medical chart. After some coaxing, he sleepily opened his mouth and latched. I waited eagerly for the wave of maternal ecstasy I'd read so much about to wash gently over me.

Instead, I got thrashed by a tsunami of toe-curling pain.

I quickly went over the mental checklist I'd compiled from the breastfeeding research I did in the weeks before he was born. Mouth wide open and covering the bottom of the aureola? Check. Lips flanged out? Check. Head tilted slightly back? Check. “Well, WTF?” I thought. “We're doing everything right!”

The staff lactation consultant later confirmed this. “You've got a textbook latch!” she announced. “It just takes a little time for your nipples to toughen up.” I thanked her for her help, secretly doubting that this applied in a situation where a freak genetic accident caused a baby's tongue to be made out of sandpaper, as I suspected was the case with my kid.

Raw nipples aside, the next 24 hours seemed to go swimmingly. The baby had the right amount of poop diapers. He was nursing every two hours or so. He was chill and content between feedings.

And then he started crying. And he wouldn't stop. For hours.

Exhausted and frazzled, I finally summoned the nurse. She promptly diagnosed my baby with an empty tummy and stuck a bottle of formula in his mouth. He sucked it down in minutes and then fell asleep as I watched, crestfallen. “You get some sleep, too,” the nurse said, as she wheeled his bassinet to the nursery. Feeling like a horrible failure, I did.

The problems got worse after we went home. Sore nipples turned into bloody nipples, which I tried to remedy by stuffing frozen cabbage leafs into my bra. (Nobody told me I was supposed to use purple cabbage leafs. I used green and ended up smelling like halupkies for three days). My milk took extra long to come in because of the C-section. The baby cried for more nursing every time I thought he was done eating. I cried every time I supplemented with formula. Then the baby went two days without pooping, and the pediatrician wanted us to come in for a weight check. He had lost almost a pound in the ten days since he'd been born. That scared me. I wanted to give up nursing, but the pediatrician insisted that I visit her practice's lactation consultant to try and make things work. Not really believing it would work, I agreed.

The lactation consultant was amazing. She gave me exercises to do with my baby to strengthen his sucking ability. She put me on a pumping regimen and prescribed raspberry and nettle leaf tea to help boost my diminished milk supply. Within a week, my boobs were leaking, and my baby was gaining weight again!

But the whole ordeal left my confidence totally shot. I was constantly worried that he wasn't getting enough milk. Every weight check felt like Judgment Day, and every ounce he gained felt like a temporary stay of execution. The baby still wanted to nurse every hour during the day, and nursing sessions could last 45 minutes. Clusterfeeding was a way of life. All I wanted was to get off the couch and get my figure back, but all he wanted to do was boob.

Then, when he hit three months old – miracle of miracles! - he started going three hours between feedings. I could go out for a coffee! I could go grocery shopping! I could actually leave our 500 square-foot studio apartment! The possibilities were intoxicating!

Looking back, I don't know how I managed to soldier through those first few months, but I'm glad I did. There was no secret recipe for boobin' success, no expert tricks or tips. Just plain old persistence. Boobin' forces me to take a break from the craziness of my day to really connect with my baby. It's a mandatory time-out every few hours to make sure I relax and enjoy him. Cheesy as it is, it makes me feel natural and womanly. And on top of all that, my kid is really freakin' cute when he's nursing (hair-yanking and boob-biting aside).

But I still really, really, really hope it's easier next time around!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

SUFFERING IN SILENCE: Female Sexual Dysfunction (Part I)

By Rachel Hercman

Rachel Hercman, LCSW is a psychotherapist specializing in relationships.  She works at the Medical Center for Female Sexuality in New York (, a center that provides cutting-edge medical and psychological treatment for female sexual dysfunction, where she helps women improve their body image, sexual functioning, and relationship satisfaction.  She can be reached at

For a married woman, the ripple effect of vaginismus can exceed beyond just the bedroom.

Female Sexual Dysfunction 

Sara* was a beaming, exuberant bride.

After all those hopeless Shidduch dates, meeting Dovid* was the answer to her fervent prayers and she was overwhelmed with gratitude at how much they connected. He was truly worth the wait.

