By the time I reached my early thirties, I felt my biological clock pounding
away as I searched for a suitable husband.
I was so relieved to get married at the age of 36, and assumed that I would
get pregnant almost immediately. After all, my doctor had assured me that I was
very fertile. As month after month passed without my getting pregnant, I began
to feel panicked. Finally, I got pregnant more than a year after we got married.
We were elated that our prayers had finally been answered with a resounding
"Yes, now it's time for you to have a child." No lottery winner could have felt
more grateful than us when we saw the fetal heartbeat on the sonogram at eight
We had never considered the possibility that when I went back to the doctor
the following week, we would see no heartbeat. The fetus died, and so did a
small part of me when I heard the terrible news. My husband was
We began consulting fertility specialists who assured us that all was fine,
but that a little assistance would help speed things along. We dutifully sought
interventions every month, some of which required us to turn our lives upside
down. One month, we needed to walk four miles each way to a hospital on the
Sabbath. Another month, the doctor inserted an assortment of instruments into my
reproductive system, left the room, and forgot to return for 45 minutes. No one
heard my screams in this back-room office while telephone calls and a lunch
break distracted her. Another month, we were recommended to a fertility
specialist whose recommendations we faithfully followed. We found out later that
his exorbitant fees were exceeded only by his willingness to subject women to
procedures that had been scientifically proven to be ineffective. Finally, we
went to one of the top fertility specialists at a well-known hospital where we
were put at the end of a one-and-a-half yearlong waiting list.
A year after my miscarriage, I got pregnant again during a trip to Israel. I
attributed it to my endless prayers at the graves of saints and at the Western
Wall. My husband and I were delightfully astounded, and awaited the birth of
this child with great anticipation. A few weeks later, I gave a lecture at a
community Sabbath lunch. The topic was, "Why Bad Things Happen To Good People."
One of my patients, who had suffered tremendously, insisted that a good friend
of hers come to listen to me. The friend was trying to come to terms with a host
of tribulations and challenges that she was facing, and my patient assured her
that my words would help her find her way. Two minutes before I was to start
speaking, I felt the familiar sensations of a miscarriage.
I felt as if a messenger had come to tell me that I was not the rightful
winner of the lottery whose prize I had already mentally banked. It had all been
I gave my talk, with its uplifting message that nothing happens by accident.
Everything we undergo is a divinely engineered circumstance that is tailored to
help our soul develop its maximal beauty and connection to its Source. When I
finished, my patient's friend came over to tell me how deeply my words had
touched her. When the crowd left, I sadly walked back to the rabbi's house where
I was staying. In private, I sobbed, feeling physical pain that reflected the
emotional torment of my tragedy, even as my intellect told me that G-d was
embracing me, and it was all for an ultimately good purpose.
Three months later, I got a telephone call from the hospital's fertility
center. The nurse told me that she had found a way to get me into treatment in
only six months instead of 18. I jumped at the opportunity. I underwent yet
another fertility workup from scratch, the fifth in two years. This time,
though, the news was not encouraging. I was nearly 39 years old, and the tests
showed that I might have reached the end of my fertile years. I would have to
get monthly blood tests to determine in any given month if I would be fertile
that cycle. If I was not for three or four months in a row, there would be no
point in subjecting me to any more fertility interventions.
Every month we waited with bated breath for the results to come back, and the
first two months we were crushed. My hormone levels were so high they were off
the chart, indicating that I could not get pregnant those cycles. The third
month, a miracle occurred. The levels were borderline, and the program accepted
me for in-vitro fertilization. I had to inject myself with massive doses of
fertility hormones for about a week, get multiple blood tests and sonograms.
Then, at the ideal time, I would be anesthetized and have my (hopefully fertile)
eggs removed so that they could be fertilized and later re-implanted. For the
first time in two years, I had strong hopes that I would actually have a healthy
I dutifully got my blood test the day before egg retrieval was planned. My
husband and I were looking forward to having dinner that evening with friends
who had finally had a baby using our hospital's program. That afternoon, we
received a terrible phone call. It seemed that my hormones had already surged,
and that the chances that I would get pregnant if the eggs were retrieved the
next day were not great. The doctor never said it, but he botched the timing.
Based on what he told me, I had the surgery the next day, and a few days later
had one or two embryos implanted. Nearly two weeks later, with every day seeming
an eternity, I discovered that I was still not pregnant.
