by Becca Shimshak
“For the Jews, there was light, happiness, joy and honor; so it should be for us.” ~Esther 8:16 with quote from prayer for Havdalah
When I got married ten years ago, I chose this quote for our wedding invitation. For all of our friends, there were big, beautiful weddings. Hotels, tuxedos, cute flower girls, awesome music and dancing. Why shouldn’t this be for us too?
In my 20’s, I was diagnosed with a rare benign tumor in my femur bone that propelled my life in a very different direction than my peers. I was fortunate enough that part of that direction led me to my husband Steve however it also led to chronic pain and multiple surgeries…not so much joy and light and happiness, huh? Not yet.
So, it took me a while to regain my health and embrace all that happiness and May 29th, 2005, our wedding day, rocked the house.
Fast forward to my 30’s and once again I was itching for the next wave of blessings to shine on me…children. I thought the hard work was done. My husband and I had gotten settled in our marriage, our careers, our friendships, and we were committed to building a family.
So, when I was diagnosed with endometriosis and an ovarian cyst explaining why we were struggling to conceive, I was thrown aback. Who could I share this with and how am I going to get through this to achieve our goal of becoming parents?
To be honest, it was a long road of doctors and tests and learning more about my body than I had ever before. I lost weight; I went gluten, dairy and sugar free; I changed my sleeping patterns, took more vitamins. I embraced yoga; I worked with an acupuncturist. I knew I could not get through this struggle alone and needed to find others who “got it.” But how would I find people? Especially in the Jewish community when my friends were exploring pre-schools, not fertility clinics…
Then, I visited Mayyim Hayyim. My mother brought me to help me heal from my surgery for the ovarian cyst and to bring blessings of fertility to me. During one of my visits to Mayyim Hayyim, I saw a small sign on a coffee table among other resources from local Jewish organizations. The sign said: “Are you struggling with infertility? Email and join our support group.” By the time I wrote, the group had disbanded because all of the women got pregnant. The leader introduced me to a chevruta (learning partner) who changed my life. I had finally found someone else who understood and could go through this journey with me. From that relationship, I learned to share with my friends and not be ashamed. I got support through surgeries, a miscarriage, and learned about PGD – Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, that ultimately led me to Zoe Ann and Isabella Rose – my two beautiful daughters full of light, happiness joy, and honor, who will be celebrating their first Purim this year.
Without Mayyim Hayyim, I would not be where I am today – still in my pajamas at 4pm in the afternoon, covered in organic baby formula – blessed with light, happiness, joy and honor (yes, even at 4am) and establishing Uprooted: A Jewish Response to Infertility.
As a result, I decided, that, although my daughters were going to be named at Reform, Conservative and Orthodox shuls, thanks to their pluralistic parents, their first stop as Jewish women must be Mayyim Hayyim. Ziva Yocheved and Vered Elisheva were named there. We blessed the girls in the presence of their grandparents, Marsha and Marc Slotnick and Marcia and Dan Shimshak, as we dipped their feet in water that we proclaimed as holy. We filled the bowl with rose petals for Isabella and precious stones for Zoe. Mayyim Hayyim was a key source of support for me in bringing these girls into the world so we wanted their Jewish journey to begin there.
Becca Shimshak is the Founding Executive Director of Uprooted. Uprooted provides a central address for educating American Jewish leaders in assisting families with fertility challenges, and for national communal support to those struggling to grow their families.