One of my favorite parts of my job is teaching Hava NaBaby, the Jewish childbirth education class of the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. I love working with expectant parents as they prepare to bring their children into the world and begin to contemplate what it means to become an ancestor. I love sharing relevant, meaningful and inspiring wisdom from our tradition that speaks to this moment in their lives. I love facilitating the opportunity for expectant parents to build friendships with one another.
I get a lot of email inquiries about the class from moms-to-be who have just discovered that they are pregnant. When I write back, I want to reflect something of my joy and excitement for them but in Jewish life we don’t offer the most common congratulatory greeting, “mazal tov,” when we learn someone is pregnant. Instead, I need to figure out a way to say the traditionally appropriate greeting to many people who have never heard the words “b’sha’ah tovah” before. And so I write, “B’sha’ah Tovah! What wonderful news.” The words do what I want them to do, but the translation is incorrect.
“B’sha’ah Tovah” literally means, “at a good hour.” In other words, it is a prayer that a baby (or babies) be born when they are ready, when they can survive outside the womb. As the mother of a child born seven weeks early who then spent the first month of her life in the pediatric intensive care unit, this phrasing has particular resonance.
There are a lot of superstitions around pregnancy. Traditionally, Jews don’t have baby showers or bring anything for a baby into the house until the baby is actually born. I have even researched historical superstitions like wearing an amulet made of matzah that is seven-years-old to prevent pregnancy loss!
But here is the thing: I don’t think saying “b’sha’ah tovah” is superstitious. I think that it is honest. Though we live in an age where the medical miracle of giving birth to a healthy child seems ordinary, it is anything but ordinary. A million small things have to go right to form a healthy child – and it is nothing but incredible that it works so often.
We say “b’sha’ah tovah” because as parents it is our responsibility to help our children see the miraculous in the everyday, to learn to be grateful instead of taking things for granted. Before our children are even born, they give us occasion to see the world as it is meant to be seen – surprising, wonderful and miraculous. And, of course, as a parent of two young children myself, I know that our children continue to teach us that lesson over and over again.