Segulot (Auspicious Practices) for Pregnancy
What are Auspicious Traditions (Segulot)?
Jewish Mysticism teaches that the smallest good deed- from lighting Sabbath candles, to giving charity, to taking a moment each day to thank G-d for giving you life – has a disproportionately large positive effect in the world and in the spiritual realm as well. This is similar to the way in which a small candle can light up a whole dark room.
Pregnancy is an important time to invest in lighting up these dark rooms in your life- for your sake as well as the sake of the baby inside of you. The primary way to do this is through prayer, Jewish study, and performance other commandments. In addition, Jewish mysticism teaches about the influence of auspicious practices (known as “segulot”) that have been used for hundreds or even thousands of years to assist in bringing about a safe pregnancy and birth.
There are several explanations for why segulot are effective:
Segulot help to keep you focused on G-d’s role in bringing a new human being into the world, enabling you to remain confident and relaxed as you remind yourself that you are in the best possible hands. This is similar to a man’s use of a prayer shawl while praying, in that a physical object inspires him to be more G-d focused.
Segulot have a positive effect because of mystical workings that are beyond human understanding.
The power of suggestion and the principle of mind over matter are at work. For example, during my second birth I concentrated on the auspicious verse, “And he is like a groom coming out from his wedding canopy, rejoicing like a hero who has run the whole way.” Repeating this verse over and over to myself helped me to visualize my own little groom (make that little bride) getting ready to come out of me. Saying this verse also helped me to relax, and gave me confidence because of my belief in the inherent mystical power of the verse to enable the birth to progress more smoothly and quickly (by that point in labor, I was ready to believe anything!)
In the following examples of auspicious practices, I have provided a short possible explanation for each practice, even though in most cases I was unable to find any official rabbinic rationale in books specializing on this topic. (In other words, please take my explanations with a grain of salt or two. Or three.)
Wait to Share the Great News
Jewish tradition advises not sharing news of the pregnancy with people outside of your immediate family until you are in your second trimester, or (some traditions recommend) until the pregnancy is visible.
There is a traditional explanation for this custom related to not wanting to promote jealousy, but there are other obvious benefits as well. If, G-d forbid, a woman does miscarry during the risky first trimester, the situation will not be made even more difficult by having to share this tragic news with acquaintances, colleagues at work, and distant relatives.
I have also found that the inability to complain about the nausea and exhaustion of the first trimester to every innocent passerby makes this tough period pass more quickly (for them, and for me!).
Invest in Spiritual Development
There is a famous story about a father who asked a rabbi when he should start educating his child about religion. The rabbi answered, “Twenty years before the child’s birth.” The simple reading of this answer is that the children of religiously-educated parents will benefit from their parents’ knowledge. A learned parent will be able to teach his/her children all about Jewish life- from the meaning of the shofar-blowing on Rosh Hashana, to the details of the Jewish wedding ceremony, to the nature of G-d’s special relationship with the Jewish people.
On a more mysterious level, however, the rabbis of the Talmud (Oral Law) teach that every Jewish baby develops spiritually in utero, and even receives private Torah tutoring from an angel for the whole pregnancy. The Rabbis further explain that there is a connection between the mother’s spiritual state during pregnancy (and in the period before the conception, and during the conception itself) on the spiritual development of the fetus.
To illustrate this point, the Talmud tells the story of a mother who would stand by the entrance to schools for Jewish study in order to make sure that her child would love the Torah, and the baby she gave birth to, Rabbi Joshua, became one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history. Pregnant women can try to give their baby a spiritual head start by investing more in prayer, in the performance of commandments, and in expanding their knowledge about Judaism through reading and attending classes.
Invest in your Emotional Health
Jewish tradition encourages pregnant women to zealously guard their upbeat outlooks and positive perspectives by avoiding situations that will bring them down emotionally- such as listening to slander, gossip and crude talk. Other no-nos are becoming angry, and looking at scary things (sorry to all the horror movie fans out there).
These recommendations remind us of the vulnerability of the fetus, and the negative effects our surroundings and the mood they put us in can have on the baby we are carrying. In 2001, scientists at SUNY Stony Brook confirmed these traditional suspicions about the relationship between mommy’s moods and baby’s development with research findings that optimists have fewer high-risk newborns than pessimistic pregnant ladies (thanks to my Aunt Sheila for sending this article!).
Be careful to only eat kosher food
Imagine feeding your newborn baby junk food full of harmful chemicals, or putting a cigarette in his or her mouth! In the same way you should try to make sure that all the nourishment he or she receives from you during pregnancy will help to promote the spiritual health of this new and perfect soul.
The why and how of keeping kosher:
On Yom Kippur, we ask that prayer, charity, and spiritual awakening will cancel any Divine decrees against us. Jewish law requires us to give ten percent of all earnings to charity, and our tradition further encourages us to reach into our pockets a few more times by reminding us that giving charity can awaken G-d’s mercy on us.
This is of special importance during pregnancy- one of the most vulnerable periods in a woman’s (and this new little human being’s) life. Because of this, some women and their husbands give a small amount of charity every day during pregnancy (even a few pennies), and during the birth as well. Learn more about giving charity during the birth according to the Breslov Chassidic tradition.
Eat something every Saturday night, after sundown The tradition of eating a meal when the Sabbath ends, called Melave Malka (“accompanying the Queen” – in honor of the parting of the queen of the Jewish people, the Sabbath) is a common Jewish custom, and is especially popular among pregnant women (and not only because you’re starving all the time!)
As you sit down to eat your meal you should state out loud that you are performing the commandment of eating a melave malka. This bridge between the Sabbath and the rest of the week enables you to bring along some of the spirituality and happy-heartedness of the Sabbath into the week, and to lift delicate and roller-coaster pregnant spirits that tend to plunge downward after the sky darkens on Saturday night.
If you don’t know why your spirits would be dragging Saturday night, it probably means that your Sabbath is still just Friday and Saturday, and that you are missing out on Judaism’s greatest gift to the Jewish family- an oasis of uninterrupted spirituality and wonderful family time (and the highlight of my week! Honest!)
Click here to learn about the Holy Sabbath at http://www.aish.com/shabbat. A beautiful site with hundreds of articles on how to transform Saturday in Shabbat!