By: Jillian/Yosefa Gross
Editors note: You can read part I of “The Road Less Traveled” here.
Much has happened since the last publication, my dear readers. We are now seven months into being completely shomer Shabbat, my family has MORE than accepted ALL of our decisions, many more friends have been made and connections have been matched. My husband has been attending services every Friday night and Saturday morning (even though he knows he doesn’t count as part of the minyan, he is in love and on fire for Hashem). Every six weeks, Friday night Shabbat dinner is held in our house, with sometimes more than eight people sitting around my table. And that is only the beginning.
In November, we found out that we were (unexpectedly) pregnant and I went from shock/disbelief and borderline not wanting to be (as we wanted his conversion to be complete first) to absolute excitement. I went to the doctor and had my blood drawn, which confirmed definite pregnancy, and two days after that, I had blood drawn again to confirm that the pregnancy was moving forward as it should. A week later, I started spotting. I called the doctor and was told not to worry about it, as it was common, and that everything would be fine. For a week, at least once a day, I would see blood when I urinated and feared the worst. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and went to the doctor on a Wednesday morning where they performed an exam, round of blood work, and an ultrasound. The exam came back normal, the blood work came back as still definitely pregnant, and we held our breathe as we went in for the ultrasound (even though we knew that we were only about 4-6 weeks along and we knew that we probably wouldn’t hear anything) and didn’t even see a spot. We were told not to be discouraged, as this was “normal” and they reassured me of everything. They put me on “light duty” of no heavy lifting and sent me home.
A restful Shabbat came and went, and on Sunday afternoon I went to the airport to pick up a friend of mine that I had not seen in two years, and came home. That evening, while my husband, one of my girlfriends, my childhood friend from out of town, and I watched a movie, I started to cramp a little, in a way that I had never experienced. I voiced my concern, took two Tylenol (which didn’t help) and went to bed. I woke up on Monday at 4:30am in excruciating pain, and before I even got out of bed, I knew my worst fear was coming true. I immediately called the doctor on call and they told me to only get to the E.R. if I was filling a pad an hour and/or if I was in more pain than I could handle. Being the dedicated employee that I am and believing the doctor, I popped some more Tylenol, texted my boss to let her know I was miscarrying and that I would be a bit late to work. Before I even got to my job, my boss called me and told me to not dare go to work, to go immediately to the E.R., and that she knew what it was like, having experienced it too, and not to return until I was ready. I didn’t want my husband to miss work for something he could not help, especially since he wouldn’t be able to touch me anyway, so I called my mother-in-law, who said she would meet me at home to take me and I then called my childhood friend in from out of town and told her to get dressed. My joke to her was that on her first day in Nashville, TN, I was going to show her the famous Vanderbilt University Medical Center. To make a long story short (at least this part) I was in so much pain by the time I got there, that they had to give me morphine just to perform the exam and blood work, which confirmed that not only had my baby died, but that I was also so far along in miscarrying that no further medical procedure was necessary. I was sent home with a prescription for a heavy narcotic, merely three weeks after finding out that I was pregnant. We were devastated. I stayed home from work for a week, either in too much physical pain or too heavily inebriated to work. I returned to work one week to the day after losing my baby. I would later realize this was a HUGE mistake.
The secular New Year came and went uneventfully, until the night our Rabbi called my husband. The Rabbi called to tell my husband that the Beit Din that would be performing his conversion would be meeting in two weeks on a Sunday and that he needed to get there and that I was more than welcome to attend, as they would probably want to meet me as well. Fast forward to the week of the meeting when our Rabbi calls to confirm the time and other details for Sunday, he tells us there is a slight change of plans and that they will probably not want to meet me yet, as it is the first meeting. On Motzei Shabbat, we immediately packed the car after Havdallah and drove the four hour drive from Nashville, TN to Atlanta, GA, checked into a hotel and got to bed. We wake up the next morning and we went to the synagogue to meet with the Beit Din. As we are packing our room and getting into the car, I realize that I didn’t pack a book or magazine, so I tell my husband that I will drop him off at the synagogue and go to a Walgreens or somewhere else to get something to read. We go into the synagogue, he “checks in” and I am on my way out to the car when he calls my cell phone and asks me to turn around and come back inside, because the Rabbis want to meet me after all. I feel my heart pulsing in my ears as I make my way back into the office and I take a seat.