The wedding was everything she dreamed of, plus more. But as Sara and Dovid joyfully left the hall to go to a nearby hotel, some fears started creeping up. Though Kallah classes had been inspiring and her Kallah teacher was open and understanding, Sara had typical wedding night jitters when she thought about developing a sexual relationship. However, she found comfort in knowing that Dovid had a very gentle personality and always had her feelings in mind. Moreover, many of her married friends said they had had similar jitters about the wedding night, and since they became pregnant soon after their weddings Sara presumed that their experiences with the infamous ‘first time’ were a gateway to something better.

Unfortunately, Sara’s ‘first time’ became the start of many attempts to have a ‘first time’. Dovid called his Rav after Sheva Brachos to discuss their inability to consummate the marriage due to feeling like he was ‘hitting a wall’. After an extensive conversation, his Rav surmised that Sara’s vaginal muscles were too tight and he recommended that she take baths, practice relaxation exercises, and drink a glass of wine before intercourse. “Don’t worry”, he kept reassuring Dovid, “plenty of couples have this issue and with time it will correct itself”. But the weeks turned into months, then years, and Sara and Dovid felt like their entire relationship was stunted from reaching its full potential.

Dovid was loving and kind, but Sara felt alone and broken. She didn’t feel comfortable confiding in her mother about her sexual challenges and she was too embarrassed to call her Kallah teacher. After all, she felt like she failed as a student. She was taught that initially sex can be painful, but that with time it would evolve into an enjoyable, spiritual part of her marriage. When that didn’t happen, she began to feel like something was very wrong with her, and it only got worse when she would attend Simchas and feel curious eyes scanning her stomach.

If only she could get over this hurdle, she prayed, she could feel like a normal person…..

*Names and small details have been changed to maintain anonymity

Meet vaginismus, a type of female sexual dysfunction that contrary to popular belief, is not ‘all in your head’. Vaginismus is a condition in which the vaginal muscles involuntarily contract, making penetration painful and sometimes impossible. In its mildest form, a woman can tolerate penetration for very short periods, but it's unpleasant and painful. Or it can be so severe that she can't even touch herself near her vagina, can't have a gynecological exam, and can't insert a tampon because the pain is so intense and the fear so great.

In cases of primary vaginismus, a woman has never been able to have penetrative sex or experience vaginal penetration without pain. Secondary vaginismus occurs when a woman who has previously been able to achieve penetration develops vaginismus, and this may be due to (but not limited to) physical causes such as childbirth, infection, cancer, or even menopause. In both primary and secondary cases of vaginismus, the physiological and psychological factors are not only relevant but can sometimes play off each other, leading to exacerbation of symptoms. Thus, when a woman suspects that she may be suffering from vaginismus, it is essential that she have a comprehensive assessment that takes into account her emotional and physical symptomology. (For more information on vaginismus and painful intercourse click here.)

Suffering from vaginismus is painful from all perspectives; physically, psychologically, religiously, and socially. Here at the Medical Center for Female Sexuality, we often meet strong, successful women who share the heartbreaking feeling of being “broken”, “defective”, or “less of a woman” because of their vaginismus. As seen in Sara’s case, our patients with vaginismus often reflect on their suffering as casting a dark shadow not only on the marriage, but on their whole self-concept and identity. Feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and isolation are commonly reported, and with time these feelings often intensify if the vaginismus is not treated.

For a married woman, the ripple effect of vaginismus can exceed beyond just the bedroom. For some husbands, the notion of ‘inflicting’ pain on their wives via intercourse is so upsetting that it can affect their own confidence and sexual functioning, and distance may ensue as both spouses associate their sex life with pain and negativity. Many couples we treat will share that they have become less physically affectionate altogether; the other day a patient tearfully shared that at this point in her marriage, she won’t even hug or kiss her husband and she feels terrible for it. She knows it hurts her husband and makes him feel unwanted and unloved, but she is scared that touching him may send the wrong message that she is interested in having sex. For this couple, as well as so many others we treat, they have adapted to the sexual dysfunction by living like roommates; respectful to each other, set in a familiar routine, but feeling a significant void.
Fortunately, there is wonderfully effective treatment for vaginismus, but many women do not end up getting the appropriate help until significant time has passed and the emotional pain is that much greater. Because vaginismus is often a private struggle, many of our patients breathe a sigh of relief upon learning that they are not alone in their suffering, it’s not all in their head, and there is hope in eliminating the pain.

