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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Miracles (Children Mentioned)

The real story of Chanukkah is about a war and a rededication, but at some point, the focus changed and now the point of the holiday is miracles. Namely, the miracle of the oil. In every synagogue, there is a light that is constantly lit (ner tamid) and when the people entered the Temple after the battle, they found that all the barrels of oil had been destroyed out of spite. Except for one. And the miracle is that this little barrel of oil, which should have only lasted a day or two, lasted for eight nights, giving them enough time to obtain more oil and keep the ner tamid aflame.

Which is a miracle. It should have only lasted for one night. That was the expectation and that was the norm. But it lasted for eight nights--something completely unexpected and out of the ordinary. And by default, the word miracle refers to circumstances brought about by a higher power. G-d helped the oil last for eight nights.

In the beginning, I used to refer to my children as miracles. They weren't supposed to happen and yet they did (fine, fine, with medical assistance. But still). I thought their birth was so special that it should be equated with burning bushes and seraphim visitors. But here is the problem with the idea of miracles. By definition, these unusual occurrences happened to specific people. These incidents are unique and unusual. G-d didn't reveal himself to everyone in Israel at that time: only to the select few. Who were special. Who could accept the miracle and bring it forward. And once I took a step back from the word, I started seeing that in the end, it was exclusive.

Why were we more deserving of a miracle than anyone else? Everyone deserves to parent who wants to parent. Our bodies are supposed to work--we're supposed to create eggs and sperm. They're supposed to join together. And just because statistically it isn't a perfect system, it doesn't mean that when it works, it's a miracle. It means that the system worked. Sperm are supposed to fertilize eggs. They are supposed to implant in the wall of the uterus. The baby is supposed to remain in the womb for 9 months. And while all of these steps are wonderous--they aren't miracles. Because miracles are what comes when nothing is expected.

When we're working for something and we achieve it, it's not truly a miracle. It's the event that couldn't happen, that was absolutely outside of the realm of possibility, that needs to be reserved as the miracle. Once we start seeing miracles everywhere, they cease to hold importance.

And I know this isn't a popular view. Ask any parent who has been waiting a long time to have a child and is finally holding the result of all of that hard work/pain/science if they are holding a miracle and they will say, "yes." Simply because it seems miraculous--a child that is the result of so many threads coming together: science catching up with the body, the enhanced follicle, the concentrated sperm, the assisted hatching, the blood thinners, the cerclage. Except that all of these threads could come together and do come together on a daily basis. And it is awe-inspiring. And it is moving. And it is emotional. But I hesitate to use the term miracle.

Because in the end, we can accept that awe-inspiring things happen to people who have worked hard and also accept that sometimes those same awe-inspiring things don't happen for another person who has put out an equal effort. We recognize that there are multiple factors at play determining success--the person who responds well to chemotherapy and the person who doesn't. The person who recovers and the person who doesn't.

But miracles are random. Miracles are out of our hands. And they're doled out by a higher power. And I hesitate now to ever call my children miracles because while I find them awe-inspiring, while I am moved just watching them play, while I become emotional speaking about them, I also know that if I were to see it as a miracle, I would be placing myself in a more deserving category than someone else. And we're not more deserving. It's just that one of those random factors brought us to this point rather than a different outcome.

Infertility often brings about a religious crisis. Especially when you receive the message that G-d is doling out parenthood. When it's a series of random factors, it's much more tolerable to think that you didn't win. But when a higher power could make it happen for you, but is choosing not to intercede? That's a bit more difficult to swallow. Because it makes one wonder why they're not deserving. What did they do that made G-d turn their back on them? What didn't they do that they were supposed to do in order to be blessed?

There is a story in Judaism that is often used to explain why G-d doesn't intercede on earth. After that major flood that sent Noah packing the animals two by two into his ark, G-d made a promise that he would never force his opinion on the earth again. He would sit back and watch. He would offer counsel. He'd give strength and hope to people merely with his presence. He wasn't going to wipe out the human population again in order to restore goodness, BUT on the flip side, he also wasn't going to swoop in and remove the bad. We couldn't pick and choose and only have him fixing mistakes and making things well. Therefore, humans were given control to fuck up things as much as they wished. But we could also be affected by chance.

He made a rainbow to sign that contract. Whenever we see a rainbow, we're suppose to be reminded of that relationship. G-d is essentially a parent: he can't remove terrible things from our life and he can't make good things happen. But he can offer us strength just by letting us know that he's on our side.

And I think I like that idea much more than I like the idea of miracles and G-d placing his/her hands into things. My mistakes are my own and my accomplishments are my own. And there is room for random chance blessing me with twins. But it was not divine intervention. I'm not more deserving than any other woman. I'll leave the miracles to things like oil. And maybe peace in the Middle East.

