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The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Jewish Guilt

When my husband and I decided to have a baby, we knew we couldn't just take a bottle of wine and some Barry White and make a night of it.  With M's cancer treatment, it was unsure if he would ever be able to go about things in the standard way, but we had a back-up plan banked at the hospital.  IVF it was, the least fun method of conception known to man.


During the build up to the IVF, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the process.  Not just because I was being stabbed repeatedly with needles on a daily basis, not because I was losing pints of blood a week to the endless tests at the clinic, and not because there was the mounting pressure associated with TRYING to get pregnant- an alien experience for certain.  It was all based on esoteric philosophy.


As a teenager, I was more than passively obsessed with the metaphysical.  I read extensively, wrote a great deal, and generally devoted my mental energy towards such pursuits as reconciling quantum physics and the Tao.  Of course, I read the Tibetan Book of the Dead.


If you'll excuse the extreme brevity of this explanation, according to Tibetan Buddhists, when you die your spirit/soul goes on a journey through the other world.  At the end of the journey you come to an area filled with coupling couples.  At this point, you choose your parents.  At the point of your conception.


Now, I don't know if I believe this.  I don't generally know what I believe on any given subject at any given time, but this idea resonates with me.  You chose your parents as an objective, other-wordly observer; at the moment when their love for each other should be most obvious and intense.


So why would a bodiless soul choose to be the child of somebody absent?  Who sees the petri dish and says, "I want THAT to be my parent!"  Nowhere in the Book of the Dead is the issue of in-vitro tackled, and I had to wonder... what kind of child could come of such a sterile conception?


Would the bodiless soul know that, in order to go through the arduous process of being conceived in a petri dish, the parents must be so full with love to give, so willing to welcome a new life into their home, that the petri dish becomes the ideal parent situation?  I didn't think so.  I somehow doubt that the bodiless soul has that much reason.  After all, there's really only a moment to choose.


Would I choose the petri dish?  I think not.  I think I would choose the couple in a loving embrace, holding each other close and obviously enamored of each other.  I would choose the couple whispering, "I love you," amid a tangle of limbs and bathed in each others sweat.  I would worry that a couple engaging in such clinical child production would be too rigid, too demanding for me.


Obviously, my concerns about who my child would be didn't stop me from going through the in-vitro.  but I still worried...  What child will want me if they can't see me to choose?


So I found myself the other night, rocking each of my daughters to sleep, one at a time, with their beautiful heads resting on my arm and their perfect little arms laying gently on my chest, and all of this came rushing back.  If these children, these perfect children, chose me to mother them their MUST have been a reason.  I can't imagine what it could be.  Right now, they are perfect.  I know, every mother thinks their child is perfect, but a baby is different from a child or an adult.  A baby IS perfect potential, a baby is untainted and unlimited.  I, as a mother and as a human being, am NOT perfect.  I looked at my daughters' faces, and I had to hold back tears.  At that moment the truth was painfully clear, I am going to fail them.


I am incapable of maintaining their perfection.  I am going to hurt their feelings, to force them to do things they don't want to do, to give them excuses to lie and to fight.  I am going to try harder than I have ever tried at anything in my life to teach these children to be better than me, but it's impossible.  Someday I will argue with them, and punish them, and every time I do their ability to be these perfect little people will lessen and lessen... because people cannot BE perfect.  We can only feel the nagging, endless guilt that we aren't.


And thus my life as a Jewish mother begins in earnest.  I know in my deepest soul that I will never be good enough for these children.  That for a person to decide that they want to be the child of faceless, potentially loveless strangers is an act of goodness beyond any act I have ever known.  For a child, no less two, to choose me and M as their parents was selfless and generous- the act of angels.


So, as all Jewish mothers before me, I believe that my children are no less than ethereal beings, sent to this earth for me to protect.  I'm going to screw it up.  I screw it up every day.  And thus my guilt.  Everything that they ever do wrong will be my fault, my failure.  Every tear they ever cry will be my responsibility.  Every injustice of life that ever occurs to them is my doing, because I am a mere mortal, and I am not as good as them.


Perhaps they can teach me, and in another life I will be so kind and so good as to believe in the potential of faceless strangers, and to put every bit of my trust and my faith in them.  Perhaps it is not so much my job to keep them good as to learn from them how to be good myself.


I will try, but the damage is done.  Every few weeks, or months, or years, I will weep my bitter tears for having failed to make myself the perfect mother that they deserve, in this world that will never be good enough.




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