(like the 40 minutes I spent crying when S was two days old because someday he'd get married and leave home!). It's a role I was born to play, but despite hours of rehearsing and memorizing lines, I'll be left to improvise and ad lib this monologue. I am not wholly transformed to the point where I don't desire perfection--but I want my son to feel and believe it's ok to be good enough. And in that, I strive to be the world's ok-est mom.
I'd like to say I loved pregnancy. I didn't. Thank G-d, I did not have any major challenges or complications throughout my pregnancy and aside from some typical discomforts and exacerbation of my typically well managed asthma, I had a pretty healthy pregnancy throughout. Nonetheless, it was hard. Being tired all of the time, the extreme nausea throughout the first trimester, prenatal insomnia and constantly feeling that my body was not my own often felt reminiscent of being sick. And I was not sick! Baruch Hashem, I was pregnant and a life was growing inside of me! I had to constantly re-frame my concept of these feelings toward being productive discomforts and not a sign of injury or illness. There were, of course, all of the normal anxieties throughout as my husband and I prepared to welcome this beautiful addition to our lives and home. These "growing pains" brought out a compassion and sensitivity in us both that truly brought us closer. If it is possible to fall in love multiple times with the same person, the process of watching my husband become a father has evoked one of the most intense feelings of connection I've ever had.
Toward the last trimester, I started to feel ambiguous. I liked that baby being inside of me all of a sudden. I wanted to keep it there. It was safe in here. It didn't get lost at Walmart. It didn't ask for toys or candy. It didn't cry in the movie theater. By my 37th week, that ambiguity shifted rapidly. I wanted it out! I wanted to be done. June temperatures were in the 90s with humidity leaving the air feeling a humid 10 to 15 degrees hotter. I felt huge. I felt lethargic. I felt entirely ready and completely unprepared. It's the period of in-betweens in which all you can do is hurry up and wait. Baby could come any day now and as the minutes pass to hours pass to days, we joyfully anticipate. However, as I approached my due date, my patience was wearing thin. I was on edge to say the least. I'd figured out from our house to the hospital how many contractions I'd have in the car if I labored at home until they were 5 minutes apart lasting for about a minute each. Our bags were mostly packed with lists reminding us of what we'd need to grab at the last minute. My mother was in town to support me through labor and, with G-d's help at the right time we were all ready to go. I had my proverbial tool belt loaded with comfort techniques to attempt my way through an unmedicated labor. The greatest challenge I foresaw was the mere aspect of not knowing.
"It's hard to wait," I kept repeating to my husband throughout the insomnia-induced sleepless nights that plagued both my first and third trimesters of pregnancy. "I hate the 'not knowing.'" When would labor begin? What would it feel like? Where would I be? Where would my husband be? How long would it take? Meanwhile, my due date came and passed. I was born six weeks early. In an early attempt at one of the worst ever parenting techniques, I told that little baby inside of me at 34 weeks to do as I say and not as I did. I certainly wanted to go full term and give our little bundle ample time to develop and thrive. But I also value punctuality. I grew to loathe the calls, messages and texts from well intending friends and family asking if I was "still around" and "was there any news?" I dreaded
At 40 weeks and 2 days, my husband, mother and watermelon-belly in tow, I walked into our OB-GYN's office for what I truly hoped would be our last prenatal visit. We'd scheduled an ultrasound at this point to check fluid levels and the baby's activity. I took comfort and humor in the fact that we'd be meeting with one of my favorite doctors in the practice, a lawyer-turned-obstetrician whom I was confident could serve both eviction notices and induce labor in one magical fell swoop. A lengthy ultrasound revealed very low fluid levels and my little baby failed its first test. Presumably because of the low level of amniotic fluid, the factor of time and the size and position of our little one, movement was rather decreased. It was time to get a move on things. For religious and personal reasons, I'd avoided any cervical checks prior to my due date. Now the doctor wanted to do one to see how far dilated I was in order to have an idea of what to expect when he'd admit me to the hospital the next morning. When this revealed that I was, in fact, not dilated at all, he decided it was time to check in that night and begin a medication to help dilate the cervix. Baby's heartbeat was good, but time was up and we needed to get the show on the road already. I promised the doctor a puppy if he would get this baby out of me.
The doctor informed that upon arrival to the hospital that evening, I'd be given a medication that would take 12 hours to work. During much of that time, I'd be required to be in bed on my back (not something I looked forward to greatly in my current state). In the morning, they would recheck and begin Pitocin to induce labor. He explained that with inductions, the chance of c-section increases to 50%. I immediately heard that as, "you will probably not deliver naturally" but forced myself to focus instead on the equal possibility that I could. Either way, with G-d's help, we'd soon welcome our little bundle into the world. My husband, my mother and I all headed home and got things together. I was in a bit of a stupor as we packed into the car and made our 10 minute drive to the hospital. I sat in the front seat having no contractions at all--guess I didn't need to spend so much time calculating that one!
