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Not What I Prayed

The child for whom I had prayed. The child who was not what I had prayed for

For most people, life progresses down a predictable route and soon a child is expected, and then arrives. The child grows, the family grows, and days fill with the minutiae of life: errands to run, suppers to serve, baths to bathe, Shabbos coming and going.

That’s what I thought would happen to me, too. I had never expected to get stuck on the outside looking in. Where was my baby? Not here, I knew. My parents knew. My nieces and nephews knew, and when they asked when I would have a baby, my heart would constrict. “When Hashem wants,” I’d say. “You can daven.”

Maybe those innocent children davened, I don’t know. I certainly prayed. Day in, day out, trying and strengthening and trying again. On every special day, at every auspicious time, in every effective way, I begged for a child. Tefillos that envelop your being. Avodah that puts everything on the line, because for this I daven, for this I try. For this baby I pray.

For a baby who grows and develops and gets those endless colds and teething pains. And Terrible Twos and then a haircut, when suddenly he’s a boy, with scraped knees from riding his bike and that challenging work of learning to keep his hands to himself. And you turn around and he’s a bochur, growing through messy teenagerhood, before he becomes a proud young man. That was the child I prayed for.

But that was not the child I got. I remember the day he was born, when I looked into his small, almond-shaped eyes and thought, for this one I prayed! But it was not so many days later that I knew he wasn’t exactly what I’d asked for. The first complications didn’t throw me, for I had not expected my life to be easy. I had not envisioned that his birth would herald a happily-ever-after. But then came the second issue, and the third, and multiple hospitalizations and surgeries and endless therapies… and my child who just wouldn’t, couldn’t, grow and develop like any other.

I was sitting outside one fine spring day and saw my neighbor’s baby, her tenth, walking. “How did she learn?” I asked.

My neighbor shrugged. “She just stood up on her feet and began to take her first steps.”

And I swallowed the question, but how? How could her baby have learned to walk without a physical therapist to show her where to put her feet and an OT to work her core muscles? How could this baby-now-toddler just stand up on those bare feet without special shoes to lend her support? I wanted to yell at my neighbor, ask her how she could not recognize the miracle in front of her. Instead, I smiled and said, “How nice,” and walked away toward my own child.

The child for whom I had prayed. The child who was not what I had prayed for. The child I loved with my whole heart. But who wouldn’t, couldn’t, be what I wanted of him. The child I was gifted with from Above, the child I thanked Hashem for every day, the child who had finally made me a mother. The child who I’d thought was the answer to my prayers. But he wasn’t quite.

They say when you daven, sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the answer is, not right now, and sometimes the answer is, I have something even better for you. They don’t tell you that sometimes the answer is, sort of. You can have what you want, but it will look different and feel different, and you can be grateful for what you have but still have that hole, that awesome longing that drove you to pray from deep inside your being.

And I can love him with my whole heart and still yearn for the child for whom I prayed. The child who would fill my life with joy and nachas and allow me to join all those other mothers… That child was never born. And I appreciate what I have and also feel that gaping void where he was supposed to be.

They say mourning is a spiritual process. First, I sit with grief for what I wanted, what I thought I would have, what everyone else has. And as the grief comes and goes and the waves subside, I notice seashells left by the tide. If I pick one up, I can hear the ocean, and remember that the world is bigger than me and my dreams. That though my efforts did not deliver what I had hoped, and my task is different from what I thought it would be, these struggles are building something bigger. Something beautiful. Maybe even something that we all pray for.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 894)

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