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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Getting the Chamatz Out of Our Hoohaas...I mean, Hearts

Preparing for Pesach can be a little bit like infertility sex.

But before we get to that, I need to say that Pesach cleaning was kicking my ass.

Notice the was.

Mrs. Type-A has decided to take a new approach to Pesach cleaning.

Wait...let me back up for the non-Jews. Before Pesach (also known as Passover) each year, you go through the house, cleaning thoroughly and removing everything that is chamatz out of the house. Chamatz breaks down into two categories. The first category is anything made from fermented grain (for example, flour). The second category is anything that has the power to ferment other dough (for example, yeast or sourdough starter). So you take out your Costco-sized box of goldfish crackers and the bagels that you've packed into the freezer and you get rid of it. You eat it or you donate it (and the point of this post is not to give you the intricate details of dealing with chamatz, so I'm just going to throw out the comment now that there is more to dealing with chamatz than this, but I'm simplifying it because I'm assuming that I am not your source for all things Jewish).

Growing up, I loved Pesach as a holiday. It's a little hard for a vegetarian since you eliminate most of the grain food group, but I liked getting together with family. Pesach hit its peak for me in college. We threw huge non-denominational seders in our apartment. My roommate and I would become giddy over our cleaning schedule--two Type-A girls in heaven with a bucket of bleach and a toothbrush to clean between every tile in the bathroom. I liked that process of turning over my kitchen and getting rid of food I wasn't going to eat and reorganizing. Pesach practically spoon-feeds cleaning orgasms to a Type-A personality.

But once I got married, Pesach sort of changed into a cesspool of stress that grew little by little over the years. First it was the balance of family--where do we go for the seder (the ritual meal)--your family or mine? Prior to marriage, it was a no-brainer. There was only one family to consider. But add in Josh's feelings and the feelings of everyone else in his family and mine and we had to think through how we were going to handle Pesach year after year.

Then came the first round of infertility. I think there are many similarities between how Christians celebrate Christmas--family coming together, many expectations, a focus on children--and the way Jews celebrate Pesach. It's a big family holiday. And I have a big family. We would go to the seder and people would ask us when we were going to have children and cousins would pass around their sonogram pictures. I would try to keep myself from losing it during the service when we read aloud about the "barren women of Jerusalem." What about the freakin' barren women of Maryland? When would they be "a happy mother of children" (psalm 113)?

And finally, the burden of turning over the house (in other words, removing the chamatz) as life simply became too busy. It became one more chore that I dreaded--one more thing that I had to do on a long to-do list. I still did it every year, but it wasn't with the lightness and satisfaction that came from cleaning with my college roommate. It was with a heaviness and a franticness and an anxiousness. Would I finish in time? Did I do a good enough job? Was someone fucking up all of my hard work by eating noodles in a kitchen that I just cleaned?

And I have to admit, I was dreading Pesach this year. I started worrying about Pesach months ago, and the stress has only grown as the holiday loomed closer and closer. I didn't know how I was going to do work, volunteer, parent and set-up for this holiday all at the same time. I spent Saturday morning organizing and I ended up snapping at everyone, especially Josh who snarkily told me that it was truly about getting the chamatz out of our hearts and not the chamatz out of our home. It really doesn't help when you're about to have a nervous breakdown and your husband is smiling and saying, "what chamatz are you holding in your heart, chamoodi?"

Hmmm...what is fermenting in my heart at the moment?

There is definitely a big pile of floury hope. And if you make a well in the center and start pouring inside the salt that has been rubbed in open wounds and the yeasty froth of anger that I feel towards some people and the slickness of oil as I slip away from certain friendships--I believe you form some type of bready mixture that is most definitely chamatz.

Out it must go.

As I tottered on the edge of a breakdown, I spent precious cleaning minutes at the computer googling the rules of Pesach cleaning. And discovered that while it is certainly nice to have a bathroom so clean that you can eat off the bleached tiles, it was never necessary nor a part of the Pesach cleaning ritual of removing chamatz. This idea from an article on Pesach cleaning drove the point home:

One important point: If you feel like going beyond the limit and scraping the walls and ceiling, go right ahead. Of course it's not required, but the halacha is actually stated in Shulchan Aruch that no one is allowed to laugh at you. In the words of the rabbis, Yisrael kedoshim heim -- "Jews are holy" when they go beyond the letter of the law.

