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.