In Sara’s case, a problem that went on for years was able to be rectified in just a few months and she was able to finally enjoy the sexual connection that her marriage had longed for.  While it took some time to adjust to having a sexual relationship after being so accustomed to its absence, Sara felt a surge of unprecedented optimism.  After years of isolation, she felt reinvigorated in her whole outlook on life.  She felt excited about her relationship with Dovid. She could smile as she looked ahead to their hopes and dreams for their future together.  And she could finally feel comfortable with her body and its wonders.

In our next article, we will be exploring some of sociological, cultural, and Halachic factors that come up for frum women suffering from sexual dysfunction.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

From Abuse to Awareness: Healing Through Motherhood

By Anonymous

From Abuse to Awareness: 
Healing Through Motherhood
By Anonymous

Baby Rochel. My infant daughter is a replica of me. I look into her deep eyes and see straight into her soul. To my soul.

I gaze at her adoringly, this beautiful baby, and I wonder if I was ever this loved, this cherished. I'm sure that I wasn't.

My formative years were neither kind nor peaceful. Abuse was endured, both physically and emotionally, and my earliest memories include pain and fear and terror. I believe that my parents did their best, with the limited tools they had. I have no doubt that they loved me in the way they knew. I have made peace with the physical aspect of this journey my soul chose, yet I would look back at my youth and feel abandoned by my heavenly Father. Was He not witness to my suffering? Was that little, innocent girl not worthy of His refuge?

I love my children with abandon, but that hasn't always been so. When my older ones were younger, I was afraid to surrender to those feelings. After all, maternal love did nothing to protect me. With a lot of effort and support I have learned to let go of that which doesn't serve me. I have learned to trust myself, my intuition, my mother-love.

This sweet baby has heightened my awareness. Her arrival has brought me to a much deeper level of sensitivity. In some ways I feel more fragile than ever, but in truth I am strong. Strong enough that I am no longer afraid of my feelings. I embrace the sadness, the pain, the joy. My vital essence regenerates; it reconnects with its source.

Awash with forgiveness and compassion, I find a much more peaceful self. I can push past my comfort zone, take unfamiliar routes, welcome the unknown and unexpected, all without the torment that would previously accompany a venture outside the realm of safety.

Baby Rochel, with her special soul, she brings healing to her loved ones. Through parenting this precious gift, I feel as though I have a unique opportunity to reparent my own inner child, and in doing so, I experience G-d’s ultimate compassion for His beloved children.  I have the pleasure of making my own acquaintance on a deeper, more intimate level, and I am slowly learning to love and cherish myself.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

G-d's Birth Control

By Chaia Kessler

"Looking back at our struggle, the 6am doctors appointments, the drugs, the thousands and
 thousands of dollars in medical bills, it all doesn't seem so bad."

God's Birth Control
By Chaia Kessler

I am your sister, your daughter, your friend, your neighbor, that person you make eye contact with in the grocery store but don't actually know.  I am that person in your life that has been married for years and doesn't have children.  Some of you may know the feeling that consumes your entire body when you get handed your baby for the first time. The warmth, and love you already have instilled in you from the months of having them with in you. Some of you may know the feeling of losing a pregnancy, the feeling like a piece of your heart is missing and may never return. Some of you may know the feeling that month after month there is only one line, the feeling like you are empty inside. That feeling is G-d's birth control.

Everyone has their own struggles that they need to overcome. For a lot of people its finding the one. The shidduch scene, the dating. As my friends know I was never much help when it came to giving advice, because I was never in it.  I was blessed with finding my husband when I wasn't even looking, knowing he was the one and getting hitched. But although I did get married before all of my friends, most became mothers before me. One shabbos when i was talking to a friend about her horrible experience with her last date I told her maybe you haven’t found the right one because Hashem doesn’t think you’re ready.Then it hit me,  Hashem hasn't made me a mother yet because I'm not ready to be a mother. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. This friend however didn’t like what I said very much at the time. She just wanted to get married already. Two years later she got married to an awesome guy and at her wedding she smiled and whispered to me, "I wasn't ready."

So that is what I held on to. Knowing that G-d knows best and one day when he deems me ready I'll be a mother.  This is not to say I didn't get furious at him, often. But eventually I knew that I would look back and know that it was meant to be this way. Our Shliach, our amazing doctor that made our dreams come true once said to me."It's not an 'if' you get pregnant it's a 'when." I guess my point is if you believe something will happen and trust in Hashem that he knows the right time. So in that four years of waiting, I went to Israel with my husband, we bought our house and fixed it up ourselves, and we had four years of shona reshona and I can't thank Hashem enough for that.

