Jul 30, 2012

on gravesites, due dates, and the after

Last week was Aminadav and Naava's due date (by 40 week standards, though I knew with twins I was never going to make it that far even under the best of circumstances). I found myself becoming increasingly miserable as the due date approached. It meant another degree of finality was closing in surrounding their death -- almost as if the possibility of their existence slightly existed in some alternate universe until that date came around and slammed shut any possibility. As if they existed in some suspended in-between until now, certainly not here, but the possibility not entirely gone, either. The difference between gone and really gone. I know it's wacky and illogical, but it is the best way that I can describe it.

I felt like we were supposed to do something special to commemorate the day but I wasn't sure what, and so I was left grasping for something that felt very elusive while feeling like I was failing extraordinarily to honor them properly. Should I buy a bundle of sunflowers -- too cheery? Light a candle -- tacky or a little macabre? Nothing was really speaking to me.

The day before I was positively wallowing in dread watching the calendar inch closer and closer to what never was and never will be. In order to cross between the research lab and the main hospital building to go to the coffee shop, I go through the traffic circle entrance of the hospital out back, where parents load their newborns into the car to take home.

That afternoon as I walked into the hospital, there was a family parked in the traffic circle with their two kids and newborn daughter. The father was videotaping the mom carrying her to the car narrating, "And here is her first time in the car! Here she is coming home!" Watching the happy new parents load their newborn into the car struck a raw chord. I couldn't hold back my tears thinking of my poor babies who never got to come home with us. I wasn't jealous, just so sad for Aminadav and Naava and sad for us, especially knowing that the babies coming home healthy now are their compatriots.

One thing that has grated on my conscious constantly is being physically so far away from Aminadav and Naava, with them buried in Israel and us here, and also not having a special place to go to that acknowledges them. One thing I have not written about at all here -- perhaps because until now it was too painful -- is the reality of what happens to babies lost during late pregnancy or shortly after birth in Israel.

While the notion of a proper burial applies, there is a long-held belief that parents of young babies should not participate in the burial and should not know where the baby is buried. Different chevrot kadisha (ritual burial committees) enforce this policy with varying degrees of strictness and leniency, but in the hospital they don't really present the different options to you -- you just sort of get stuck with whatever chevra kadisha serves that particular hospital.

At first, when we signed their bodies away to the chevra kadisha, I was pretty naive and I was just happy that my babies would get a proper burial and not be considered medical waste or some similarly horrible fate. I wasn't thinking about it so clearly at the time, but I didn't realize I might never find out where they are buried.

In the months after we lost Aminadav and Naava I began to wonder more and more where they were buried and began to develop a desire to find out and visit the place. In the process, I learned more & more about what this might entail. Not shockingly, I am not alone, and you can find many similarly-minded posts on the Israeli pregnancy loss forums, of women months and sometimes years later, trying to figure out where their babies are buried.

I learned that oftentimes it is difficult to just get in touch with the correct chevra kadisha and if you do, getting any information at all can be extremely difficult if the person you are in contact with thinks he is protecting you by refusing to give any information. If you are lucky enough to find someone willing to help locate the body, the records are sometimes kept shoddily, and especially if time has elapsed, it is sometimes impossible to find a record of the body. I also found out that the babies are generally buried together in mass graves that are either unmarked or poorly marked.

I know this reality may sound shocking and horrible to many, but this is the situation we are dealt in Israel. Of course now I would like to spread awareness among women in similar circumstances -- that at least there is a choice in which chevra kadisha comes for the body and that some are much more willing to involve the parents in the burial itself and the details surrounding it, but this was not information at hand for us when it was relevant.

I had a very strong desire to find out where Aminadav and Naava were buried before we left for Toronto, but I had an oversimplified fantasy of how we would find out before I started fact-finding and reading the forums. I have a wonderful book on pregnancy loss in Hebrew - כחלֹום יעוף - Like a Fleeting Dream, which to my knowledge is the only Hebrew language book on pregnancy loss written for religious couples. The book has a listing of phone numbers for the chevrot kadisha serving various Israeli hospitals. I thought we would just call the listed number, they would look up our babies in their records, and we would have our answer.

Of course it wasn't simple at all. After a long and convoluted goose chase, Y did succeed in tracking down the cell phone number of the man who took their bodies. However, he only finally succeeded getting his cell phone number the night before we left Israel, which made visiting them impossible. Also, I was really adamant that we try to track down the information before leaving because I figured that as more time passed, the chances of getting the information would just become increasingly slim.

Sure enough, the man remembered our babies as "the twins from Purim" (Purim is the Jewish holiday on which our babies died -- ironically, it is a particularly joyous holiday.) However, he would not agree to tell us where the babies are buried, at least not outright.  Instead, he spoke in riddles, I assume because he had a moral opposition to telling us, but at the same time had some empathy for our situation. We understood from what he told us what city and what cemetery the twins are buried in but not the location of the plot.

For then, that was all the information we had, and it gave me some peace at least knowing the location of the cemetery, but not enough. I thought if I could just go there, maybe I could find a kind person who works there who could tell us where they bury the small babies and since we know they were buried fairly recently, maybe we could deduce which plot.