We endured several more months of torture, as I went for blood tests, only to
be told that my numbers were off the chart. Finally, one freezing, windy
evening, we heard the unlikely news on our answering machine. My numbers were
good, they were within normal range, I should start injections that evening.
We were floating. It was Friday night -- the Sabbath. The nearest pharmacy
was over a mile away. It was 21 degrees outside, with a 20-mile an hour wind
blowing. We would have to walk at least a half hour each way to get the drugs
that I needed. We couldn't take money or credit cards with us, and we couldn't
use the telephone since it was Shabbat. What would we do if we got there and the
pharmacist said that he didn't have the medication, or that he wouldn't believe
that we would come back the next day and pay him the $1400 for the three boxes
When we arrived at the pharmacy, huffing and puffing, with beet red cheeks,
the pharmacist told us that he had the medication, and he would trust us to pay
for it. Once again, we were at the top of the roller coaster.
Everything went along without a hitch. When the doctor implanted three
embryos, they looked very healthy. As I rested afterward and recited Psalms, I
felt that G-d was smiling down on me, and would finally give me my heart's
Less than two weeks later, my pregnancy test confirmed that I was, at long
last, pregnant. It was June, the flowers were blooming, the warm spring air
caressed me, and all seemed right with the world. My unrelenting ordeal of the
past two-and-a-half years seemed finally finished. I waited, with perverse
longing, for the familiar, all-day morning sickness to arrive.
A few weeks later, while writing one of my books, I suddenly felt those
sickening sensations. A scream welled up inside me. I couldn't believe this was
happening to me for a third time. Hadn't I suffered enough? "Almighty G-d," I
beseeched, "please make me a miracle and save this child. Please."
I had to wait until the next day to get a sonogram. I was bleeding massively,
yet the fetus was still alive. I saw the tiny heart beating, a light in the
midst of my otherwise dark tunnel.
The doctor reassured me that it was possible to still have a healthy pregnancy
and that I should go to my local obstetrician for any future care.
When my obstetrician saw the sonogram in his office the next day, he showed
me that the fetus was dead. "No, it can't be," I challenged him. He showed me
why it was, I told him why it wasn't.
"Listen," he said nonchalantly, "if you don't believe me, you can get another
sonogram across the street."
I did. Two hours later, my third sonogram in two days showed that I was
right. The fetal heart was still beating at a healthy 140 beats a minute. "Thank
you, G-d," I exclaimed, hoping that this baby's will to live might persevere.
The radiologist was not optimistic.
"Look," he cautioned, "the heartbeat is still good, but you have a huge
amount of blood in your uterus." He would say no more about my prognosis.
The fetus died a week later. "Okay, G-d," I resolved, "I'm not sure what you
want me to do with this. Whatever it is, You're in charge, and I hope that it
will affect me so that I can be close to You and do Your will, whatever it
In the midst of recovering, a woman whom I had never met called and asked if
I would speak to a group of singles in her home about how to find a marriage
partner. "No problem," I agreed. She had gotten my name from a mutual friend
whose home I had spoken in the previous year.
The next night, this woman, Sharon, called again. "I don't know anything
about you," she admitted, "but there is a rabbi who is coming to my house
tomorrow night. He looks at people's ketubot (Jewish wedding contracts) and
helps them improve their lives. Would you like to come?"
"When will he see me?" I questioned, wary of consulting any miracle men.
Unknown to Sharon, I had already consulted a host of them in my desperation to
have a baby. "After midnight?"
"Well after," she confirmed.
"Thanks, but no thanks," I retorted. "I have already seen many rabbis. I have
prayed at the burial places of more Jewish saints than I can count. Nothing ever
helped," I told her.
"Look, I don't know you and I don't know what you've sought help for," Sharon
pressed, "but this rabbi is really very special. If you come, I don't think
you'll be disappointed."
Feeling that I had nothing left to lose, except for a few more hours of
sleep, I went to Sharon's house after midnight the following evening. Her living
room was filled with people I knew, including the woman who had given her my
name. She and her husband were still childless after six years of marriage.
I waited impatiently to see this rabbi. When I finally saw him at 1:30AM, he
looked more exhausted than I felt. I wordlessly put my marriage document in
front of him and he studied it for a few moments.
