My daughter wasn't even born yet and I was already being bombarded with unsolicited advice from family, friends, and the media, about all the things I could be doing more of to prepare my baby for the world—such as singing or playing music to my baby while in-utero.
But, some days with the exhaustion of pregnancy and the busyness of overall life, all I could manage to say to my growing belly was: “Hey, is everything going okay in there?”
Nevertheless, I didn't want to "risk her development" or language acquisition (or, all the other things they warn you about) by neglecting what should have been a seemingly easy way to connect with her. So, I grabbed my phone to pull up the first song I could think of. Surprisingly, what first came to mind as I typed in the search bar was "Niggun Neshama," a melodic hymn that I remembered from my days as a sleepaway camp counselor.
As I held the phone to my belly (I often cringe at my singing voice, but even terrible singers can manage the "yai-dai-dais" and "yum-na-na-nais" of a Jewish niggun), I was able to close my eyes and hum along, falling into a state of relaxation to a tune that I'd hoped she'd recognize after making her entrance into the world. Meanwhile, this music quieted the frantic noises circulating in my head as I approached motherhood.
Then, before I knew it, she was here. But, when she started to cry, I couldn't always reach my phone and start playing the niggun. So, my brain sourced the first thing it could think of to lull her to sleep, and what came out was "Modeh ani," to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine"— a song my cantor used to gently play for us preschoolers every morning as he strummed away on his guitar. How fitting this song was; a prayer we say to thank G-d for letting us wake up another day. Although I sang it to get her to sleep, in those early days of bringing home a newborn and constantly checking their breathing, each day with her waking up truly feels like a gift.
As the days go on, more Jewish songs—and, in fact, only Jewish songs—are what automatically come out when I sing to her. Songs like, "Al Kol Eleh" and "Rad Hayom", a gentle tune we used to sing with our campers before bedtime. Some days when I'm sitting with her, rocking her to sleep, I even pull out the B'kol Echad off my shelf to see what songs I missed; songs we sang before Havdalah when I was growing up, which were now the closest thing to a meditative experience that an anxiety-ridden first-time mom can only hope to summon during (especially during the baby's witching hour).
Singing and motherhood might not come so naturally, but I've found an unexpected Jewish routine as a way to connect with my baby; a part of my so-far chaotic parenting journey that brings up memories of a time when I sang these songs without a care in the world.
About the Author
Hana LaRock is a freelance writer originally from New York, but calls the world her home. When Hana's not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, watching documentaries and scrapbooking.
July 27, 2022