Be careful, however, not to go so far that you develop an antagonistic attitude toward Passover. If all this extra, non-required cleaning is going to make you dread the holiday, then forget about it. And certainly you should not clean so much that you're exhausted for the Passover Seder. Part of being "holy" is appreciating the holiday, too!

In other words, when it ceases to be enjoyable anymore, you should regroup and find the balance.

There are still certain things that must get done--turning over the kitchen, for instance. I need to go through the cupboards and the refrigerator and remove all the cookies and crackers. I need to clean and put away the chamatz dishes. But if I don't get to bleach every bathroom before I head out to the first seder? I guess it just won't get done.

It does bear a striking resemblance to what the East Village Mamele calls the Baatan Sex March. The sex that replaced the lovemaking that occurred in the first two or three months of trying. Determined sex. Strategic sex. The kind that is just no fun at all. But how do you grab back the happiness when it gets to this point? How do you keep conception from becoming such a cesspool of stress that it sucks you under to the point where you can't even enjoy new motherhood when it happens because you're still trying to swim your way out of that slime? And is it even possible to cut back and do the minimum to preserve sanity when your emotions are so deeply entrenched in the process? I've read about people who have set up breaks for themselves--not medically-prescribed breaks, but self-prescribed emotional breaks--and I want to learn how to do that. How to take the Baatanness out of the sex march and make it have the lightness and giddyness that existed in the first few months. Okay, perhaps you can never go back to the giddyness, but you can probably get back to a point where sex doesn't feel like a chore that you've scheduled on the calendar. Where it goes back to being fun instead of something that feels semi-superfluous considering all the real work is performed by the RE.

In other words, I think I need to spend some time removing the chamatz from my hoohaa.

As for the chamatz I've already identified in my heart? Perhaps this week would be better spent reflecting on how to clean that up before the holiday begins. Perhaps there is more googling to be done while I eat through the rest of the crackers in the cupboards. Or I'll just have to save that chamatz for another year. I mean, there are only so many crevices a girl can clean in one week...


decemberbaby said...

I love this post. Even though it reminds me that I haven't done ANY pesach cleaning yet!

As for getting the chametz out of your hoohaa... I know this isn't what you had in mind, but I have to ask - do my progesterone suppositories contain chametz?

j said...

Pesach is my favorite holiday. Every year I say I'm not going to "do anything," until the day of, and then I slack off from work, and spend the entire day cooking and baking, and hosting a huge seder for all my goyim friends and the 4 jews who live in this state.

DD said...

I found this so interesting! You have to throw out cookies and crackers? Ack!

Since we are on a break, I can tell you it's very difficult to let go of that ideal that sex-creates-baby thing. It really takes the spontanity out of seducing your husband when he asks if your ovulating. Blah.

thirdtimelucky said...

Hmm I didn't know any of this. It's so interesting learning about other peoples traditions.

andrea_jennine said...

Fascinating post. I really like the idea of getting chamatz out of our hearts.

Aurelia said...

I found this really interesting too. No, you are not my source for all things Jewish, but this is a cool way to learn about it.

As for breaks, well, I don't know how to have a break...I always feel hopeful. I once insisted on have missionary sex instead of "shaking hands", even though I was 6 weeks pregnant!!

Because you know, a little extra sperm can't hurt, right?


serenity said...

Here's my experience with ataking a break - it was hard. But over time, it got a lot easier.

However, we have severe male factor, and I had let go of the hope that we'd get pregnant naturally BEFORE we took the break. Had I still had hope we'd get pregnant the old-fashioned way... I'm not sure that the break would really have done much for me.

But I'll tell you. The one night when I KNEW I was going to ovulate and I just wasn't in the mood to seduce J... it was SO empowering to roll over and just go to sleep.

In all of this, we have to remember that we have no control over the outcome.

It's much easier to clean out the chamatz when we take self-blame out of the equation.

I loved being on a break. If it weren't for the fact that we'd remain childless if we didn't go back to ART, I'd be all for taking a break from trying for the rest of our lives together.

LIW (Lady In Waiting) said...

Fantastic post - clever and emotionally powerful! And I feel a bit more educated, too, which I always appreciate. It was great of you to explain the basics of Pesach to us non-Jews. I realized how little I really knew about it....

I also feel inspired to look inside myself and find out the floury chamatz out of my heart in order to make room for the joy that does exist in my life. Thanks very much!

Artblog said...

Thanks for this Mel, really interesting reading :)

(Un)happy rest of your passover cleaning!

Lady Disdain said...

