To my dear friends,

I want to write to you, to explain and convey our sentiments concerning the loss of our baby, Yerachmiel, in hope that it might help explain what we are going through and provide a context for how we are dealing with such pain. You are the friends who have been so supportive of us and caring. You have respected our privacy by not asking details of what had happened, yet you have been by our side. Someone once wrote: ‘Strength comes from within, but also from others.’ Thank you so much for all of your strength and respect, it has meant so much to us.

We did not accept this diagnosis not out of denial, but rather out of conviction

I had my first ultrasound just a few weeks before my due date. It was then that we found out that our baby had a fatal malformation. The cause for this tragedy is medically unknown and there is no cure. In such a case, the medical care suggested is usually only to provide emotional support for the parents and comfort for the child until its inevitable death. The medical practice where I was being treated was very cold in their response to me.

Understandably, we were in shock, however, it was unacceptable to us to just watch our baby die as they suggested. We felt strongly that G‑d doesn’t give doctors permission to state that there is no hope. There is always hope and one must always try to help to the utmost of their ability. So, as parents, instinctively, we began to fight for our child, and despite the medical point of view, we felt strongly in the possibility that the diagnosis might not be ‘so bad’, or perhaps, G‑d would even make a miracle happen (could you imagine)!

The first thing was to find a caring doctor. We did find a very well respected practice and had a second ultrasound done, only to be told that what was at first a doubt, was now almost certain. You can imagine how we held onto that word “almost” for dear life! I was 39 weeks pregnant at this point. This time, however, we were met with a compassionate response. Although the doctors were essentially telling us the same information, that our baby would die soon after he left my body, they were gentle, caring and very sorry for our loss.

Many feelings and thoughts surged through our minds at this time. The most prevalent of which was unacceptance. We did not accept this diagnosis not out of denial, but rather out of conviction. Although we trembled inside, we felt it necessary to create our reality with our thoughts and attitude. My husband was quite a soldier. He gave me strength. He was relentless in the belief that positive thinking could help to change the situation; as there is a Yiddish saying, Tracht gut vet zein gut (think good and it will be good). Back and forth I swayed. On the one hand, we did as much as we could to effect a change spiritually in hope that it would change things physically: we gave tzeddakah (charity), had our mezuzas and my husband's tefillin checked, and other such things. Yet on the other hand, I cried so hard and so deeply that at times I couldn’t even breathe.

We asked ourselves many questions during this time and we sought advice: What is considered life in Judaism and what is considered death? What does Judaism say about the “quality of life”? We called a special Rav (a rabbi) who is an expert in Jewish Law and medical ethics. He helped us every step of the way. He explained what Jewish Law required of us in our situation, he helped us to formulate our birth plan, he spoke with the doctors, and gave us his cell phone to call in the middle of the night if needed.

If you don’t mind, I’ve added part of our birth plan which we gave to the hospital staff. This outlines our philosophy and the Jewish approach to, well, many things.

The Jewish point of view is that life and death are events controlled by G‑d. Moreover, Judaism believes that every created thing has a soul. Every soul that is brought into this world serves a very special purpose; as such, each individual is indispensable. The soul’s mission may take a full lifetime in a body to complete, or perhaps only a few years, and for others, only a few months, even at times just a few days. Life is precious and our wishes for our baby reflect this philosophy. We pray that the mission for this soul will take a full lifetime to complete.

* We firmly believe that a positive outlook can have positive outcomes. Therefore, we ask that the staff, who will attend this delivery and the care of our baby, look inside themselves to create a happy and positive environment, despite what the ultrasound seems to show. With G‑d’s help, you will become a partner in a very special outcome…

* The primary concern is the health of the mother. This means that when medical decisions have to be made, the effect of the physical health of the mother should be taken into consideration first. Notwithstanding this, we ask that all decisions made and methods used to deliver our baby, as well as post natal procedures are such that they will not shorten the lifespan of the baby…

* In the event that our baby should G‑d forbid not survive we should be notified as early as possible and consulted regarding any post life matters. In this case, we ask that the baby be accompanied at all times by a member of the Jewish community until he/she is taken from the hospital. Please respect the request that there should be no talking in the presence of the baby’s body.

