| Akeida Moments |

Choosing Joy

I pick up my phone to call my mother. I stop. It’s Yom Tov tomorrow. Must I ruin it for everyone?

A long wait at the doctor’s office is not what I wanted today, on Erev Succos. There’s too much joy in the cool autumn breeze. The avenues look like a massive circus, replete with tents of tinsels and gaudy decorations. I sigh, tired and happy, and wait.

The heady fragrance of pending holiday is compounded by the magic of a kicking little being inside me. It’s been a long pregnancy, as pregnancies tend to be, and I’ve been dreaming lately of baby fragrance, buttery skin, and delicious, tiny things.

The doctor, Dr. Keilson, is chirpy. “You’ll be outta here in a jiffy,” she promises. My mind is on dessert, (chocolate pie the first night — or apple cobbler?), when her voice snaps me out of my sugary ruminations. “So... we’re measuring a bit small.”

I startle. I’m in my ninth month already and so far, it’s been smooth sailing. “Oh.” I say, “Why?”

“Well, there could be a number of reasons. I wouldn’t worry yet. Are you eating right?” Dr. Keilson asks me about my diet, about my work schedule. Finally, she orders an ultrasound. “Just as a precaution,” she shrugs. “I’m fairly certain all’s well.”

Well, if she’s fairly certain, then so am I. I mentally go through my last-minute shopping list and wonder if I should bring a salad or kugel to tomorrow’s seudah. It’s only decent to contribute something. We’ll be eating all the meals at my parents — no flying off to the in-laws now, with the due date around the corner.

But the ultrasound technician is taking her time and I begin to fidget. In the semi-darkness, I scrutinize her face. I wait, suddenly breathless, as she sighs lightly, pushes back her chair, and leaves the room, telling me to wait for the doctor.

By now, my palms are cold, my stomach tight. I close my eyes and will myself to halt my monstrous imaginations. Then the door opens, light floods the room. The doctor smiles, too sweetly, pats dark bangs out of her eyes. Before she speaks, I pounce.

“The baby. Is my baby okay?”

“Well... we hope so,” she says slowly. My heart clobbers my throat as she continues. “It’s... the baby is small, worryingly small. And we’re not quite sure why. Everything looks fine.” She pauses. I want to shake her.

“Hopefully, the baby is small, just because. You know”—she smiles again, spreading her arms—“some babies are just small. And they’re perfectly okay.”

“And if it’s not just because?”

She shrugs. “Let’s hope it’s just a small baby.”

“But what if not?” I am begging, desperate, but I don’t care.

The doctor purses her lips. “Well, it can sometimes signify chromosomal abnormalities.”

I am stunned. Quickly, she continues, “Like I said, everything looks fine, so let’s hope Baby’s okay.”

“Yes,” I whisper.

She puts me on monitors, then swishes away, ordering me to make another appointment. “We need to see you every two days to make sure your baby is doing well.”

I lean back against the cushioned chair, reeling. Thunk-thunk-thunk-static-thunk-thunk. I listen to my baby’s heartbeat and I tremble. My dreams of dancing eyes and plump baby fat, healthy, sparkling with life, blacken around the edges. Thunk-thunk-thunk. I need to call my husband, my mother.

Then I remember. It’s Succos tomorrow night. In a heartbeat, all my joy for the Yom Tov fades. I swallow the ache in my throat and wish Yom Tov had already come and gone, the succah dismantled and desserts devoured, and the baby born already, so I can know that he is okay. I stuff my knuckles in my mouth to keep from crying.

How I’ve waited for Succos, for its besamim-speckled lemons and sweet-smelling sechach, seudos full of song and scattered moonlight, the kind of joy and breathe-a-sigh-of-peace coziness that come when you’re in this magic little haven, in Hashem’s embrace. Thunk-thunk-static. Thunk-thunk. The lights inside me dim.

I pick up my phone to call my mother. I stop. It’s Yom Tov tomorrow. Must I ruin it for everyone?

Nonsense. You have to say it as it is. They have a right to know.

My fingers are stiff. I know, I know I can relay the information in a calm, thought-out way. I can do this. But goodness, I don’t want to! I need to spill this all out, quickly. My mother will calm me down, she always does.

I start dialing. My mother, bless her soul. She will wave her hands and say not to worry, of course not. It’s all good; doctors like to drive you crazy sometimes. She will tell stories of people who had tiny, healthy babies, she will talk about the adorable baby bonnets she nearly picked up the other day, she will listen and nod and trust in Hashem’s goodness.

I’m on my way home. The sun has set, and the wind is cold, foreshadowing winter. I feel suddenly so alone. Lost. Why can’t I share this? Why must I trap it all inside? Worry writhes in my stomach. I want to let it out, let it drown me, muddle through the next few days until it’s all over.

But it’s Yom Tov tomorrow. Zeman simchaseinu.

I look up at the blue above and I shiver. It’s a choice.

But they are waiting to hear from me. Is everything okay?

When I speak to my mother, I tell her the baby is a bit small, staunching the torrent of words sparking in my throat. And I gaze at the sky throughout the long walk home, squeezing my worry into a quivering bundle; it keeps coming loose and I wrap it, again and again and again, with hope and prayer, and oh, never forget, tracht gut vet zein gut, think good and it will be good!

Succos sweeps in the following night, on a whiff of golden challos, autumn chill, and candlelight. My thoughts drift and I try, I try to bolster myself so that I don’t make a chillul Hashem of this beautiful Yom Tov. Worry comes, knocking the wind out of me, the joy from my heart, while I’m washing dishes or chocolaty faces, listening to children bicker or dreamy zemiros from the succah.

I fight. It is Yom Tov and Hashem wants me to be happy, to rejoice. I can do this.

Twice, on Chol Hamoed, I head back to the office. More sonos, more monitors. Thunk thunk thunk. I want to cry, reach out and touch my baby, so very alive inside me. Are you okay?

I swallow and struggle to think of health and goodness and Hashem’s love. It’s Yom Tov, I tell myself. It is Yom Tov!

At times, the black thoughts won’t budge; I feel them, sitting in my head and growing wings. For this, I develop a little formula, to banish them before they trap me: First, daven hard, and think positive, then, no matter what happens, Hashem is good! And finally, it’s Yom Tov — smile!

And I do. I laugh with my sisters and play with my children, I sing a joyous, pleading Hallel in the empty succah. I dream of a baby, a healthy one, please G-d! — and savor the magic of Succos.

I really do.

And soon after, I give birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 511)

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