There are many themes within the Jewish High Holidays. The beginning of the year, God’s rule, and teshuva/repentance. What often gets over looked is the pervading theme of fertility and infertility.
Whether you are a seasoned attendee of High Holiday services or celebrate with a holiday dinner with friends or family, the significance of the holidays are felt. Rosh Hashana, while generally uplifting, is full of references to infertility. Then there are the days that lead up to Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur itself, which are a little more intense and introspective. When experiencing infertility or other family building challenges, time to reflect may be helpful, but they may also be a big fat trigger for some unpleasant thoughts or emotions.
One danger zone is the idea of all the mistakes you have made. A healthy amount of self reflection and evaluation are good thing. However, when in stressful situations, mostly out of your control, it is a slippery slope to self blame. And when infertility themes keep coming at you, it can feel like a mine field.
Here are just a few tips to help you make your way through Holidays with a little more meaning and little less pain.
1) Be prepared for the theme of infertility to come up if you attend services. This is not to say stay home, just be aware. Infertility is used to express both the deepest yearnings of humanity and God’s ultimate power. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world, and God is the creator. Many people will notice the references to death more, but fertility is all over if only people noticed. It is not used in regards to judgement. It’s about humanity. You are human. You might cringe or you might relate more than others knowing this. Note it so you aren’t surprised.
2) Be prepared to for possible insensitive or the dreaded well intended comment. Fertility will come up. People will ask about you and your life; many people will show up with strollers and share difficulties with parenthood, etc. Check out this guide for managing the family meals and other risky situations.
3) Repeat after me: I. Will. Be. Okay. I. Am. Not. Being. Punished. I. Can. Be. Present.
The idea of making mistakes and getting back on track does not mean you deserve to be experiencing infertility or other family building challenges. You do not. Regardless of how your experience trying to build your family resolves itself, you will have you afterwards. The holidays are a time to take an inventory of who you are, to recognize the amazing gifts of God’s creation, to reflect on your behavior in the past year and prepare to keep improving in wholeness (meaning flaws and all) in the future. That applies to attending synagogue, being with family and friends and spending time in personal reflections.
Any big event, any holiday, and certainly any prompt to reflect on big life issues can bring up challenging thoughts and emotions. They are just that – thoughts and emotions. They are not who you are. Being prepared will help you manage them when they arise. Give yourself permission to be present for the messages of the holidays and take care of yourself.