By Chani (Greenberg) Fishman – Clifton, NJ
From the Bais Rivkah Embrace Magazine
“Your baby is not compatible with life,” were the words I heard from a doctor whom I’d never met before.
It was Tammuz 5780 (2020) and I was entering my fifth month of pregnancy with my second child. Just a few months prior, my husband, son and I, moved out on shlichus to Clifton, an area in North Jersey, and we were energized and excited about our future ahead. After finding out I was pregnant, I joined a midwife practice in my area. I was young and healthy and did not have complications in the past, but my midwife said I should schedule an appointment at a specific doctor for the mid pregnancy anatomy scan. I wasn’t concerned. I knew that taking this scan was a standard protocol for this practice.
It was at the peak of Covid, which meant I went to my appointment alone.
Thump. Thump. Thump. A perfect heartbeat. But looking into the nurse’s eyes, I could see that something was amiss. After the sonogram, I sat there alone, waiting to be called in by the doctor. I felt a pit in my stomach. After a tense few minutes that felt like an eternity, I was called back into a room. The doctor looked at me and said flatly, “Your baby is not compatible with life.”
He rapidly moved on to explain the rare neurological condition my baby appeared to have and advised me that, from a medical perspective, my next step forward should be termination.
I felt my heart being ripped out of my body, shattering, too numb to say a word.
“Don’t do this to yourself and your family. It will only bring you more suffering and pain to go through with this pregnancy,” he stated impassively.
I left the office shaking and walked slowly to my car. I dialed my husband.
“Something is very wrong,” I choked on my tears, “Daven that I drive home safely.”
Many feelings and thoughts surged through our minds that day. We felt that the doctor did not have the license to state that there was absolutely no hope. Life and death are only in the hands of Hashem. So, we traveled to a top specialist for a second opinion.
“Your child is not compatible with life,” reiterated the specialist after reviewing his new scans. The stabbing words hit deeper and harder; the same words I’d heard before now felt almost certain.
“You may not make it to full term with this baby, and if you do, there is a high chance it will be a stillbirth,” he explained. “I recommend you end this pregnancy. It’s the right thing to do,” he concluded.
I came home sobbing. Do I even have a choice? What were my options? Hashem, why me? Why my precious baby?
My sister called me that evening, and we sobbed together. “Chani, you should know you do have options. You CAN go forward and have this child. Even if it’s just to hold your baby close to you and say goodbye.”
It was thirty-six hours since I heard the devastating news, and time was ticking. Whichever road I was going to take, I had to decide that night. Here I was, at twenty-four years old, having to make a decision that felt way beyond me.
Late that night, we called Rabbi Ulman in Australia. In addition to being a true mentch, he is an expert in halacha and medical ethics. He guided us through every step of the way; for that I’m truly grateful. I hung up the phone with Rabbi Ulman, and it was clear. I knew I was going to have this baby. This neshoma needed a pathway to enter the world, and Hashem chose me to be the vehicle through which it could fulfill its purpose. I felt confident and calm with my decision. I was going to bring this neshoma into this world.
After many phone calls and resourcing, I transferred to an incredibly caring doctor, who respected my decision and made me feel like I was safe and in good hands. I carried on with my pregnancy, keeping up with the responsibilities of everyday life and my shlichus, all while carrying the heavy reality that awaited me. Driving to each prenatal appointment, I davened that all the problems should just disappear because Hashem could do anything. But deep down, I feared the worst, and the anticipation of my unknown reality made each day feel like an entire year.
On Chol Hamoed Sukkos, a few weeks before my due date, I went in for my prenatal appointment. After reviewing the recent scans, my doctor looked at me and said, “If we are going to give your baby the best chance at life, go home and pack your bags; you’re having your baby tonight.”
I let go of the worries and fear. I even let go of my hopes and dreams. I let go of my control. I was completely in Hashem’s hands.
That night, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Against all the odds of his medical condition, he was there and breathing on his own. Hearing him cry as he entered the world was the sound of life filling my ears and heart. His calm and peaceful nature was reviving and uplifting.
After seven weeks in the NICU, our baby boy came home and was strong enough to have a bris. We named him Chaim Refael.
Life was a rollercoaster. Daily doctor and therapist appointments, a revolving door of nurses,
G-tubes, hourly medications, and life-threatening decisions were components of our everyday reality. Though I call it a rollercoaster because this ride came with many highs as well. The tiny milestones were incredibly rewarding. Life was full of joy. Chaim was a bundle of joy! He was a piece of heaven gifted to us.
We were so incredibly grateful for the love and support we received during that challenging time from our wonderful parents, siblings, friends, and fellow Shluchim in our area.
I vividly remember the Shluchim of Friendship Circle Livingston, NJ, Rabbi Zalman and Toba Leah Grossbaum, coming all the way to meet with us in our home to genuinely offer their support. We were young, new Shluchim, who they had never met before, but that didn’t matter to them.
“Chassidim ein Mishpocha,” stated Rabbi Grossbaum. And he truly meant it. From that point on, the Grossbaums treated us like their family and guided and supported us in countless, remarkable ways. The sincere Ahavas Yisroel they exemplified was inspiring, and we will forever be grateful to them.
On the tenth of Iyar, our beautiful Chaim a”h passed away. His holy neshoma finished its mission in this world and peacefully returned to Hashem in the same pure state that he was entrusted to us in. Every neshoma that is brought into this world serves a very special purpose. The neshoma’s mission may take a full lifetime to complete or perhaps only a few years. For our Chaim, it took a short six months and twenty-one days.
Although Chaim’s life was short, each day was a blessing so wholesome and treasured. I am thankful to Chaim for teaching me the power of unconditional love and for showing me what true life is all about. I am grateful to Hashem for choosing me to be Chaim’s mother.
R’ Menachem Mendel of Kotsk said, “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” A broken heart means that there has been life, there has been love, and there has been passion. Empowering life lessons were learned and memories made.
My daily Modeh Ani has been infused with a higher consciousness. I have come to appreciate the meaning of the final words, “Rabah Emunasecha” — Hashem has greater faith in us than we have in ourselves. When we trust and accept the challenges He gives, He will guide us and hold our hand through every step of the way.
The Gemora tells us that while a baby is in the womb, it is taught the entire Torah. The time in the womb is considered the best time in the child’s life. During this period, the mother is likened to the Beis Medrash or to the Aron Kodesh and the baby is likened to a Torah itself. It is with this sentiment that we will be honoring Chaim’s life and legacy with completing the writing of his Sefer Torah. May the collective challenges we have overcome in Golus help us greet Moshiach meriting the ultimate Geula when we will all be reunited with all our loved ones again. Amen V’amen.
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