The hospital staff, as I mentioned, handled us with extreme sensitivity. They were very respectful of our religious convictions and our wishes. In contrast to our experience with the first doctor who read the ultrasound, I can clearly say now, after the passing of our baby, that because of these doctors’ sensitivity to our attitude, needs and wishes, we have been empowered ever so slightly, enough to be given an advantage on the long road to healing.

Coming home from the hospital without our baby was perhaps the emptiest feeling that I have ever had in my life. The days that followed, the sleepless nights, the restless wakings and the images were terrible. Yet my anchor is the recollection of the sense of peacefulness that I had felt, but for a fleeting moment, once our baby was born and passed. As strange as this may seem, I remember feeling very serene and calm. I felt relaxed for the baby, for his neshamah, his soul. I knew, in a very deep way, that this experience of becoming pregnant, carrying our baby full term and giving birth involved us in every detail, but was essentially so very beyond us. When I looked at his beautiful body, for a moment all I saw was a soul, needing a pathway, a vehicle through which to fulfill itself.

Every soul that is brought into this world serves a very special purpose; as such, each individual is indispensable

I remember crying and saying to my husband, that in a way it was a merit to have met such a holy neshamah. We don’t know why G‑d does anything. But I am sure that He heard our prayers and tears, and watched with amazement at how all these little people ran around frantically to save a life. But He had other plans for this little soul.

Birth, in the best of situations is a paradox of being in control of oneself enough to be able to give birth, but surrendering to G‑d as to the outcome. Deeply buried in every woman’s heart are the worries that something may not go as we have planned, but we do not verbalize these worries, we are usually confident for good results, for a healthy baby and mother. We all know that really we are in G‑d’s hands. I remember having to make a conscious decision at the birth: I had to let go of the worries and of the fear. I even had to let go of the hope. I was completely in G‑d’s hands; trusting life, goodness, and fragility to the extent of just closing my eyes, and, ironically, letting go of control.

When Yerachmiel was born, there was silence in the birthing room. The staff, who were so respectful, also seemed so pained when he died. They followed our birth plan to the detail, behaving with incredible respect and compassion. Moreover, they derived lessons from this experience. The week following the birth, for example, two of the doctors, one of whom was the head of the neo-natal department, remarked to us that many of the medical decisions in the neo-natal department of the Hospital have changed because of our baby’s situation.

“Yerachmiel” means: G‑d will have ‘rachmanus’ (mercy, compassion) on me. Our little baby, Yerachmiel, seemed to have reintroduced a sense of compassion and mercy into this area of life where it was seemingly lacking. It is a privilege to see the accomplishments of one’s child in their lifetime, no matter how long it may be.

Thank G‑d, we are blessed with other children. Next came the task of explaining what had happened to them; of coming home. While I stayed in the hospital, my husband had the ominous task of facing our excited children. For, of course Mommy had a healthy baby, right! “What should I tell the kids?” he asked. What does one tell their children?

I reminded my husband of the conversation that I had had with the kids some weeks before, while still pregnant. Following is an excerpt from my diary relating this conversation:

One morning on the way to the bus stop, my eight year old daughter blurts out “Mommy, I hope that our baby doesn’t die!” Now, children do contemplate death, and quite frankly, this was the opening for discussion that I had been waiting for, one that I did not know how to bridge myself. For at this point, no one, including our children or other family or friends, knew that baby Yerachmiel was diagnosed with a fatal malformation via ultrasound.

So the conversation continued: “Why do you say that?” I ask. “Because so and so’s mother had a miscarriage, and I was wondering.” (read: afraid).

I explained that it is described in the Talmud that G‑d has a treasure chest which sits beneath His Throne of Glory. In this treasure chest are all the souls that will ever be created. Moshiach will come when all these souls are emptied from the treasure chest. The time that the soul spends in its body depends on the mission that it needs to complete.

Along with this comes the state of the body into which the soul is born. The crippled or handicapped body that a soul is born into is an indication that it is in fact a soul stemming from a higher source within G‑d. For this person does not need to be involved in the world to the extent that otherwise physically and, or mentally healthy people do. They do not need to learn to eat with a fork and knife, for example, nor to share, give charity, etc. Likewise, they are protected from performing an act contrary to G‑d’s will, a sin. They are in effect, protected from the world. From the worldly perspective, these people are pitied because of their external appearance and incapabilities; however, from the point of view of the soul, they only need to rectify perhaps something small in order to complete their G‑dly sent mission.

