Who Am I, and Why Am I Writing: My Story

My fellow grammar nerds will recognize the name of this blog as a play on the well-know adjective book, “Nearly, Dearly, Insincerely” and might get a chuckle out of that. but truthfully (and dare I say, clearly and sincerely?) there is more depth to it!

Let me explain by stepping back…a few years, then as far back as a decade….

My daughter, Temima, was born in August 2015. I’m forever grateful that in our family we are not bound to name for or name after. Each name for our children is hashed out between my husband and myself throughout the pregnancy (obsessively, at my insistence…o, the games I play…), and then we run our short list by my husband’s Rebbe to make sure we’re not missing any obvious information that would make the name ill-advised.

When the name Temima came up during my fourth pregnancy, I wasn’t initially too excited. As I thought about it, and as my husband expressed more and more interest in it, the name grew on me too–with one major caveat. I did not want to name her Temima for the more Israeli definition of “perfect” or “complete”. I repeatedly said that if we use this name, we should have in our minds and hearts the other definition, inspired by Rav Yaakov Hillel’s book, one of temimus, and of the passuktamim tehiye im Hashem Elokecha”.

Fast forward to August when Temima was born. Until Temima’s birth, I had been blessed with relatively pain and drama free birth experiences. That changed with her birth.

Temima was five and a half pounds when she was born, a far cry from the seven and a half pounds the sonogram technician had predicted, and that was normal for our family. In retrospect, the nervous looks exchanged by the nurses as they let me hold her for a few minutes should have made me nervous as well.

Within minutes, she was whisked away to the nursery to be properly examined and cleaned off, while I was sent to the maternity ward. As with all my kids, I did leave instructions that she was to be brought to me as soon as possible for feeding.

Soon after I settled into my bed in the maternity ward, a nurse came to tell me that my baby had been in respiratory distress and had been rushed to the NICU for observation and treatment. Alone, still hooked up to an IV and recovering, I couldn’t do much, nor really figure out what that meant.

I’m going to fast forward this story a little. Baruch Hashem, Temima was not actually found to be in respiratory distress. Her oxygen levels remained steady throughout, she was breathing independently the entire time, and never need a feeding or oxygen tube, all excellent signs. But those four days were very harrowing.

Firstly, when a baby is admitted into the NICU, the parent basically loses the right to choose treatment, as children are technically property of the State. Numerous tests and exams were ordered, all based on the low birth weight and the supposed difficulty breathing. All of those exams were explained to us in dire, worst case scenario format, and being that she was so young when they were done, all of them required followups with various specialists over the next several weeks. How our hearts ached and our tears flowed as we considered one scenario after another.

NICU is also endless. Baruch Hashem, Temima was just being observed. They did ultrasounds, blood tests, and all the rest, and other than giving us a list of followups, they really weren’t doing much. And yet, they wouldn’t let us leave! Daily, the nurses would tell us that everything looked good, and we’d be discharged in the morning when the doctor made rounds, and daily, the doctor would ever-so-casually flip through her chart, decide on one more day of observation and stride away.

Other factors that made it a really stressful time:

With every previous birth, I had an entire system of help. My mother would move in for 1 to 2 weeks, showering me and my family with love, care, and delicious hot meals. When Temima was born, she was badly need back home. In the end, through heroic effort from my family in Baltimore, she managed to stay until we brought Temima home, leaving literally minutes after we walked in, barely having time to even hold the new baby.

My husband, who had been in kollel when our other children were born, was starting a new job, and was informed the morning Temima was born that due to a change in administration, he would not be teaching the classes he had painstakingly prepared over the summer, but a completely different grade and curriculum. He was under tremendous pressure, daily phone calls, and demands that he come in for meetings, even while we were camped out in the NICU.

My older kids were all home from camp, waiting to start school, wondering what is going on with Mommy and the new baby. Too young to arrange full day play dates, too old not to wonder what’s going on.

My closest friend at the time inexplicably disappeared for this entire time, until over a year later. To this day, this puzzles me.

The day we finally got the OK from the doctor to start the discharge papers, we were ecstatic. Enough of this place where they keep bringing in Doctors to check her. Enough of this not knowing how we’re going to swing the childcare for the older kids, if my mother would have to leave. Just, enough! We’re going home, we’ll cuddle her and nurse her in peace, and all will be well. As we were about to leave, a nurse came rushing in, holding papers, saying that we legally could not be discharged until the newborn hearing screening was done.

We could barely contain our skepticism. Sure. One more test. As the nurse struggled to get the headphones to suction to our baby’s head full of hair, she kept checking the machine and shaking her head. Finally, she gave up, saying that the baby had failed the hearing screening, that it’s very common, and that we should just follow up with an audiologist in a few weeks. Yay, I thought. Another follow up….but we get to go home.

