I vividly remember arguing with a fellow third year rabbinical student about the challenges facing women in the rabbinate. He felt strongly that men face the exact same challenges as women when it comes to the rabbinic placement process. I said….”Are you ever going to have to interview for a job pregnant? Because I might.” Well, that shut him up (for a moment)! Pregnancy is of course a joy and a blessing and a…..real challenge for the working woman. The hypothetical scenario I offered my classmate actually came true for me just a few years later, when I interviewed for a job as a part-time solo rabbi…when I was 8 months pregnant. Feeling a full-grown baby kick inside you while trying to compose thoughtful answers during an interview is something my male colleagues will simply NEVER experience. Thankfully, that interview went great and I was invited to lead services for the congregation. So there I was, one month from my due date, large and in charge, leading services for a packed house. Anyone who has led services pregnant knows that..it can sure tire a rabbi out. By the Aleinu I was so out of breath and red-faced I had to sit on a stool for the rest of services. Luckily everyone understood that thankfully pregnancy is not a permanent condition, and they hired me (and have been unbelievably supportive of me and my growing family for the past 2 years).
If it was up to me, I would remain in hiding for the duration of my gestational periods. I consider this a private time, a personal time in the life of a family…but due to my ever-expanding girth and my job as a congregational rabbi, of course it could not be more public. All eyes were on me…and I don’t even ALLUDE to my pregnancies on facebook! I’d rather keep my expanding self to MYSELF. Because during my two pregnancies I’ve learned that not only am I a bit on the superstitious side (poo poo), I’m also not the kind of pregnant that can rock cute maxi dresses. I’m large, substantial, and I take up serious space in the world, cankles and all. My personal life was very much on display, not to mention my physical limitations. By my second trimester, I could no longer lift or carry the Torah, and I drank about a liter of water by the time we got to Adon Olam each week. But we made it through as a kehillah kedoshah, thanks to my amazingly menschy and helpful congregants.
Now that my newest addition is three months old (!!!) I’m happily back to work leading services each Shabbat. Of course, as rabbis we are always on display, pregnant or not. When I receive (admittedly flattering) comments such as “Oh, Rabbi, it looks like you never even had a baby!” I’m constantly reminded that my male colleagues receive a much smaller percentage of comments about their appearance then we females do. So after being pregnant on the pulpit twice, I can again safely say to my old classmate, “Oh yes, I think women rabbis face unique challenges….!”