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Bereft

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There could not have been a more perfect day for Shabbat. The blue sky over the hills of the Galilee was veiled in a haze of soft pink. A windless, warm spring day.

Now these pounding spasms had to go and spoil it all. I put a red queen on a black jack, and listened for Daveed’s heavy boots on the steps. He was on kitchen duty today; at dawn he had kissed my forehead and vanished into the gray mist. Now these stupid pains would thoroughly ruin the rest of the day.

Deena knocked and entered. She stopped and gave me a swift look. “What are you crying about?” She leaned over the bed. “Imagine a grown-up person crying over a losing game of Solitaire.”

“I have these pains,” I apologized, “but they’ll go away soon.” She ran out, slamming the door behind her.

A few What are you crying about?moments later, Deena returned with our doctor. “And what seems to be the trouble?” she yawned. I had yanked her out of a cozy Shabbat-morning sleep. I blinked and looked down at my cards. “She has pains,” Deena said, as though it was my fault.

The doctor, who had studied both psychology and family medicine in Chicago, ran her fingers through her tousled long hair and said thoughtfully, “I suspected something like this would happen. Much too small for the sixth month.” I smiled foolishly. At least my problem wasn’t mental. She told Deena, “Please find a truck driver.” Then she gave me a tentative smile. “Everything will be all right. I’ll follow closely behind in the Jeep.”

Tears floated down my cheeks. I reached for Deena’s hand. “Call Daveed,” I whispered. She nodded, and both women disappeared.

This was no way for a pioneer to behave. After all, I had abandoned “affluent society” to clear the wasteland. I had survived leaky roofs, hours of guard duty in the night, and black chicory every morning instead of Maxwell House. I had carried children to the underground shelters and sang cheerful songs to them while guns fired across the hills. I had cleaned public washrooms, scrubbed thousands of floors, scoured gigantic greasy pots . . . A little thing like losing a baby shouldn’t upset me. But my shameless tears refused to obey.

When I walked down the stairs, I held the banister and refused Daveed’s hand. How brave I am! I hoped the others noticed.

Moshe hugged the wheel and growled, “Shalom.” I had interrupted his sleep with some weird womanly business. “We don’t work on Shabbat,” he muttered, “but as they say, pikuach nefesh and all that.” We could drive on Shabbat if it meant saving a life.

Daveed jumped on the back of the truck while the doctor ordered Moshe to “drive carefully.”

“It’s a good hour’s drive to the hospital. Will we get there in time?” he asked. The doctor shrugged and leaped into the Jeep. In time for what? I wondered.

The truck snorted, bounced, and rolled onto the bumpy road. The wild hedges smelled bittersweet; the hollyhocks glowed among the newly risen poppies. But I carried death among the flowers.

Moshe The truck snorted, bounced, and rolled onto the bumpy roadmumbled, “Nice weather for this time of year. Usually it pours. Lucky for us.” I folded my palms on my heaving belly as our kibbutz disappeared behind the hills. Arabs stared at the truck, probably wondering what “business” we were up to on our holy Sabbath.

The truck, braking just in time, missed crushing the life out of a jackrabbit. The jolt threw me off the hot leather seat, and I fell into Deena’s arms. Moshe, now fully awake, apologized, “Rabbit’s got a right to live too.” I agreed.

Suddenly, I heard a wail of anguish, a loud lament, as of an animal brutally caught in a trap. I looked around and wondered which of G‑d’s creatures was suffering so. The creature moaned incoherently, “My baby, I want my baby.” I covered my mouth, ashamed and afraid. They carried me out of the truck, and I sat hugging a gnarled olive tree. Blue thistles on the roadside pierced my bare legs, then took on the rich color of blood.

I awoke in a strange bed surrounded by unfamiliar odors. An ancient hand like a branch of my olive tree put a sweet mint-like liquid to my lips. The blurred images of Daveed, the doctor, Deena and a Moroccan woman in a long colorless robe came to life. The woman’s lips carved a warm smile among the creases of her face. The sun’s rays filtered through the slats of the window shutters and lit up the dust on the fireplace. The straw mats and earthenware jugs cast strange shadows across the stone walls. I shivered, and the woman threw a sheepskin blanket over me. I watched her hand stir something in a large black pot, and I reached out for my own mother’s hand across miles of ocean. Again the shameless creature moaned, “Ma, I want my Ma.”

Daveed touched my cheek. “Everything will be all right,” he said.

“Who’s crying?” I asked.

His eyes clouded. “No one.”

“Is my baby crying for me?”

“No, no one is crying.”

After a week in the hospital, I was returned to my room at the kibbutz. Deena baked a welcome-home cake; she decorated my orange-crate table with cyclamen, fruit and candy. Everyone came to visit—the barn workers, the orchard workers, the chicken hands. Yossef brought his guitar Is my baby crying for me?and serenaded me with nostalgic folk songs. The kitchen staff dispatched special meals to my room—oranges, chicken, and lemon cake. The doctor insisted that due to my traumatic experience, I was entitled to a month’s vacation. My perplexed class had an eager substitute—a former scoutmaster who was happy to leave off digging ditches for a while.

Daveed promised to love me forever, even if we never had a child, and quoted, “Am I not more devoted to you than ten sons?”

During my recuperation period, I reflected on how our nation has gone through so many ups and downs—joys as well as challenges, good times and far too many exiles, tragedies and persecutions. As women, we carry the hope and pain of pregnancies, births, miscarriages, infertility. We have the inborn rhythm of ups and downs built into our very bodies, and are intimately familiar with it. And through it all, through our pure moments of joy and our bitter ones of loss, we continue moving forward.

Aviva Ravel is a Canadian playwright, whose plays are available at Playwrights Guild of Canada in Toronto. She has also published many short stories in magazines such as Journal of Canadian Literature, Viewpoints and Moment.
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Anonymous NC, USA October 4, 2013

a childless grandmother I am a grandmother tho I have no children of my own. Lost 2 back in my younger days. Couldnt afford the expensive treatments to try in-vitro. Years went by; many times I cried at the sight of a baby, my heart yearned to be a real woman. I felt "less than". Many times I heard women say "if it weren't for my children I would have no reason to go on." I wondered what reason I have to go on, childless. Then a wonderful thing happened. My step son got married and had 2 sons. The first born crawled up in my lap when he was visiting, he was maybe a yr old. I had never experienced the love of a child. I was afraid to breathe, overwhelmed with gratitude and love. I thanked G-d for allowing me the chance to know the feeling of the love of a child. Reply

Anonymous monsey, NY October 2, 2013

This is my story wow as if you wrote my story, your writing is awasome. It was very hard, but BH we adopteed two beautiful children. Reply

chana Israel October 2, 2013

magnificently written This will surely help other women who have gone through such pain. May the author write another piece very soon, telling us of her overpowering joy over being a mother Reply

dani gottesman September 30, 2013

Very touching, and very well written. Thank you for sharing this. Reply

Aviva Ravel August 16, 2013

Thank you for your kind words about my story. May we all be blessed with healthy children whom we can nourish in the precepts of Judaism. Aviva Ravel Reply

Lori The Netherlands August 16, 2013

Heartfelt story Thank you for sharing your story. It moved my heart.

My mornng prayers is that some woman is has been battling infertility receives the news that she is pregnant, and that another miscarriage is averted, or another delivers a healthy baby. I had never thought to pray for the strength.

I wish you many blessings. Reply

Anonymous USA August 16, 2013

Bereft Beautifully written! So much sensitivity on the subject I liked it very much. May G-d Almighty give peace and comfort to hose women who lose their little ones. Reply

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