A few weeks before our fifth anniversary my husband and I gave birth to our beautiful, healthy twin boys. After being married for over four years G-d took me off his birth control. Looking back at our struggle, the 6am doctors appointments, the drugs, the thousands and thousands of dollars in medical bills, it all doesn't seem so bad. I remember the feelings I had when I was going through it all, but now all I have is love.

So these beautiful, smart, funny baby boys are not just the next thread in my tapestry of life—they are the most beautiful, vibrant threads in my life. I know that if these boys are so brightly and intricately woven in my life, I'm sure I am as deeply woven into theirs. This gift and responsibility called motherhood, I know full well I am ready for because Hashem made it happen at the right time.

With every mess, dirty diaper, and sleepless night, all I can do is thank Hashem. For not just blessing me with a child but with twins.  I hope my boys grow up being the closest and best friend a person could ever wish for. I hope that they grow up knowing their mother cried herself to sleep begging Hashem for them. I hope they know that they are their parents miracles.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Defying Gravity: What My Miscarriages Taught Me

By Jessica Hoffman
Jessica, Geshem City Editor and Blogger, is a native Jewish Seattleite. She has contributed her writing to Kveller, Real Time, BBC World News, JOFA Journal, Jewneric, Bangitout, NW Beauty Magazine, and more. Jessica and her husband Ari run Seattle NCSY and raise their 3 children in the Seward Park community. Balancing her writing career with Jewish outreach and being a SAHM is a continuing challenge she faces with eternal optimism.

 I covered it up on the outside so I could cover it up forever. I tried to allow my natural pragmatic nature to smoothly slide me past this phase in my life so I could go on to have more healthy pregnancies.

Defying Gravity: What My Miscarriages Taught Me 

“Just remember, your body knows what it can handle.” My father said this to me when I told him I was pregnant with my first child. I don’t know how he knew. Perhaps some premonition…but he knew. I internalized this wisdom and, at my first ultrasound, stared shocked at the screen when the letters “A” and “B” popped up.

“Um, twins?” I asked the ultrasound technician. My father is a prophet! I thought. And my husband had said over and over again that he would love for us to have twins. She smiled at me warmly and said, “Not exactly.” We looked at the screen together. She pointed at the “A” so I could see the life growing inside the sac. Then she pointed at the black emptiness next to the “B” and explained, “It was twins, but not anymore. Don’t worry. The remaining baby will most likely absorb the sac. It’s actually great nutrition.”

We both looked over at my husband, whose skin had turned grey, something I recognized as a problem because I myself am a bit of a fainter. He sat down and put his head between his knees. I couldn’t believe it. I’m the fainter and he’s the one trying not to hit the floor? Maybe I should have helped him internalize my father’s advice, too.

It’s this pragmatism, this unemotional response, which is probably the reason I was so emotional when I had a miscarriage with my second pregnancy. When the doctor told me my HCG levels were doubling too quickly, she said it was either twins or my body was about to have a miscarriage. I assumed it was twins again. Nowhere inside my head or my heart did I ever consider that it might be the latter. And when the ultrasound confirmed the miscarriage, and it was all over a week later, I didn’t talk about it…to anyone. I didn’t talk to my husband. I didn’t talk to my parents or my sisters. They all assumed I was over it. And why wouldn’t they? When my best friend saw me bent over with cramps, I told her I had the stomach flu. I covered it up on the outside so I could cover it up forever. I tried to allow my natural pragmatic nature to smoothly slide me past this phase in my life so I could go on to have more healthy pregnancies. “My body knows what it can handle,” I said to myself. “And my body knew this pregnancy would have been bad for me, or the baby would have been unhealthy.” I tried to rationalize my way past it.

It wasn’t until a few days after my post-miscarriage mikvah appointment that “Defying Gravity” from Wicked queued up on my playlist. When the music intensified and Idina Menzel as Elphaba burst into; “So if they care to find me, look to the Western sky. As someone told me lately, everyone deserves a chance to fly,” I burst into tears. (While singing along, of course.) It was so therapeutic that I played it again. I put that song on repeat and it played in my car for days. My toddler son knew all the words, which is when I realized it was time to play something else.

After my second son was born, my husband overheard me telling my Wicked therapy story to a friend who had a miscarriage. He looked surprised and sad. “You cried alone in your car?” he asked me. “For days,” I answered. If only I had remembered that my father’s sage wisdom wasn’t about being practical or emotionless. It was about beetachon…having faith. You can give yourself permission to feel sad, to accept pity when you deserve it, and to be comforted. Trusting your body’s decisions is about acceptance and faith, not about trying to sidle past things emotion-free. My father was giving me a guide toward acceptance, not a shortcut past it.