But we were leaving Israel and it wasn't going to happen this way, at least not maybe until we got back. My babies are in some unmarked mass grave with the chance of ever identifying the spot dwindling with each passing month, I am moving 6000 miles away for the year, and I can't even visit their spot, I thought. Here I go failing them again. And again. First it was my body, now it is practically almost willful.

So on the eve of their due date, here I was more than 6000 miles away, with a vague general idea of where they are, and no way to properly visit or honor them. Thankfully, there is another part of the story:

Two acquaintances back in Jerusalem also lost babies this past year and subsequently became good friends (yes, it is both sad and ridiculous that we only became good friends after losing our babies, because they are two wonderful women). One of them delivered her baby stillborn during her 22nd week of pregnancy at the same hospital in the same room where I delivered Aminadav and Naava about 3 weeks later. Recently, she also got the urge to track down her baby.

She had a similarly difficult time tracking down the information (though it seemed very likely that her baby was in the same cemetery, perhaps even the same plot as the twins since it was at the same hospital only a few weeks apart). Indeed, she eventually traced her baby to the same cemetery. She and my other babylost friend, N, went on a pilgrimage together to the cemetery in an attempt to find the grave. It happened to be on Aminadav and Naava's due date.

Just like in my fantasy,  the staffer, a kind older man (Sephardi and very gentle as decribed by my friends) pointed them in the right direction and led them to three plots with small babies. Based on deductive reasoning, they figured out which of the three plots they think has E's baby, and they think Aminadav and Naava are in the same plot, too. They recited some tehillim (psalms) and placed stones on the grave for E's baby and for Aminadav and Naava, a Jewish tradition that signifies someone has visited the grave. The elderly Sephardi cemetery staffer and my friends recited the names of all of our lost babies and prayed for them together.

So, over the course of their due date, not only was the site of their grave discovered, but Aminadav and Naava got their first visit, not from me directly but from my messengers. Their names were recited, stones were placed, and my sweet babies were remembered by Y and me in Canada, and by two very special friends in Israel, N and E, who I am very blessed to have in my life. E reported that after the visit, she felt "this powerful urge to nap -- not in a tired way, but in a peaceful, relaxed way that I haven't felt in a long time."

I cried all morning, but not the sorrowful tears I cried the night before -- instead, these were more tears of relief. Relief that I felt right was finally done by my babies. Like E, I found some new peace, too. Thank G-d my friends decided to visit the cemetery on their due date. Thank G-d they found the grave. Thank G-d for these small blessings -- they amount to a big deal in my life.


  1. Thank you for posting this - I had no idea how this process worked in Israel. I'm glad that your friends were able to give you some amount of comfort on such a difficult day.

  2. I'm so glad N&A were visited and remembered on their due date. It's wonderful that your friends were able to do this for you. <3

  3. Oh, I'm so glad your friends could visit N and A, that you could find some peace from that. I had the same feeling you describe, that up until my due date the possibility of A still existed, somewhere, and that after her due date that possibility was gone. "The difference between gone and really gone." Exactly.

  4. This is so lovely. How wonderful that your friends were able to visit your babies. Thinking of you...

  5. G-d can work in amazing ways to bring us peace when we most need it. This story really touched me. I'm so glad your babies could be remembered and prayed for on such an emotional day for you. I pray that you continue to find peace and healing.

  6. This is so beautiful. I am incedibly happy for you and glad you have those lovely women to be there for you. Your babies know you are with them in every way you can be. They feel you.
    My heart is with you as you continue processing your loss from afar.

  7. So moving. I went through a host of emotions reading this (as I'm sure you did in writing it), but was happy to be crying tears of releif for you, Y and the babies.

    I just want to you remember that while their "bodies" and graves are 1000s of miles away, their hearts, souls and love are with you always.

  8. Oh, how difficult to be so far away. this story gave me the chills, what beautiful timing. It is different passing the due date, it becomes more real in a sense. Big hugs.

  9. What an amazingly beautiful story... I was in tears reading how you could not visit before you left Israel then felt the peace in your words in finding out where they are buried and about their first visit. My heart goes out to you and your twins... it must be so hard being so far away from where they are buried. Gabrielle is buried a long distance from us... so when I finally got to getting a necklace pendant with her name and foot imprint engraved on it, it helped me feel so much closer to her everyday. Somehow it helped bring her closer... it was from a BLM site in the US (email me if you would like the name). Thinking of you always xoxo

  10. You have some wonderful friends. How fortunate that they were able to commemorate N & A's due date in such a meaningful way. It must be hard to be so far from where they are buried, but they are always present in your heart. Thinking of you.

  11. Such a beautiful story. I am so happy that your friends visited the grave and on their due date is amazing to me. What a wonderful thing they did. I hope it brought you peace. Hugz!

  12. How wonderful of these people to bring you this comfort. A beautiful story.

  13. A, I'm so sorry I'm only getting to read this now. I'm so so so glad you were able to find out where they are buried. It's important for you even if the Rabbis didn't think it should be that way. They are resting in peace and you will be able to go visit them and honor them. Shabbat Shalom. Lots of love.

  14. Thanks, T - it feels like a burden was lifted from my soul in finding out where they are.