We filled out paperwork, set up camp, and settled in all in an eerie state of calm as I was not yet in labor. My spirits were high; we were finally here! After the medication, some sleep and twelve hours of being mostly confined to a hospital bed, a second examination revealed that no progress had been made. Baby was still doing well, heartbeat good, head down and ready to go, but I was still clamped shut. I had three options to choose from now. Option A was another round of the same medication, which, to its benefit could be removed if things progressed but could also to its detriment not work again and would take another 12 hours of confinement to a hospital bed. Option B was another medication that came in two doses, each taking about 4 hours. To its benefit, that's only 4 hours in bed! To its potential detriment, it could not be removed in the event that things progressed rapidly or the baby did not respond well, in which case we'd be looking at a c-section for sure. Option C was a cervical balloon, but was likely in my current state not to work at all and to be very painful if it did. I felt ill equipped to make a choice. I looked at the doctor and the nurse with pleading eyes reminding them that I had no medical training whatsoever to make this decision. After talking through it, however, I opted to put my trust in Hashem and felt that Option B was the best step to take. I was given the first dose and left to spend some quality horizontal time in that hospital bed.
Baruch Hashem, things began to progress. "Think open thoughts," the doctor said as he examined me later on. Sure enough, things were moving along. As contractions began, I was so excited to be feeling the signs of labor that I was literally ecstatic. I walked the halls, stopping every couple of minutes to breathe through a contraction. As they grew a bit stronger, I made my way back to the room and started to say Tehillim. I knew they were getting stronger still when by Psalm 83, I had to slow down my pace over certain words. I remembered from a labor class I'd taken with my husband that it was important to utilize many different comfort techniques and to change it up as needed. It was also important not to use them too early on or you'd run out of interest and steam by the end. At this point, I knew it was time to move to the tub. I got into my odd conglomeration of maternity clothes and modest swimwear and the nurse helped prepare the bath. My husband loaded some of my favorite songs onto his iPhone and I settled in. The contractions were growing stronger and longer. This was productive pain, I reminded myself, as I breathed and closed my eyes. My mother helped prepare some cool washcloths with peppermint oil that I'd packed. I thought I'd place them on my forehead or maybe my neck, but for some reason all I wanted to do was put them over my eyes! At this point we were waiting to see if the contractions would slow down enough to take the second dose of the medication or if they would progress enough to move me to where I could begin Pitocin.
By the time I got out of the tub, the contractions were intense enough that I had whipped the "low deep moaning" tool out of my belt. I knew not to waste energy on whining or screaming or yelling. I also remembered that keeping a relaxed jaw and open throat helped relax and open you for giving birth. Contractions were still too close together to take a second dose of medication but a further exam revealed that amazingly, with G-d's help, I'd dilated enough to begin Pitocin. At hearing this, my energy and elation was temporarily restored. The contractions were extremely strong and increasing in intensity with the Pitocin, but this was it. I was here and things were, thank G-d, moving along. I was getting tired, though. Many of those tools in my belt were proving to be not as useful as I'd thought they would be. The massage techniques my husband and mother had practiced were useless to me now. I didn't want to be touched. I'm by nature not the most physically affectionate person and when I am, I always feel it's a reciprocal relationship. I want to take care of the person giving the affection and in this state, I only had energy to care for myself and my baby. I couldn't take the time to make sure the person touching me felt confident they were massaging me correctly or that they were feeling alright about everything. All of the jokes, words of encouragement, distractions and relaxation techniques we'd prepared felt overwhelming. I needed quiet. I needed to focus and rather than turning outward, I drew inward.
A nurse walked in to check my vitals and, in her good intentions, offered the following words of encouragement. "Well, you're finally at the beginning stages of labor." The beginning stages?! It had been over 24 hours since we checked in! I thought I'd been laboring all day! And I hit a wall. I was tired. I was afraid. I wanted to home. I wanted to go the Busch Gardens. I wanted a cookie. I promised a puppy to anyone and everyone who could help get this baby out of me. And I was ready to talk to my laboring nurse about medication options. She was extremely supportive of my desire to labor with minimal intervention and eager to work with me on labor techniques, answer my questions and talk me through options. I decided on a narcotic pain medication to help curb the edge a bit. It did very little for me, made me very tired and rather loopy and after a couple of more hours, I was back at that wall. I wanted to ask about an epidural at this point and discuss it with the nurse. Unfortunately, it was just 7:00 and that was shift change time. When my soon to be new labor nurse walked in and I tried in the few words I could get out in between contractions to state my desires, she was already on the phone calling the anesthesiologist. I was not ready for that yet! I just wanted to talk about it (although I couldn't do a whole lot of talking at this point). All I could do was quickly ask where the other nurse was and then quickly apologize for being rude. The previous nurse came back in on her way out to talk me through it and offer encouragement. Together with the nurses and my husband, I decided to take an epidural. I offered the departing nurse a puppy on the way out and thanked her. She offered me comfort and confidence; she told me I was stoic and graceful in my pain and she'd have gone the same path in this situation. I didn't feel as though I were giving up or failing; I felt empowered as I was making the decision to have the energy and ability to move through these final hours toward delivery. Just then my husband shared a text message with me that had just come in to his phone. A friend of ours who was due with her eighth child a week before I was had also been sent in to be induced the previous night. With Hashem's help, she had just given birth to a healthy, beautiful daughter. Another friend sent a photo of mom and baby with the words "keep your eye on the prize."
