Jis 0417 mispacha motherhood illlustration ygzl4b

Image: Masha ManApov

On a cold, rainy December night in 2015, my husband Josh and I welcomed our first child: a beautiful, strong, and healthy baby boy. We named him Avi after our beloved Bubbie Anne and prayed he would develop the chutzpah, humor, and tenacity she exemplified every day of her life.

In fact, it was I who would need to foster those very qualities so early on in my journey of motherhood.

No one can prepare you for becoming a parent: that tsunami of emotions and hormones, new experiences, and sleep deprivation. It’s a miracle to welcome a precious — and, God willing, healthy — child. But to bring a tiny human into your home, marriage, and routine while recovering from whatever birth or adoption process you endured? Tough. Real tough. Even when everything goes “right.”

The weeks following Avi’s birth were laden with challenges — breastfeeding, most profoundly. From clogged ducts progressing to mastitis and then MRSA, to an unsatisfied customer whose cries of hunger would pierce our ears and hearts, to the nurse at our son’s (former) pediatrician who informed me I was “making a mistake” by offering a bottle, every day felt like we were pushing a boulder uphill.

Amplifying matters was the constant reminder from well-intentioned souls that those early weeks should be the happiest of my life. But they weren’t. I was miserable and exhausted. And when my doctor handed me a diagnosis of postpartum depression six weeks after Avi’s birth, I felt like a failure.

That diagnosis was the beginning of a transformation, a “new-mom awakening,” if you will. At that moment, I realized that there is nothing in this world more common than having a child and nothing more politically, economically, or emotionally fraught. Never before had I considered the magnitude of the struggle of working parents, from lacking paid family leave to the radical shift in one’s personal and professional identities to the exorbitant cost of reliable childcare.

Even for women and men who don’t have a formal diagnosis of postpartum depression, the struggle is universal. When the ground beneath us shifts, a search for stability can paralyze us. Shame can silence us. But when we find ourselves seeking a new normal — whether in the early days of parenthood, following an earth-shattering revelation, or navigating a new chapter in our American story — we must amplify messages of resilience. No one needs to struggle alone.

As the Israelites stand, paralyzed, at the shores of the Red Sea, Midrash introduces Nachshon ben Aminadav, the sole individual brave enough to enter the stagnant water. He wades all the way into the sea until it reaches his nose; at that exact moment the waters begin to part. Our ancestors cross over and reach their long-anticipated freedom. To “be a Nachshon” means having the fortitude to step forward first, wading into uncertainty even if you do not know when or if the metaphoric sea will part.

This past October I experienced a Nachshon moment. On Rosh Hashanah morning I stood before my congregation, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, and shared what I had gone through when Avi was born. I offered my struggle and shame as my personal words of Torah.

The sermon itself transcended parenthood: it was about the human experience. In an outpouring of support, congregants of all ages came forward to share their own struggles and setbacks, grateful that someone was willing to step forward — onto the bimah, no less — to acknowledge the often-unspoken challenges of modern life.

When we share our stories, we nurture compassion. We teach empathy. In raising our voices and sharing our pain, we empower. We raise others up. We make things just a little bit better for those who come after us.

When we are honest about our struggles, we push through uncertainty like Nachshon. We take the challenge of parenthood mainstream, better support one another, and nudge the dial further along toward paid family and medical leave for all. We don’t just tell, but show, how we will take better care of the next generation — all of us, one step at time.

In doing so, we hold one another responsible to the charge given to every denomination and level of observance within Judaism: to work for the betterment of our families, communities, our nation, and our world.

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