The third occasion was a combination of both situations. I was pregnant, and before my first ultrasound, I experienced what I was sure was a miscarriage. I was bleeding profusely, and desperate for an answer. The nurse told me over the phone that I was most likely having a miscarriage and I could take a hot bath when the bleeding stopped. In the meantime, she wanted me to come in so they could do a blood draw and confirm that my HCG levels were going down at a normal and predictable rate. I went in, got blood drawn, and went home for a bath. Three days later they called me. It was a new nurse this time. “Congratulations, your HCG levels are multiplying nicely,” she said with a sweet and congratulatory voice.

“There must be some misunderstanding,” I said. “I just had a miscarriage three days ago.” It was Friday, three hours until Shabbos, and she had me come in for an ultrasound. Lo and behold, there on the screen was a perfectly healthy new baby! They told me I’d lost a twin. Again. This time I had a healthy combination of relief, sadness, and joy. And I made a decision, then and there, to talk about it. I look at my three beautiful and healthy children, two boys and a girl, and I wonder what the other three children would have been. I do it out loud, so my husband knows it’s on my mind. I talk about it with friends so they know they can talk to me if it happens to them. We all need to have beetachon—but know that we’re human, too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Feminist Mistake


Kate Sample decided to become an Orthodox Jew in early 2010 and prepared for her first Pesach by watching a Passover-themed episode of Gossip Girl. She has been trying to successfully balance modern life with observance ever since, and considers it her mission to dispel the idea that belief in G-d is unfashionable. You can check out her blog at

"I simply cannot allow a group of women to tell me who to be in the name of 
empowerment, because I know exactly who I am, and I won’t apologize for it." 

The Feminist Mistake

Hi, my name is Kate, and I’m a recovering feminist.

For years, I believed I was empowered. The feminist movement won me over with its impressive achievements—I could vote, have control over my own body, and even grow up to be president thanks to women who fought for those things—and then it slowly tightened its grip with a lengthy list of expectations. For if patriarchal society demanded that a woman act, talk, and dress in a certain way, feminism did not free her from such restrictions but simply imposed new ones. 

In my younger years, feminist-identifying friends beseeched me not to buy into male-instituted beauty standards—as though lip gloss were something that my boyfriend insisted upon, rather than beg me not to wear it and thereby transfer it onto him. As the years have crept by and I begin to contemplate motherhood, I am discouraged from giving in to my maternal nurturing instincts to an extent that they supplant my career aspirations. Welcome to modern-day empowerment, where a woman’s place is in the office, whether she likes it or not.

While she is there, she is not to show her emotions. There is no crying in baseball, after all. Once the boys club has finally allowed her entry, a woman cannot risk making her difference in gender too obvious, lest they regret letting her in. In order to be taken seriously, she should downplay her femininity as much as possible; magazines are full of advice on how to dress to get that promotion. Marriage and building a family are definitely not priorities, especially because the modern feminist approaches sex like a man, constantly fighting against her own physiological makeup that bonds her to an intimate partner. Therein lies the rub: We have been conditioned to believe that to be an empowered woman is to act like a man.

Contrast that with the world of traditional Judaism, in which I am so often viewed as oppressed but in all actuality am given full permission to be a woman. In this realm, I’m not called crazy or psychotic—the two default options in secular society—when I get emotional or irrational. Oh, and I do. Not necessarily in a Scarlett O’Hara-throw-china-at-the-wall way, but most definitely in a “I don’t seem to feel like making any logical sense today” way. On a regular basis. The Talmud advises a man to speak gently to his wife for this very reason. While I am not yet married, my dating experience and interactions with Rabbis have proven to be extremely liberating with their patient understanding. I’m allowed to get upset. I am listened to. And I am not expected to think or act like a man in order to be accepted.

I’m already anticipating those who will decry this, pointing out the restrictions placed on women by Judaism. It’s true, though I see a vast difference between those who differentiate between the sexes and empower each in their own right, rather than telling one to emulate the other and subsequently claim equality. I don’t want to be a man. Every day I thank G-d for having made me according to His will, and I mean it. For me, it’s a not a begrudging acknowledgement of a consolation prize, but real gratitude for coming the closest to what He expects from a human being. My sensitivity, which I no longer feel the need to suppress, may cause my feelings to be easily hurt, yes, but it also allows me to tune in to other people’s needs nearly immediately. I follow in the footsteps of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, who all had greater binah than their respective husbands and steered the Jewish people in the right direction because of it. Someday, I will help to guide my husband and my sons in this way. 