God, I would love to know how to take a break from joyless, strategic sex. Or at least to strategize about a different outcome, if you know what I mean.

Jess said...

Good post!

But sex for what? Conception? People use SEX for that? :)

I love the passover meal (I'm Methodist, but we have a tradition at our church of having it there, reading the Jewish readings, and setting a place for the coming Messaiah. I mean, it's still our history, so we like to honor it during the lenten season. Lots of churches around here have it I guess) and your stories made me think more about it. Because, really, I don't know many Jewish people, and those I know are not practicing, so you sort of ARE my source for all things jewish! :)

This year I'm on bedrest. I'll miss the sedar meal (I never remember how to spell that), Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. :(

As for taking a break, we've only done this once. But it wasn't hard. HOWEVER, I found we thought a lot more about sex and what might happen, and I stressed a lot more about it when we were on break. Because before, sex was always recreational. I mean, we were to the point that it was medicated IUI or IVF, so sex was never about procreation UNTIL we took a break. So it can be better, or it can be worse, imo.

Max's said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrienne said...

This post made me realize that I have a lot of chametz in my heart. And it's time to clean it out!

Sunny said...

Great post!

The only thing I have found that helps me during a break with sex is DRINKS! Drunk sex helps forget everything. In the end of it all you actually think it rocked the house!

I know it is very bad to have drunk sex but it sure is fun!

Lisa said...

Hey Mel - I can't find your email address - so in response to your comment on my blog: yes, feel free to put up a link to that post. :-)

abogada2 said...

Excellent post. Our sex life has never recovered from infertility, I'm sad to say.

Celeste said...

so brilliantly-put. in fact, i've been thinking quite a bit (not DOING quite a bit, mind you) about decluttering. i found your essay very useful in considering my own project of spring cleaning.

have you every done a "treasure map"? i learned about them on the spirituality forum on, and did one last year for the first time. we do them on the new aries moon, which this year is on April 17th. anyway, the prelude to the Map is decluttering, to make room for the things you're inviting in.

how much room *does* a baby require, anyway? or for that matter, how much space for a happy and contented marriage?

those are my couple of scattered thoughts in response. :love:


sarah said...

I feel like the queen of the break right now. We took a break from treatment last fall while we tried to figure out when and how to do IVF. First it was January, then March, then June and now it is hopefully before our trip to Paris in October.

But here's the fine print on my break. We are not using ART. But since we are unexplained (I ovulate, he has lovely sperm, tubes look clear), and are not using birth control, there is some tiny possibility that we could conceive without ART. Hope still lives in my house.

Does that mean I'm a faux infertile or on a faux break?

Ellen K. said...

Moving on to IUI -- and then dealing with those failed cycles -- is what helped me separate sex and procreation. We went on a break after the third failed IUI and knew that our fourth IUI would probably be the end of our road, so infertility never really came back into the bedroom, much to my relief.

What I've tried to do is separate my fertile signs from my libido. I can't overlook EWCM, but I can ignore it. If I think I might be ovulating soon and I don't feel like having sex, I don't. As Serenity said, it's quite empowering at times. But sometimes I have mixed feelings for not taking advantage of ovulation -- it is sad how even when hope for a spontaneous conception is gone (and faith left the building long ago), a little bit of irrational guilt can remain.

Kelly said...

great post!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful and so close to home! Makes me stop and really take a look at the chamatz in my own heart...and my hoohaa. My mother would be proud. Thanks for writing about this.

Rush said...

rofl! As a fellow infertile Jew from Maryland, I could NOT stop giggling! My non-Jewish husband (who has happily engaged in judaism in ways I never thought possible -- making gefilte fish from scratch) also found it hilarious. Making your hoohaa pareve? Is it possible? :) Thanks for the post!

Changing Expectations said...

Very interesting. I need to clean out the Chamatz in my emotional house!

bleu said...

I am struck, once again, with just how truly great a writer you are.


bleu said...

oh and what happens to jews who get yeast infections on passover??

Venusuvian Debs said...

Definitely some Chamatz lurking in my heart. I like what LIW said, clear out the Chamatz to make way for the joy in your life.

Mands said...

I work with a jewish guy, so this is some really insightful stuff. I will contact him immediately and remind him of the chamatz cleaning!

I am currently on a break, and yet there I was this morning, putting OPK's on my shopping list, and working out ETOO (Estimated Time Of Ovulation) for timed intercourse. It's not sex anymore, nay, it's just intercourse. *sigh*