Shlepping around with swollen feet, a growing belly and mounting exhaustion is a challenge for any mom-to-be, but Beth Saltz is determined to go to Shabbat services as often as she can for the rest of her pregnancy.
"I feel I need to do it now before the baby is born," said Saltz, a Woodland Hills resident who is five and a half months pregnant with her first child. "Sometimes parents don't work on their own spirituality and beliefs until the child is older, but I think it's important to do it now."
At this turning point in her life, Saltz views Judaism as more important than ever -- and she's not alone.
While some parents experience a religious awakening when their children enter school, many others feel that "Jewish nesting" instinct before the child is even born.
Leslye Adelman has seen it again and again in her role as a Jewish Lamaze instructor at The Parent Place at The New JCC at Milken in West Hills.
"What I have found is that women often have this tremendous longing because they want to get Jewish tradition back in their life," Adelman said.
Many of her students are women who once had a stronger connection to Judaism. For some, this bond weakened as they left home, became adults and forged an independent life. They want to find this Jewish connectedness again, she said, and develop it further.
"They want [Judaism] back in their life now that they're having a baby," she said.
Nearing her eighth month of pregnancy, Kimberly Swartzburg, 36, is thinking about joining a temple.
"My husband and I have kind of gotten away from religion because our lives got very busy," the Westlake Village resident said. Swartzburg wants her son-to-be to have a strong sense of Jewish identity.
Rachel Spalding, another expectant mother, wants to give her child the strong Jewish upbringing she lacked.
"I was raised with very little sense of Jewish community and Jewish education and I think that was a loss," the Sherman Oaks resident said.
Adelman said such feelings are common among pregnant Jewish women. Most of her students struggle with concerns around instilling a sense of Jewish identity, she said.
"They say, 'My parents shoved it down my throat and I don't want to do that to my child,' or 'I didn't have much religion when I was growing up, and I don't want to deny my child their opportunity,'" Adelman noted.
Since the birth of her first child two years ago, Colleen Douglas, who grew up in an interfaith household, has pondered how best to express her connection with Judaism. She and her husband "feel Judaism is more about being a good person and less about having to go to a place to pray and to have something told to you about what you should be," said Douglas, who lives in Studio City.
These feelings were only reinforced when she was pregnant with her second child, Gage, who is now a few weeks old.
Since Judaism includes early-life traditions like a brit milah and a baby-naming, it's no wonder that Jewish mothers-to-be find themselves pondering religion as well as the relation of religion to practical post-birth issues.
Spalding is considering whether she wants a baby-naming for her daughter-to-be, which, for her, raises the question of choosing a rabbi to perform the ceremony.
Saltz and her husband have chosen an English name for their child; they are working on selecting a Hebrew name.
Swartzburg plans to have her son circumcised at the hospital rather than having a brit milah, but she is planning a naming down the line.
Judaism can even play a role at delivery, said Natalie Weiss, a West Hollywood childbirth educator who teaches the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth.
"For some women," Weiss said, "their faith can help give them strength when they're having contractions."
For information on Jewish Lamaze classes, call (818) 464-3333.