That's what has been on my mind this Chanukkah.


Anonymous said...

I'm an atheist. I think all discussion of god, whether in the context of infertility or otherwise is counterproductive. Sorry.

(BTW, newbie over here but I LOVE your blog!)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I guess everyone is intitled to their opinion! I had something really nice to say, but then I read that last comment and it sort of whiped the smile off my face.

This was such a moving post. I think people tend to want to use the term miracle to express their gratitude for something that they didn't think would happen. I think you are right that these things are more of a blessing then a miracle.

I was really bothered recently when my mother-in-law who writes poetry gave one to my husband entitled The Miracle. As read it I realized she was calling her miracle the fact that my husband and father in law finished a garage building project that was 2 years in the making with out killing each other. I was shocked that this woman whose son survived cancer and was now struggling with infertility was minimizing the term miracle by calling a garage a miracle. I was acctually glad to see my husband felt the same way when he read it. I would never say it to her, but to me she really took liberty with faith by calling this garage a miracle. I wanted to scream at her, "Your son being alive is a miracle! Us one day having a baby would be a miracle!" But, now after reading your post I have a different take on miracles and will thank G-d for the bleesing that my husband beat cancer and pray to be blessed with a child, not a miracle!

Thanks for this post!

Karoake Diva said...

I am an athiest, too, but I was raised in the christian church and I can still appreciate the parables from the bible. Faith is a powerful thing and I would never say that your discussing your faith is counterproductive. It obviously brings you joy and peace and that is all that matters. The only time I get hostile about religion is when someone tries to shove it down my throat, which is not what you do in this blog.

On the topic: For me, science, not miracles, brought my son into my life. It was amazing that things worked so well that first time, but that's just a fluke of Mother Nature, not divine intervention.

Anonymous said...

I am also not religious, but I found your post so moving that it brought me to the point of tears.

I think of my children as gifts; I did nothing to deserve them. I wanted them, oh how I wanted them. But that they came to me, that everything lined up for me (with some help) was a gift, undeserved, for which I am grateful every day.

Lisa R said...

Mel, this is such a beautiful post. I don't consider myself a very religious person, but during our infertility struggles I often questioned whether there even was a G-d and, if so, how G-d could allow us to suffer so terribly. What I eventually came to believe was exactly what you so eloquently described: G-d isn't some "magic Genie" who goes around granting wishes or making sure bad things don't happen to good people. Instead, G-d is a source of comfort and strength to those who believe there is a G-d.
As always, a beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking post!!

M said...

Interesting post. I've always called Madelyn a miracle. In fact, our Christmas card this year has our family picture and the quote "May the miracle of the season live in your hearts all through the year." And miracle is in a different color, because that's what I've always believed she is.
On her baptism day our friends got her a little silver bracelet that has "Tiny miracle" engraved in it.
I guess I've just always looked at it differently. Your post was great though! :)

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to quibble, but your retelling of the Noah and the rainbow story is a misrepresentation. The rainbow is a symbol of god's contract never to destroy the earth again; that is Rashi's commentary and is the traditional and accepted midrash. (If it was meant as a contract never to intercede in earthly affairs, the entirely of the rest of Torah does not make any sense as is loaded with divine intervention at every turn.) Your interpretation is a modern gloss and an apologist's attempt to answer the eternal question of "why do bad things happen to good people?" Maybe it's because of the rainbow or maybe it's because there really is no divine superman in the sky in the first place. To me, the second explaination seems much more plausible. But if you're going to use midrash to make a point, please be accurate.

~r said...

What a beautiful post.

I'm with you in that I don't consider babies miracles. I used to, but then I realized that if I believed that a higher power was handpicking parents, then I had to accept that S/He was skipping over some very deserving people who are still in the grip of IF, while granting miracles to drug-addicted or abusive parents... and I can't reconcile that in my mind. Still, there is something special about a new life at the end of a long struggle. Maybe it's not a miracle, but it's something and there should be a word for it. Any suggestions?

Ellen K. said...

Great post, Mel.

I dislike the overuse of the term "miracle" to refer to any child, regardless of whether he/she was conceived easily or after a struggle. This is partially because of my Catholic upbringing and having a strict definition of what a miracle entails (, and partially because of my doubting of said religious upbringing and uncertainty about God's role on earth. Babies born through ART and families joined through adoption are not miracles in my book. These situations are absolutely wonderful and beautiful, and even awesome (in the old sense of the word, "awe-inspiring"), and I will use any of those words, but they are not incomprehensible.

Children are gifts, maybe even blessings, although I doubt God is *that* involved in many circumstances, and I won't label families as "more blessed" than ours just because they have children and we do not. (Especially during the holiday season, when I read about so many people in the Neediest Cases profile, almost all of whom have large families or children with very severe disabilities.) Like others, I can't reconcile the idea of God "blessing" some but not others, when so many deserving people are passed over.