The anesthesiologist was amazing. I offered him two puppies. I commented to my husband that we'd better stop at the humane society on the way home from the hospital. As he prepared for the epidural, the doctor explained between my contractions and at times, when necessary, loudly over them, what would take place and how it might feel. These end stages are all such a blur. Directly after receiving the epidural I became very dizzy but was able to talk through it settled down. I was amazed that contrary to what I'd heard and believed about epidurals, I could still feel my contractions quite strongly. I was in the transition stage of labor before I knew it and my contractions were not painless, but the pain was less. It was time to start pushing. As our custom holds, my husband now left the room to daven (pray) and say Tehillim and my mother took over by side. The nurse was on my other side and I looked to them both to guide me. I had never done this before, I needed them to tell me exactly what to do. The nurse talked me through the first few pushes, but suddenly the baby's heartbeat was slowing down. She quickly got a hold of the doctor and instructed me to hold off from pushing.
When the doctor arrived, his lawyer-turned-obstetrician stoic affect was visibly now an expression of concern. One never asks or has to ask what a doctor is thinking at that point. He administered an oxygen mask to me to help the baby and I did the only two things I knew instinctively how to do. I davened out loud to Hashem that He should protect my baby and me and that everything should be for the good no matter what--whether or not things went according to my plans. And then I spoke to my baby who I somehow knew was a boy. I told my son it was time. It was time to come out now and see the world. This place was so full of people who without even knowing who he was and who he would become, without ever having to see him or touch his soft skin, loved him wholly and completely. I told him not to be afraid. That yes, Mommy was in pain but this was productive pain and there was nothing to fear. And less than 25 minutes later, I held that warm, soft skinned little boy in my arms.
When the doctor said "It's a boy," all I could do was whisper "I know." And despite the doctors and nurses and pediatricians in the room busily cleaning up and stitching up and checking up, for a moment of eternity, we were completely alone. We chose to delay cord clamping until it naturally stopped pulsating and once that happened, my mother cut the umbilical cord and my son was placed in my arms. And as I held him for the first time, the only thing I could think to do was sing "You Are My Sunshine." Two weeks later that song still comforts S like no other through hunger, exhaustion, shots and pediatrician visits. Or maybe it comforts me. Maybe it offers us both a sense of serenity--he is my sunshine and watching my son shine is one of the greatest joys I've ever known. My husband re-entered the room as soon as possible. I am admittedly a loquacious woman by nature and to date there are only two people in this world who have ever left me speechless: my husband and our son. It felt eerily familiar to be all three together there for the first time. It was a feeling of completeness and contentment that I cannot describe.
(Until he was circumcised we did not announce his name even to family.) In choosing a name for our son, my husband and I combined both Chabad minhag (custom) and our families' minhag and we gave our son three names that represent both tzadikim (righteous Jews in history) who helped change the face of Judaism and relatives who in their lives had changed the face of Yiddishkeit in our own families. When the mohel stumbled over our son's names during the service, I thought at first he was probably very tired from a difficult flight experience the night before. He'd probably had even less sleep than we had and we had a newborn baby who was up every two hours to feed! It was only later that I learned that our son's first two names were the same names as the mohel's recently deceased grandfather, who was a very special and honorable shochet to the Rebbe. All of the challenges we'd had in securing a mohel to perform our son's bris we faced because there was one rabbi who was truly meant to do the mitzvah, and with G-d's help, even after a flight delay and two missed connections, a car rental and hours of driving to stay in a hotel for a few hour before this 7AM ceremony, that very man welcomed our beautiful son into the precious covenant of observant Judaism. And perhaps most beautiful of all is that he is the first frum-from-birth child to be born into either of our families for over three generations.
If there are lessons to be learned from an experience as intense and transforming as giving birth to a child, I can say the greatest understanding I gained was how important it is to be open. Connecting to G-d, connecting to your spouse, and connecting to a child all require that we are open. They all require that we let go a little and sometimes a lot. We must be vulnerable. We must be willing to fail to fall to falter. We must be able to forgive the other and more importantly to forgive ourselves. How ironic and meaningful is it then, that the one thing that kept me from going into labor without the assistance of modern medicine was the physical act of being closed? I pray for our son that he should not know pain and suffering. And I pray that if he does, he should also know the comfort of our loving and merciful G-d. I pray that he always know and feel that everything he needs is already within and around him. We don't have much, but we live in abundance, Baruch Hashem. And with G-d's help, he should grow to Torah, to marriage and to good deeds. L'Torah, l'chuppa, l'maasim tovim!