by Kelly Banker, Intern

55aa894d-0359-46de-99cd-a84cf54377aeIs visiting the mikveh always a peaceful and pleasant experience? As mikveh guides and as an organization, we strive to make it so. And I believe that here at Mayyim Hayyim, we do make immersion experiences as positive for people as we possibly can. But, ultimately, we cannot fully know what people bring with them into the living waters. I want to focus on moments when immersing in the mikveh can be challenging, even frightening. Those experiences exist, and although we hear less about them, they are important to bring into our collective consciousness.

A friend of mine who used to visit Mayyim Hayyim monthly for niddah, recently found herself struggling to navigate a crisis pregnancy. Young and frightened, she believed abortion to be her best option. While I won’t go into the intricacies of her decision, it was a tremendously difficult, heartbreaking process for her. The resurgence of her normal menstrual cycle was met with deep sadness and relief. Upon its ending, where she would typically have paid a visit to Mayyim Hayyim, she chose not to. When I spoke to her about this decision, she told me that she did not yet feel ready to face the waters, the return of the ritual and the letting go it might bring. Her dilemma left me wondering – where do we go when we are not yet ready to let go of that which has already passed? Her body has released the products of conception, but emotionally she feels herself to be in a liminal state – not quite pregnant, but not ready to not be pregnant – and therefore, not ready to return to her monthly ritual of niddah.

Thus, her enthusiasm about immersing on a monthly basis at Mayyim Hayyim has abruptly become a feeling of dread. I myself feel great sadness for her loss, but also for her constriction around returning to the rhythm of her life, her body and her emotional healing process. We both know that immersing at Mayyim Hayyim can and, hopefully, will allow her to soften into her grief. However, when she arrives, she and I know that the fear, the dread and the guilt will rest on her shoulders. It’s as if her body and spirit have not rejoined after this trauma.

And so I wonder – how do we return to the water after an experience like abortion? How can the living waters help to soothe bodies and souls set adrift by loss and trauma?

Mayyim Hayyim is a special sort of holy place that allows us to come just as we are, with all that we do or do not carry in our hearts. I am proud to work at a place where I know that wherever and whenever my friend decides to return to her immersion ritual, she will be welcomed and supported in the way that feels best for her. What a blessing that such a thoughtful and loving space exists in our community.

Kelly Banker is an intern at Mayyim Hayyim. She is also a resident organizer at Moishe Kavod House and teaches Hebrew school at local synagogues. Kelly recently earned her BA from Carleton College in Religion and Women’s Studies, and has worked as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Kelly is also a doula, a farmer, and a certified yoga teacher. She loves movement, exploring the woods, poetry, and the moon.