Jackie said...

Whoa, loaded topic, eh?
I, too, am not religious. Or no longer religious (I was raised Catholic). I have been using the word miracle in the following context: I have been saying it will take a "miracle of modern medicine" to get me pregnant. And when I say miracle in this context I am not making any reference to other-worldly miracles. I am saying that somehow biology mixed with the talents of the reproductive endocrinology staff and some good luck will prevail and I will consequently become pregnant.

Anonymous said...

This was such a moving post! I love the idea of seeing God as a parent. He doesn't "inflict" infertility on us, and He doesn't enjoy seeing us hurt. Life is hard, and it's hard for everyone. But, I think He's there to see us through it.
Thanks for the post! I love reading your blog:)

Anonymous said...

What a moving post! I love the idea of viewing God as a parent. He doesn't "inflict" some of us with infertility to teach us a lesson. Everyone hurts; life is hard! But, He's there to help us through it. I really enjoy reading your blog, and today was especially touching!
Thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry about my double post! Party foul:)

Anonymous said...

I agree. My children are amazing blessings, and like you, I do not feel more deserving of them than the couple who was not as fortunate. It would have been a miracle, had I gone to Lourdes and bathed in the water and became pregnant.
You may argue that the technology itself is a miracle.... but probably just plain old brilliant.

Zee said...

This was a moving and thought-provoking post, Mel. Thank you for writing it. I'd never really thought about miracles this way before, although I do still feel somewhat differently than you do.

A good friend of mine often refers to the whole process of having children as an "ordinary miracle." And I think she's right. When you think about how many things have to go just right (or, as an oft-burned infertile, how many things can go oh so wrong!) for it to happen, it's mind-boggling that children get here at all--regardless of whether science is involved.

Is there active Divine Intervention? Who knows. I'd like to think that there may be someone up there listening, but I can't say for sure. Still, whatever the source, the idea that there are miracles, blessings, gifts (however you choose to define the things that you never thought possible, but that sometimes come to you--out of the blue--and bring you indescribable joy) it comforts me and keeps me on my feet and moving to believe that they exist. And that maybe there's one out there for me.

ms. c said...

I'm reading this after using the word miracle over at my blog.
After reading what you have written, I feel going over to revise the usage.
I totally hear what you have to say on this subject, I after contemplating it for a bit, even as a non-believer in G-d, your perspective makes sense completely. Thank you for sahring it with us.
What I found particularly interesting (more so than the subject matter of the post) was your account of the transition of feeling the twins were a miracle to defining their conception and birth as wonderous. I like that spin.

Anonymous said...

I agree, you can pray for strength, but babies are a blessing. When we get to caught up in religion with infertility it can become a crisis of faith. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I was all set to disagree with you and say something about how surely all children are miracles no matter how conceived and blah blah but then you're right - that does kind of create an impression of "deservedness" when it comes to parenthood, and that kind of rankles.

Especially when you consider that infertility is treatable in the rich world, and for rich enough people. There is only a certain, very limited extent to which I can claim credit for being able to afford IVF, after all. Even Christianity (not to hijack Chanukkah on you) reserves the term "miracle birth" for the Virgin Mary.

So perhaps we should be using terms like "wonderous", "marvellous", and leaving "miraculous" for a much more select (and divine) set of circumstances than those to which the term is currently applied.


Anonymous said...

I asked Mr Bea, but he's more inclined towards my original position, and started going on about how part of the cost of modern science and technology is this "miracle inflation" etc etc... I think he's been spending too much time talking to his economics student friend.

Also, he disagrees that there's a link between having a miracle bestowed upon you and deserving it, what with Gd moving in mysterious ways and all.

Officially, I am at this point undecided, but the way you put it makes me feel better.


Piccinigirl said...

this post brought me to tears. In a very good way. I as a Catholic have a lot of guilt about my life and "why" g-d doesn't bless us with a child. When you talked about him being a parent instead and just on my side, it helped me. I know that sounds funny and self serving but it's true. I felt the same way I do when my mom is sad after we fail a cycle, like she would have done everything she could for a postive outcome, but she is still there with hugs, words and comfort. Thinking about it that way just makes my heart feel ok.

I believe in Miracles and to me those kids of your's are and so are everyone's. I am a miracle to my parents but I also know where you are coming from with saying what can constitute a true miracle. I agree to disagree a little with you. I think Miracles happen in everyday things. Like me meeting me my husband or getting to know all you wonderful women through a bad time.

In everyday there are extraordinary things , even in the midst of bad things. I am glad for them, those everyday miracles keep me going. :)