Festival of Freedom

Following my miscarriage, the Passover story and traditions feel personal

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Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

For me, the story of the Jews’ journey out of Egypt — out of bondage — feels personally resonant, after a year in which my extended family has encountered countless emotional and physical hardships. Most scarring for me was the miscarriage I suffered on September 11, 2013. Now I will always associate that day of national tragedy with a personal tragedy — the loss of a life I had begun excitedly anticipating, even narrowing down names.


The author, pregnant with her first child

My husband and I were spoiled after our first pregnancy. Everything had gone so smoothly, and we naively assumed that all would be fine the second go-round, too; this time, though, my body terminated the pregnancy. Ours wasn’t an accidental pregnancy. This would have been a greatly desired child, and yet for whatever reason, we will never meet her. (My husband and I were convinced we were having a girl.)

I was devastated. I wanted to mourn my loss, and yet I felt stymied. Jews recite the mourner’s Kaddish, for our lost loved ones. For a religion that typically prescribes appropriate responses to life’s many changes, there is, incredibly, no prayer for the loss of a life ended before birth. There is no communal recognition, and no rituals or traditional liturgy to guide the grieving would-have-been parents. There is simply a sense of aching loss.

The two empathetic rabbis I consulted offered varied advice. One suggested that I study Psalms, which I did. The other offered to help me design a special funeral ceremony to provide emotional closure. I definitely needed closure, but for a long time, I wondered if I would find it. In my pain, I prayed; I prayed for healing, and I prayed for another child.

Shortly afterward, I learned I was pregnant again. For me, there was nothing scarier than being pregnant after a recent miscarriage. The thought of another loss was so unbearable that I refused to let myself grow attached to the life growing inside of me. I preferred to forget that I was pregnant and focus instead on caring for our highly energetic two-year-old.

With each passing week and the absence of bad news, I grew cautiously optimistic that this baby might stick. I still refused to discuss names with my husband, though. I finally agreed to tell our parents and siblings we were expecting when I was 16-weeks along, safely beyond the first trimester. But I continued not to mention the pregnancy unless it was absolutely necessary, lest I somehow tempt the Evil Eye that had never worried me before.

As my belly balloons, I remain somewhat nervous but grow increasingly confident that I will become a second-time mother. The ache of my miscarriage has also waned. It is a trauma that will always shadow me, but the full force of the experience haunts me less frequently as time goes on. Perhaps at some point, I will recall it primarily on September 11.

In this way, my personal experience echoes my people’s. As part of the Seders, Jews remove drops of celebratory wine from our glasses recalling the Egyptian lives lost amidst our miraculous Exodus.

This particular Passover will undoubtedly be a similar mix of delight and sadness for me. I will celebrate my ancestors’ liberation and the new life growing inside me, while also honoring the life that left no trail, save my sense of loss. Lacking a body or pictures, I will recite portions of Psalms before burying a copy of this  essay in a shoebox. And with that action, I will pray for peace and closure — in other words, my own freedom.

Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter, is now a freelance writer in Washington, DC.

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