"Your husband is like a dead man," he said, as he studied the paper further.
"This document should be rewritten. Come and see me in three weeks and I will
give you another ketubah."
I was dumbfounded. My husband had lost his desire to live since my first
miscarriage, and for more than two years he had been profoundly depressed. "How
do you know that?" I managed.
"It's all here in the ketubah," he explained. "Part of the Jewish couple's
blessing comes via their Jewish marriage contract. The contract creates and
defines the spiritual channel. When it is has a flaw, the full blessing cannot
come. In your case, your husband's father was deceased when you got married and
your ketubah was written with your husband's name, son of his father's name,
followed by the abbreviation, "May his memory be for a blessing." It is best for
that abbreviation not to be in a wedding document. Many believe it can cause
misfortune. You need your document rewritten and everything will be okay."
As I drove home in the wee hours of the morning, I felt exhausted and
cautiously optimistic. After all, I had learned from hard experience that there
are few bona fide mystics in the world today. Prerequisites for being one are
that a person is scrupulously observant and a Torah scholar, and few such
mystics make themselves known to the public. People today are desperate to find
miracle workers who through magical means can give others what they want. I had
already met my share of charlatans. I had only met a few who had truly helped
others. Had G-d put this rabbi in my path as a conduit for greater holiness to
come into my life, or to test whether I would stop hoping for intermediaries
like rabbis and doctors to provide me with the child that I so urgently wanted?
I decided to pray that I had undergone whatever personal changes I needed to
make, and that changing the ketubah would allow me to be the person that G-d
deemed was ready to receive a child.
Convincing my husband to get a new ketubah was not easy. Not only had he
given up hope that we would have a baby, he was not receptive to the idea that
changing a ketubah could alter the spiritual reality of our lives.
Three weeks later, my husband got the new ketubah from the rabbi and gave it
to me in front of two valid Jewish witnesses. After I took the document, the
rabbi said, "Please G-d, you should have a baby within a year." I hoped that his
prayer would go to the Almighty and be responded to in the way that I hoped. On
the other hand, it was hard to imagine that after so much yearning and praying
that my dream would come true.
The next month, my body finally returned to normal, and I called the
fertility doctor. "Should I come in for blood tests this month?" I
In an avuncular voice he responded, "Don't bother. You've
already spent almost three years and over $50,000 trying to have a baby, and
nothing has worked. We know why you keep having miscarriages or don't get
pregnant in the first place. You have no good eggs left. Some women reach
menopause earlier, some later. You are no longer fertile. If you still want to
have a baby, either adopt or go to a donor egg program.
Your chances of ever having a healthy pregnancy are
I was crushed, and agreed with him that it was futile for me to go back to
the hospital. On the other hand, I believed that G-d wanted me to have a child,
but not through that avenue. How He would make it happen, I had no idea.
Two weeks later, my husband and I visited Israel for the Jewish holidays. We
prayed a lot at the Western Wall, stayed in Jerusalem, and absorbed the holiness
of our land. Two weeks after we came back to the United States, I discovered
that I was pregnant. Our daughter was born on a Friday night in June, the first
day of summer. It was ten months after the rabbi changed our ketubah.
When I saw her for the first time, I was not prepared for what a newborn baby
looks like. I had expected a Gerber baby. My child looked like a combination of
Popeye and a conehead, covered in mayonnaise and ketchup.
she the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?" my husband gushed, his eyes
blinded by love. Indeed, when I saw her after she was cleaned up a few hours
later, she was.
A few months later, the rabbi visited our town, and I brought my baby to see
him. "This is the baby that you told us we were going to have," I reported.
He looked at her, smiled, then looked at me. "You're going to have another
one," he said confidently.
I nearly fell off my chair. I was already 40 years old, and the doctors had
told me that I couldn't even have the baby that was already born. I was going to
have another one?! I was too stunned to reply, but my husband asked, "When?"
"Soon," the rabbi smiled.
Over the next six months, my husband urged me to stop nursing our baby so
that I would have a chance of getting pregnant again. I spoke to two top
fertility specialists and they both agreed that in the best of circumstances,
nursing would drastically reduce the possibility of conceiving again. Finally, I
compromised: I would stop nursing when our baby was a year old if I still had
not conceived by then.