So while I am forever indebted to the women who fought for my rights in this country, Judaism was never the predecessor of a society that kept those things from me, and it is not trailing behind now. I simply cannot allow a group of women to tell me who to be in the name of empowerment, because I know exactly who I am, and I won’t apologize for it. I wear makeup. I have long hair. I shave my legs. I don dresses. I love the color pink. I cry at commercials. I can’t wait to be a mommy. I write to empower myself and others. I am woman, and I don’t need to roar to be heard.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What to Expect the First Year of Marriage

By Mimi Hecht

What To Expect The First Year of Marriage 

When I was engaged to be married, the only thing I heard more than "Mazal Tov" was the grim warning from older married friends and family that "marriage is not easy." Variations were "Get yourself ready for some hard work!" and even whispers of 'When the going gets tough, you can call me." As annoying and unwelcome this bottom line was at the time, I now realize that these marriage aficionados couldn't help but blurt out, however insensitively, what they wish their own mothers, friends and family would have told them but were too demure to say. These warnings came from people who saw in me the bubbling and naive bride they too once were, and now, having some married years under their belt, it killed them to let a young girl possibly go on thinking that the bliss she currently felt was eternal. 

Now, having just passed my four year anniversary, I feel at least a tiny bit entitled to address this issue— via painting a picture of sorts...

[Please read the elated/romantic/connecting times interspersed between the lines!]

If you made it from dating to marriage, that means you've survived engagement, the neither-here-nor-there phase otherwise known simply as...hell. 

Engagement means you're not really in the discovery mode—your mind is made up that he or she is the one and you've let down a few of your trying-to-be-impressive facades. In other words, the real you—the you that is sometimes demanding, emotional, and otherwise completely uncharming—has a chance to shine (or cry, or bark, get the idea). You're starting to see a little bit of the faults in this formerly absolutely unbearably perfect person you feel lucky enough to have found. Of course, seeing these faults doesn't make them appear any less physically beautiful, and all the attraction flying around is the adding to the tension. Every bride and groom says increasingly as their wedding day approaches, "I just want to be married already." That fact that all your married friends say that marriage is hard doesn't phase you. Of course, you guys are the only ones in the history of the universe to have such an open, honest, passionate and so totally perfect relationship. Everyone else is missing something. Marriage, for you, is going to be a breeze. 

Alas, the beautiful day arrives. You can't wait to see each other. To celebrate with family and friends. You let it all out, dance the night away, and finally go home with your betrothed. 

It is that night that the first year begins. For those entering their wedding night as a virgin, and even those not, the Jewish version of the wedding night is not like the movies. Heck, it never is, let's be honest. But especially the first night, the new husband and wife's emotions and expectations are flying high. Thankfully, so too are the hormones. So with a mixture of excitement and awkwardness, they consummate their marriage knowing that this is but one night (however special) of a lifetime of physical passion which they will together improve. But the introduction of a sexual relationship is filled with so many new realizations about themselves, their relationship and their bodies. Not to mention that if the couple is even remotely religious, they are thrust into the world of Jewish Family Purity, which, in all its inherit beauty, can be quite a task. You've just jumped the intimacy in your relationship by about a million bars and you're making calls to a Rabbi and...I'm in love with this person and the Jewish system is brilliant, but this is just weird. 

Of course, husband and wife are now living under the same roof, which is no minor adjustment. And despite the utter exhaustion and desire to bask in the warmth of the new status, they have quite a few nights of post-wedding partying to do. Yay! Sheva Brachos! NOT. Gallivanting around in the newness of your marriage is not easy. A lot of interesting things may ensue. Initially, all the chaos is performed by the wife, and witnessed by the husband. There are wardrobe crises and wig breakdowns and lots of emotions flying around – the kind of emotions that were null and void when you were dating. The wife can be like a unpredictable performance act, and the husband is trying to keep afloat, to catch up. He usually fails. 