After some introductions and a few questions, the real interrogation for me started. There were three questions/comments that were made that will never leave me. The first one was “Do you have any children?” Even though the Rabbis had no idea what had happened during the prior month, I remember standing there and wanting the floor to literally open up and swallow me whole as I said “No, not yet.” The second blow? was when they asked me, “What made you think it was ok to marry a non-Jew?” My response came quickly and did not really give my voice justice, as I feel like I did not have the opportunity to explain myself. I said “I didn’t think about it that way.” But the rest of what I wanted to say was, “I was told as a child that I could marry anyone as long as they were not Muslim or Agnostic/Atheist and that when I looked into his eyes fourteen years ago, I saw his future, I saw this moment.” (Minus a couple of things.) They also told me that if I was waiting for his conversion to be complete, I was causing “Permanent Loss”. This is the part that made no sense to me as the commandment to have children is for Jewish men, not women, so it did not necessarily apply in this case and I wanted more of an explanation. As the interrogation wrapped up, I couldn’t get to the car fast enough. I barely made it there and got the door closed, before I lost all control. I not only cried, I wept, wept for my baby that failed to thrive, for the babies that I apparently lost the opportunity to have due to waiting, for my lack of self-motivation to stand up and speak for myself when I stood before those men less than 30 minutes before. I cried until I choked and coughed and couldn’t breathe, and then I called my mother. I told her “I thought I was over this” and she said “Baby, I could have told you that you weren’t. You went from pregnant, to not pregnant very quickly and were in either physical pain, or high on narcotics, immediately returning to work a week later, never really processing emotionally and psychologically what had happened. You basically said, ‘Ok I am not pregnant let’s move on.’ Everyone is different, it can take days, and weeks, months, etc. you need to process as you will. I love you.” I have an amazingly sweet and supportive husband, as with this being all about him, he was still there for me. I should have been the one asking him how he felt, what happened when I wasn’t in the room, the questions that were asked and the answers he gave, but instead he held me while I cried in his arms. We then went to the famous Kosher Kroger in Atlanta, GA and stocked up on so much yummy goodness, including some Passover goodies, Chinese food for lunch, and sushi for dinner. We picked up some things for our Rabbi and drove the four hours home.
Two weeks after we arrived home, my previous employer called to ask me if I would testify on her children’s behalf in court. See, my college degree is in criminal & child psychology and her children (who I was a Nanny for) were abused by her ex-husband and I was the only person whom the children trusted to tell every time it occurred, so of course, I said yes. The problem was that as soon I got off the phone with her and the children, I closed my eyes and visions of my past cases, pictures that nobody should ever see, came flashing across my mind. The cries I heard when the room got quiet were deafening and nobody in my life could understand what was going on. The flashbacks and cries went on almost nonstop for the next two months. One of my chavrusas (by now I had 3) recommended that I speak to another friend of ours in the community that just happened to be a retired licensed clinical social worker with years of experience in working with psychologists like me. I spoke to her, started to meet with her, and was diagnosed with PTSD, moderate anxiety, and mild depression. I chose therapy, no medications, and I continue to meet with her as you read this.
By the time this goes to print, it will be a few weeks since the next part of my story. On a Wednesday morning, I went to work as usual and thirty minutes later, I felt my heart pumping extremely fast and so hard that my chest hurt. My head started throbbing as the room started spinning. A coworker had to lead me to my chair and have me call my husband to take me to the Emergency Room. An hour later I was inside the emergency room of a hospital known all over Nashville, TN for specializing in cardiology. By 3:00pm, the doctor had ruled out all potential cardiovascular problems and my lungs were clear so they sent me home. The next day, (not happy with the answers) I went to my own doctor’s office and after reviewing everything with him from the day before, including my psychological diagnoses, I was told that what I had experienced the day before was an anxiety attack. They prescribed an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medications, told me to continue my therapy, and try to put myself first. My boss told me to take off the next day and recuperate. A non-Jewish friend of mine came over and helped me get ready for Shabbat. Not only did she help out for Thursday night, but for Friday after work too, and I was eternally grateful. After all, she even stayed until Saturday morning. I made it to services and managed to stay for Kiddush by day, but was beyond exhausted for the women’s roundtable Tanya class that was meets every Saturday afternoon. With my husband’s support, I made it home to learn with him.
Apparently, word travels fast in a small Jewish community and the Rebbetzin called me on Monday morning to tell me that she missed me in class on Saturday and to see if I was okay. I explained to her all the details of the previous Wednesday and she told me what my mother told me, what my employer told me, and what my amazing husband told me – that I should really start taking time for myself. She reminded me that a woman is responsible for her Shalom Bayit and that without my own sanity and peace of mind, it would cease to be so calm. That I need to take time out for myself, and that is what I am doing right now.
Drawing by: Sarah W.