People with handicaps are often labeled “special.” I think this term truly describes the inner strength of such people and the beauty that they draw out from the world around them. They may indeed have very little to fix to complete their soul, but their very presence and the physical care that they need elicits tremendous unconditional mercy from those around them. Their presence in the world seems to be more for the sake of others than for themselves.

“So then we should stand up out of respect in front of a handicapped person!” says my eight year old. I wished then and there that I myself could integrate this lesson with the purity and simplicity as children can.

The baby’s passing has been hard for the kids. They needed to have a physical connnection of some kind, as we all do. We gave them the ultrasound pictures to look at, the baby’s hospital bracelet and drew pictures of Yerachmiel. Along with the help of the school psychologist, these things have helped them to integrate the reality of our loss. Children thrive on repetition. In the weeks following our baby’s passing, we found ourselves repeating the same words to our children in various conversations and forms. We also wrote a letter to them, so that they could read it whenever they wanted to be reassured. We told them how much we will always love them.

It is a privilege to see the accomplishments of one’s child in their lifetime, no matter how long it may be

An important point was for them to know that nothing any person could say or think could make a person pass away; that it is only G‑d who could make such a thing happen. They seemed comforted to know that since young children who have passed away never had a chance to sin, they are placed in the same category as the truly righteous individuals (tzaddikim), who also never sinned. These people will be the first to come back to us when Moshiach comes. Most importantly, we explained that although Yerachmiel is not with us in a body, he is very much with us all the time with his soul, and that they have the power to hasten the time when we will have Yerachmiel back with us. For all the Torah learning and acts of goodness and kindness that they do will help to bring Moshiach sooner.

One is so vulnerable in the face of pain. It was these thoughts and others that not only helped our children, but helped us as well to absorb and accept G‑d’s will. There is a saying that G‑d sends the cure before the illness. This can mean many things. For me, in this circumstance, it means that G‑d gives the comfort before the pain. For we have found very meaningful and comforting words within the Torah. For instance, the Talmud relates that the child in the womb learns the whole Torah by candlelight from an angel. This time is considered the best time in the child’s life. It is during this time that the mother is likened to the Beit Midrash (House of Torah study) or to the Aaron Kodesh (Ark that houses the Torah scrolls in a synagogue), and the baby is likened to a Torah itself. In essence, when a child dies before or at birth, s/he is always enveloped in the holiness of Torah and G‑d. None of the baby’s time in this world was ever for naught.

I’ve been told that the difficult journey to recovery is hard and long. To help with the healing process, dedications are often made in the name of a loved one; these are Jewish ways, soul ways. As a means to help us heal and to remember Yerachmiel, we have decided to contribute toward the writing of a Torah scroll for a synagogue. We feel that having a Torah written with our baby in mind is a very fitting statement to G‑d of our sentiments.

When one loses a baby at birth, people are shocked into remembering the fragile nature of humanity. This person didn’t live a full life of 120 years; there is no grand eulogy to say; this is just not supposed to happen! People are speechless and lost as to the proper behavior. This accentuated the pain and made us feel quite alone at times. Meanwhile, I have come to learn more about compassion, particularly from friends like you.

Compassion for others is an egoless trait. Compassion is not paralyzed in fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. It is a state of being that feels for the other regardless of how one feels for oneself, and therefore, the compassionate person puts their own needs on the side to support the person in pain. Compassion is a graceful and honorable trait. It is an essential trait to acquire in life; one which I am learning more and more about every day.

I wish that I didn’t have to learn about it this way. This is just another of the many lessons that we have learned from our little baby Yerachmiel. We know that one’s Jewish name reflects the essence of the character of one’s soul. Our baby seemed to personify compassion, for everyone that he came into contact with was touched by “compassion.”

Although some time has passed and the state of emergency is over, we are still deeply in pain and go through periods of "ups and downs." To some the sirens cannot be heard at all, to others they remain faint noises in the background, to us, well, we still hear them. Your continued support and comfort is so appreciated. Thank you for continuing to be there for us. Thank you for being such good friends.

With love,