Twice every day, I prayed that I should get pregnant again and not have to
stop nursing. When our daughter was eleven months old, we went to Australia
together. When our daughter was one week shy of a year, my husband told me,
"Look, our daughter will be over a year old by the time we get back to the
States. You need to start getting used to the idea of weaning her." She was
happily nursing about eight times a day at the time. I said nothing, just
intensified my prayers to get pregnant.
Three days later, on the eve of Shavuot (the holiday that commemorates God's
giving the Torah to the Jewish people), I discovered that I was pregnant.
My experiences taught me many things. First, many of us spend our lives
trying to get and achieve what we want. It is easy to think that it is up to us
to make our agenda happen. I learned that trying to mold what we want to fit
G-d's agenda is what life is all about. The utter helplessness that I felt
trying to have a baby made me understand that I first needed to feel utterly
dependent on G-d before I could properly raise a child who would be utterly
dependent on me.
The Almighty uses pregnancy, giving birth, and raising children as
opportunities for us to continually turn to Him and recognize that we always
need Him. He wants us to talk to, and relate, to Him, not only when we need
something, but because we love Him and want to be close to Him. Love that is
dependent on getting what we want is not real love; it's self-love. Loving G-d
even when He doesn't give us what we want is a true relationship. I learned to
love and trust G-d even when I was very disappointed that He couldn't give me
what I wanted.
Second, I realized that sometimes the only way that G-d can get us to do what
He needs us to do is to prevent us from having what we want. I realized after
having a baby that there is no way that I could have written so many books on
Judaism if I had had children when I was younger. Raising children requires so
much of my energy that I simply didn't have enough left over to write books for
years. Obviously, G-d wanted me to have children, but not on my timetable. He
needed certain spiritual accomplishments to occur before it was time for me to
be a mother.
Even though I prayed a lot, gave extra charity, and did other spiritually
beneficial acts that didn't result in my having a baby, I realized in retrospect
that these were not wasted. No good deed is ever wasted, even if it doesn't get
us the results or object that we want. Maybe G-d specifically made me unable to
have children for many years so that I would deepen my relationship with Him
through prayer and help others by giving extra charity. Without having this
impetus, I would not have done either.
Third, I learned what it feels like to be infertile. I have helped many other
infertile people as a result by giving them medical, spiritual and emotional
counseling. I learned how insensitive people can be to those who are not blessed
If I looked at my ordeals only as barriers to my getting what I wanted, I
would have missed much of the point of life's challenges. They are supposed to
transform us, make us into more giving, caring individuals. I believe I have
been able to use the suffering that I underwent to make other people's lives
easier when they are in the same boat.
Fourth, I learned firsthand that Gd controls nature. While we are not
supposed to rely on miracles, and have to do everything that is normally
required in order to achieve results, I was priveleged to experience how the
Almighty overturns nature when it suits His purposes.
We are often misled into believing that what doctors tell us is the truth,
and that life and death are in their hands. We need to remember that doctors are
only G-d's agents, and He is the ultimate Healer and Giver of Life. When we
believe only in what is rational or natural, we limit our lives. When we attach
ourselves to our Creator, and to His constant providence, miracles can, and do,
Fifth, I realized the importance of doing Jewish rituals correctly. Life is
in the details. Does it really matter if I perform a commandment this way or
that way, or observe it only in my heart? The answer is yes. Just as there are
prescribed doses of medication to take when a person is sick, or specific ways
of wiring a house so that machines there will function properly, spiritual
matters must also be done with attention to details. Within six months of having
my ketubah changed, two other infertile friends of mine had theirs changed, too.
(It doesn't take a mystic to do this, only a rabbi who is properly versed in how
to write a Jewish marriage document.) Each couple had been unable to have
children for seven years. One couple now has three, and the other has two
children. The women got pregnant within a few months of having their ketubot
Finally, I learned the power of prayer. We sometimes think that we should
only pray as a last resort, and then when we don't get the results we want, we
don't do it again for a long time.
Learning Torah is the way that we hear G-d talking to us. Praying is the way
that we talk to Him. Every relationship requires communication, and we need to
always keep open the channels of communication with our Creator. We may not
necessarily get the things that we want, but we can always have the relationship
that we want. Being close to G-d can change us so dramatically that we become
people who are worthy of getting blessings that are out of this world. I will
forever be grateful that I got both.