I am a Jew, but I am not religious.
I light candles Friday night, but don't keep Shabbat.
I don't eat pork, but I mix dairy and meat.
I don't know the Hebrew prayers, but I speak to G‑d.
But there is one area of my life where I am as Jewish as I can be-my approach to being a mother.
Coming from Russia, where the social norm is one or two children, I could never have foreseen the motherly part of me taking over to the degree it has. Now, comfortably enjoying life in warm and sunny California, it makes no sense to most people why in the world this young and ambitious doctor would choose to have four kids and "ruin" her life!?
I am not thinking about it. I simply know Two out of four of my pregnancies caught us by total surprise and at the most inconvenient times, but deep inside I was thrilled--I was pregnant, waking up in the morning with my heart singing in ecstasy.
To me, pregnancy is the proof that G‑d is real. I don't need to look any further; with each and every baby's kick and twist, I know I am experiencing a miracle in progress. As miserably exhausted and extremely uncomfortable as I am, I never feel more alive and happy than when I am pregnant - I know it doesn't make sense, so I don't even try to explain.
So last year, when my mom caught me drooling over someone else's baby at the park, she almost screamed, trying to bring me to my senses: "Don't even think about it! You are completing your Ph.D. and your husband is not a rabbi!"
But I am not thinking about it. I simply know that I am ready for another baby. Is it logical or practical? No,not at all, but I am possessed by this baby-energy coming so strongly, from inside of me. I feel honored and privileged to be chosen to brighten this world with another Jewish soul.
At the same time, I face an inner turmoil of self-doubt: Am I doing the right thing by considering entering another new pregnancy--rollercoaster ride- and dragging my whole family with me? Can I stand up for what I believe in, when my logical mind and so many relatives are screaming "NO!?"
My spirit is wrapped in such peace Pulled by my mind and my soul in two opposite directions, on the way home from the park, I decide to stop by our local Chabad House to get some clarity from my friend Bassie, the Rebbetzin. She looks at me with a smile when I tell her about my desire for another child and how illogical even I think it is.
Then she tells me about the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and what a mikvah is. As I listen to her, my spirit is wrapped in such peace and comfort. I can almost taste the sweet breath of my future baby and I love him beyond words already!
One hour later, I come home where my precious, innocent husband is working on the computer, so focused and intent. He isn't yet interested in spiritual pursuits, yet he is the best Jewish husband, always supportive of his awakening wife. And I tell him that while I can't explain it, I long for another child.
I read about mikvah and it speaks to me on such a deep level, bringing tears to my eyes. I explain to my husband the importance of keeping the laws of family purity, and despite never even knowing about this, he agrees and supports me all the way through.
I will never forget getting ready for the mikvah: counting the days, praying, waiting with great anticipation- even though I am petrified of water, a fear I have had since childhood.
I remember when I finally heard Bassie yelling: "Kosher" (meaning that I had immersed myself the right way, going completely under the water). She felt such excitement, as if it was she who had just been cured from a water phobia. I experienced this strange, new feeling over me, as if the mystical waters of the mikvah were washing off the sticky coat of doubt and fear, connecting me to my roots, from which I could absorb the strength and wisdom of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah...becoming like them-a proud Jewish woman.
Back in Russia, I was raised to hide, and be ashamed of, my Judaism. But as I emerged from the mikvah waters I felt that I was able to fully claim what has been always mine-my Jewish soul.
Driving home, laughing through the tears of joy, I kept praying to G‑d to be with me, to quench my inner thirst for this baby... Ten days later there it was: a faint red plus on a pregnancy test.
I welcomed my baby into my heart and into my life. I also welcomed our Creator into my pregnancy, for the first time acknowledging His invisible presence, somewhere behind the Heavenly curtain, making it all possible.
Ever since then, I am learning to develop my relationship with G‑d.
I find myself praying and talking to Him like never before, finding the great relief of putting all my fears in His hands. I want the birth of this baby to highlight my journey to know myself and G‑d's presence in me. I want it to be a spiritual experience. I am waiting now, till the cry of my baby turns me inside out, transforming my entire self into the person I really am-a Jewish mother.
I sit here now in my ninth month, soon to be blessed, G‑d Willing, with my fifth child. I have never been so excited and so nervous at the same time. I am so unsure if I will have enough love and wisdom in me for all my kids, and yet I know that G‑d's guidance and support is just a prayer away. This pregnancy is different, more conscious and spiritual. This is my first mikvah baby.
Postscript: Katherine's baby was born on a Shabbat morning and his Hebrew name is Menachem Mendel, after the Lubavitcher Rebbe.