According to Jewish tradition, parents receive one sixtieth of prophesy when choosing the name for their child. The doulas and allies with Imeinu who selected this name “Imeinu” – Hebrew for “Our Mother” – may have been blessed with something similar when choosing the name by which we identify our childbirth work together.
The name is inspired by the Jewish matriarchs, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. Each of these Jewesses is regarded as a mother of the Jewish people and is referred to as “Imeinu,” our mother. They each exemplify profound spiritual and feminine character traits. In the written and oral Torah we learn much about their lives, relationships, blessings, gifts, and tribulations.
We know about the circumstances around which they married and the key issues of their marriage relationships. We know about their entanglements in multi-generational familial conflicts. We know about their journeys and struggles with fertility, birth, and family.
But for our birth professionals collective, the word “Imeinu” is especially inspired by and in reference to Rachel Imeinu, the second wife of Yaacov. While Sarah, Rivka and Leah are buried with their husbands in the Cave of Machpelah, Yaacov buried Mama Rachel along the side of the road when she died giving birth to her second son. Author and teacher Chana Weisberg writes, “When she looked far ahead into the future, Rachel was determined to sacrifice her eternal pleasure so that these children could pass by her gravesite, and she would pray on their behalf.”
In Rachel’s merit, God annulled a decree against the Jewish people and guaranteed their return to the Holy Land. It is because of Rachel’s powerful prayers that in Jewish custom we pray for a person in the merit of their mother.
A mother’s cry for her child arouses mercy from God. Rachel Imeinu’s burial site is a place where people make pilgrimages to pour out their hearts to Mama Rachel. Particularly, Jewish women pray at Kever Rachel (Rachel’s tomb) for finding a soul mate, for pregnancy, a healthy birth, a good life for their families.
The Jewish people have fought to maintain access and to protect the kever – as recently as the beginning of the second Intifada, a group of Jewish women set up a tent camp at the nearby Gilo Junction for eight months until they reclaimed access to the sacred site.
To our group of childbirth professionals, “Imeinu” is a special utterance that draws upon the spiritual strength of Rachel Imeinu and all the Jewish matriarchs and mothers. But the word resonates in additional ways in the work of our doulas. First, we serve mothers. We talk about “our mother,” the mother we are serving, as she prepares for and gives birth. We embody the role of a mother when we are “mothering” the mothers through labor, as the work of the doula involves taking on a nurturing and experienced feminine role. We fight for our mothers to have safe births in hospitals, birth centers, or homes – based on their personal choices and evidence-based science.
With respect to our heritage and the continuation of the Jewish people and of the tradition of women in the world, every mother we serve is imeinu. We can refer to each client with the pronoun “imeinu” as each mother we serve is a matriarch, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a cousin. It is with humility and honor that we embrace the opportunity to provide loving, supportive assistance to our women and families, and so to bestow the term “imeinu” on to them is an expression of our recognition and praise.
Imeinu Doula Sue Proctor says, “Our group consists of many strong Jewish women who not only support our clients but each other as well.” Truly our birth workers collaborative network is a multi-level mothering operation, where feminine wisdom, nurturing, support, and advocacy echo in all directions.
As a Jewish women’s organization in the business of women’s health and reproduction, we look to our roots in our ancestral mothers for comfort, strength and success. And we aspire to emulate some of their grace in our lives and sacred birth work.
This piece first appeared in Times of Israel.