My husband and I took the baby home, saw my mother off, and started to settle in. We were sleep deprived, scared, and at a loss for what to do with all of the dire scenarios presented by the doctors and all of the followups. In addition, we still were dealing with a frail baby, who did not seem to be eating or breathing well, though not one doctor had any suggestion as to what the cause was (we figured out several weeks later, through an act of clear Yad Hashem…).

My husband called his Rebbe and asked him to come over. We needed guidance. As we told him, hesitating, speaking in broken phrases, I told him that we had named the baby on the hospital paperwork but not officially yet, as my husband had been in the hospital with me daily. I wondered, perhaps, being that there was so much going on with the baby, should we preemptively add a name, like Bracha, or Chaya, to the name we had chosen?

Rebbe asked me to remind him what the final name we had chosen was. As had become my defensive habit, I answered, “Temima, but not like perfect, rather like ‘tamim tehiye’”. Rebbe burst into a smile, “Add a name? To a Perfect name like that? And this week’s Parasha contains the possuk ‘tamim tehiye im Hashem Elokecha!’ A perfect Siman!”

In that moment, I felt a clarity, the feeling of warmth of knowing that Hashem was watching over us, that nothing accidental or out of control (His control!) was happening. Indeed, my husband, a Yisrael, took the third Aliya on Shabbos, and as the baal koreh finished shlishi with the possuktomim tehiye”, my husband made the bracha on the Torah and named our daughter Temima.

Let’s fast forward again, through many weeks of anguish and heartache, and many, many specialists. Temima was not growing; she was in fact losing weight. She was not thriving, and we didn’t know why for a long time. Amidst all of these appointments, we also did finally repeat the hearing test, just to get it over with, because we had no family history whatsoever of hearing loss, and of course our daughter could hear us, right?!

Well, no. Wrong we were. As many of you know, Temima is severely hearing impaired (read, deaf). It was absolutely devastating when we heard. My mind, my heart couldn’t wrap around the idea. Having little or no exposure, knowing not a thing about hearing aids or cochlear implants at the time, I was sure that this was the end of my life, and I was sure I did not have the energy or faith to continue.

I’m going to have to fast forward again, because if I begin going through the thoughts and emotions of that day, and the days that followed, if I start to recount the many more moments of clarity and warmth where Hashem’s guiding hand was abundantly clear, this article would go on for days on end.

What I will say is this. During Temima’s first year, we came to terms with her situation, and Baruch Hashem, we ruled out many more dire situations one by one, as we fearfully followed up with all the observations and tests done in the NICU, One night, when things had considerably calmed down, and I was recovering my sense of humor and ability to smile, as I cooed her name at baby Temima (now equipped with sparkly pink hearing aids), I found myself thinking sarcastically, wondering how it could be that my most imperfect child was named “Temima”? Almost immediately I caught myself, and answered my own thoughts.

No, no, its not ironic. We named her for the temimus we will learn in raising her, for the true, clear, and sincere way we will strive to serve Hashem, as we accept everything given in life to us, wholeheartedly. We don’t place our trust in soothsayers, we don’t seek to know the future, and we don’t delude ourselves with the thought that we know why Hashem does what He does. Temima. Truly a perfect name.

This blog is a long time coming.

Had I been given a glimpse, a decade or more ago, at the future I would have been tickled at where life has taken me. I left high school at 16, wanting more intense Jewish studies, and went to a Seminary in the States with full day and evening classes, all limudai kodesh. I had hated high school, and starting in tenth grade had set up my own learning schedules, including finishing the parsha weekly with rashi, and a nightly phone chavrusa with my brother in yeshiva. I knew I would continue on, and change the world of female Torah education in the frum world, becoming a speaker and teacher of Torah.

Baruch Hashem, I now have 5 kids. I still love learning and teaching Torah, but my days are otherwise occupied. I teach secular studies (GASP–teenage me would totally have a tantrum if she were here to see this) to make a decent parnassa while still being home with my kids. Earlier in my marriage I did speak to groups of teenage girls in my community and work with them, but aside from the occasional event where I’m asked to speak, I really have veered from what I thought my path would be.

When one of the women I have learned with over the past few years suggested the idea of a blog, my heart jumped. My connection to Torah has always been lilmod ulelamed–I love to learn and it resonates with my soul when I give over. This blog will hopefully be a place where I can give over the lessons I learn as I strive to serve Hashem with truth, clarity, and sincerity.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

truly, clearly, and sincerely yours…

Esther 🙂

 

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3 Comments on “Who Am I, and Why Am I Writing: My Story

  1. OMG wowwww I’m at a loss of words!! Kol hachavod to the most amazing parents who really go really go above and beyond for all their kids!!

    Like

  2. Wow, Esther, what a moving and beautiful post. Honestly, the few times I spoke with you throughout Temima’s first year you sounded so put together and at peace that I had no idea how difficult things were for you (though it i couldnt imagine the stress). So proud to call you my friend and I look forward to more posts. Much nachas from beautiful Temima and all your kids.

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