By Secondary Saga Mama
In preparation for the month of Av:
“The New Moon of (Menachem Av) will be on (Friday). May it come to us and to all Israel for good.” This seemingly benign announcement that in the upcoming week a new Jewish month will begin can cause deep emotional upheaval–at least it did so for me.
At the beginning of my fertility journey, I remember arriving in synagogue and entering as I heard the beginning of Birchat Hachodesh (the blessing announcing the upcoming new month). I was moved by this blessing and remember thinking, this could be the month when I get pregnant! I closed my eyes and had deep kavanah (intent) while reciting the final part of the prayer “… for life and peace, for gladness and joy, for salvation and consolation; and let us say, Amen.” And, as I said these words I prayed that the child that I hoped would soon be in my womb would be blessed with peace, gladness, and joy and would bring salvation and consolation to others.
But, as the months passed and I headed down and long and arduous journey trying to conceive, this monthly Shabbat prayer became more and more painful. Each month I prayed, and each month I found myself yearning deeper and deeper for that salvation and consolation, but to no avail. As the months rolled by, I found myself in synagogue as Birchat Hachodesh was beginning, and the tears started to fall. I could not believe that another month had passed and that I again was faced with this prayer. But this prayer was no longer hopeful and joyous to me, it had been transformed by infertility into a stunningly painful reminder that still, I was not pregnant.
I decided that I could no longer be present as the rabbi (who also happens to be my husband) would announce the time the moon would reach the exact point in its cycle for the new month to begin. I couldn’t stand there and listen to the beautiful singing of the prayer leader or envision my hopes for the month—I no longer could withstand the crushing feeling of disappointment and loss. I did what I had to and left the sanctuary.
This past Shabbat, Birchat Hachodesh was recited in synagogue to welcome the month of Av. Av is a month of deep loss and tragedy as it includes the 9th of Av a day to mourn the loss of both temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies the Jewish people suffered throughout history. For me it is also time of personal mourning as I mourn the loss of a little life that was with us for 6 weeks before I had a miscarriage during the three weeks leading up to the 9th of Av. But, this Shabbat as I walked into synagogue I suddenly recognized familiar words and was taken aback to realize that it was Birchat Hachodesh. I was overwhelmed by emotion as I stood there, two years later, with my new babies sleeping in my arms. Wow, this was the first time I was able to stay in synagogue for the Birchat Hachodesh since that loss. And I noticed that when my husband announced the new month, he did not call it Av, but Menachem Av—the consoling Av. Av is traditionally called Menachem Av in certain contexts to focus on the latter part of the month when there is consolation. Immediately I felt a deep wave of consolation and immense gratitude for having arrived at this moment in my fertility journey.
However, I could not simply celebrate as I stood there rerooting myself in my community and emotionally equipped now to remain in synagogue and welcome in the new month. I know that there are so many who are still uprooted from this communal moment, and likely isolated outside somewhere as they are reminded that another month has passed. So, I closed my eyes again and allowed myself to cry during this prayer as I dedicated it to a dear friend of mine who is still trying to conceive. I felt my kavanah (intent) return as I prayed that she may have the joy of conceiving a new life that she has been striving for, for so long and that the pain in her heart may be consoled.
Perhaps for some of us there is another prayer that tugs at their heart strings and that will provide a monthly moment to think of others. May we all take time during the welcoming of this new month to reach out in some way to a friend who is struggling to grow his/her family.