Especially if the couple is blessed with the discovery of a baby on the way, but even if not, the wife is acting irrational, peculiar. She doesn't know why but all the intensity of this relationship and the vulnerability it requires...she's feeling inexplicably needy. The husband isn't saying all the right things like he used to. The wife wonders if he's capable of truly getting her. She tests this by crying. A lot. He can't possibly be attentive enough in the face of her storm. What happened to that chilled-out, "it's all good" gal he dated? The husband, although formerly crowned by his wife as the king of intuition and sensitivity, was unprepared for how "on" he was going to have to be. The marathon of keeping up with his new wife's needs is making him out of breathe. The wife notices this and adds it to her "things to cry about" list, right next to the fact that he falls asleep too quickly, didn't compliment her enough tonight and needs a job (even though she had  insisted she can live a poor life, as long as it was with him). 

Things feel like they are unraveling now because, alas, the curtains have closed. The courtship show is over. The comfort of commitment and closeness makes them stop pretending they're these amazing, perfect human beings. They slowly forget that they were once inspired to do everything—heck to be anything!—for this person. They love each other, they're excited about life together, but the fireworks of discovery are slowly replaced by this incredible comfort. A good thing, sure. But a challenge. They now have to work overtime just to remember to "perform" their best for their spouse. 

It's not a very easy things to hear but its true: It's to the people we love the most that we can often be the ugliest. Just the way it goes. For the first time in life, someone totally gets you and is enamored by you and has agreed to care for you until infinity. So, why not let it all out? All your nasty traits come out to say hello, and stay for a while. In full effect. The husband loves the wife and the wife loves the husband so they want to understand each other deeply. No one can escape the other. So every bad habit, bad mood and bad character is kneaded like dough until it bursts. And when it bursts...oh man! You'll stay up even just to argue whether you're supposed to just sleep on it or take the advice from people to "never go to sleep angry" (worst advice EVER). 

Adding to the lack of high-performance character is the fact that life has quickly become obnoxiously practical. I'm talking room-sharing, bill-paying, food-shopping, sock-matching, insurance-applying, home-decorating, appointment-setting, job-finding, simcha-traveling, rabbi-asking (and the list goes on) kind of practical. Especially way into the year, when life has achieved a certain rhythm, connecting with a heightened level of sensitivity is like singing while drowning. You need to find dry land if you want to truly see each other. Because it's not just that you're dealing with things on the ground. It's that you're two separate people—one from venus, the other from mars—that have united in the journey of life. How we even get ourselves into this is almost comical. 

And speaking of comedy...where is it? Things have become so serious. Standing at the cusp of the rest of their lives, everything said/bought/chosen is important. Scratch that—epic. So if there is a difference of opinion, something said imperfectly, or even a gesture made half-heartedly, it does not go unnoticed. After all, it's laying the foundation for the rest of your life! How it is now is how it's going to be! Doesn't she get it? How could she possibly think like that? Doesn't he realize? Is he always going to make that kind of impression? Here are two people madly in love, so undeniably reliant on each other until the ripe age of one hundred and twenty: things better start out right. So, basically, it only takes a short time for these two easy-going, awesome people—who only months prior laughed just looking at each other—to become uptight ninety-year-olds who can't easily crack a smile. All in the name of love.

All of these trials and tribulations and revelations about the other's personality and lifestyle and needs will make you feel like this is not the same  person you chose to marry. And you know what? It isn't. The comfortable, practical, intense nature of marriage reveals sides in each spouse that could never have surfaced when they were busy falling in love because "We like totally speak the same language." You will love each other forever because of what you found in each other when you dated. But you will both morph enormously, and you must be committed to accepting and working with and loving what you find behind each others veils. The more dating couples truly prepare themselves for this, the more mature of a foundation they will build. 

In summation, the first year of marriage is not what you expected. Your spouse is not what you expected. Heck, even the way you're acting is not what you expected. You're only one year in—some people are still calling you The Newlyweds—and already you're craving the warm, spontaneous and unbridled embrace that you felt when you were falling in love with your spouse. 

So this is a bit of a picture of what to expect the first year—just a glimmer of what people mean when they say it's so hard. There is so much more to it, and we all have our own stories. The good news is, of course, that the unity and love that comes from rising to the occasion of getting to know the person you didn't intend to marry is a pleasure far greater than even the most perfect courtship. Marriage, however hard, will always trump the lustful stage of dating. Okay what do I know, my own marriage is still young. But however much I have to learn, I know this: the key is being lovingly committed to your spouse....and forgetting all expectations. 

(Stay tuned for my next post, "Ten Great Myths About Marriage")