Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pregnant Rabbis

When was the last time a male Orthodox Rabbi got pregnant, gave birth, started breast feeding and then had to think about fasting for 25 hours on Yom Kippur? Never. Has a male Orthodox Rabbi ever even had a period? Nope

And yet, this seems to have become the basis of many discussions, as the birth comes closer and I get edicts such as, "If you are late and have not given birth by Yom Kippur, you had BETTER fast." "You know you can only get out of fasting if you give birth within a week of Yom Kippur, even if you are breast feeding."

Here's the problem I have with this approach, other than the lobotomy effect of male-centric organized religion: the reason so many babies are born on and immediately after Yom Kippur is because the fasting causes sudden and severe dehydration for the fetus, along with a sudden and unexpected drop in glucose levels. The child, thinking that the womb has now become an unsettling, inhospitable and non-nurturing home, initiates labour in an attempt to flee to a place where he/she may be fed properly again.

I believe that all elements of pregnancy and birth, both physical and emotional, will make or break the experience, and I don't want labour (if needed) initiated by trauma and fear. Of course I would not sit down at the table on Yom Kippur and indulge in a three-course steak dinner, but I will not automatically accept the Jewish religious philosophy that "Life is Suffering."

Furthermore, the 48 hours surrounding the esteemed fast of Yom Kippur are the heaviest in terms of traffic in all hospitals in Israel. Call me selfish, but I would much prefer to be one of three or four women giving birth, rather than one of 30, because of staffing and space considerations at Hadassah Hospital.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Weight Gain, Finally

A much more pleasant gynecologist visit today, now that the period of questioning and crisis has passed. Turns out I have gained one whole kilo in the past three weeks, and it is all baby. Trust me on the all baby part; it is only in the last two weeks that I feel the pressure in my pelvis and find it difficult to stay in one position for more than two minutes, before I must contort myself.

As someone who does not normally have complaints about my physical state, I find the word "Oy" coming out of my mouth much more often, due to the discomfort. I sometimes feel like an old lady, and then I remember that if I am feeling this way, it means the baby is growing, and that is the most important thing to remember, and to rejoice.

I technically have another standard check up with my doctor in three weeks, and who know, it could be my last before the birth...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Segula Dip

I don't know where it originated, but I found out about a wonderful custom here in Jerusalem: at the beginning of the ninth month of pregnancy, a woman goes to the mikva for a "Segula" (Blessing) dip. Rather than the official protocol of cleaning out every orifice on your body, this becomes a celebration of sorts, and many women like to time their turn after the pregnant woman; it is said that they will then get the blessing of pregnancy as well, if they are trying to do so.

I managed to get up and down the hills of my neighborhood, despite the pressure of the ninth month stomach, and quite enjoyed knowing that I had come so far, and that an event that was once theoretical in nature was now so close to its conclusion. I also know that as much of adventure as I experienced in pregnancy, a whole new life awaits me with the healthy birth of this child.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Publically Pregnant

Today I went to a party and barbecue that my friend threw on the occasion of his nine year old daughter's birthday. This was, as expected, primarily an adult party, and I had a hard time finding a drink for myself that did not have at least 5% alcohol content.

It was also the first time that many people had seen me actively pregnant, and the reception I got varied, all of it quite funny. For the first time, people felt that my belly was public domain, with virtual strangers coming over to put their hand on my stomach. Several people offered up toasts to me for my "bravery" in the choice to become a single parent by choice. One person kept shouting at me rather than speaking to me in a normal voice; much like kind and yet misguided people do towards foreigners, presuming a person can understand a language better if you speak to them like they are retarded, in a voice level several decibels above normal.

I didn't realize that pregnancy was viewed as a disability as such, and I felt quite proud to show off my stomach and be "The Pregnant Lady." I even met another woman there, another single mother by choice, with her adorable two year old daughter, wearing the cutest dress from Children's Place. I looked at this woman, settled into her role as mother and actually able to attend a party on a Friday afternoon, and thought, "Soon, this will be me, and I can't wait!"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thank You, Harry

This morning, my cat Harry "The Highlander" decided to stay inside longer than usual, and went to rest on the futon in the guest room, the room that will at some point become the nursery. I know that cats sleep 16 hours a day, but I could not help myself; I picked him up, rubbed his belly, gave him kisses, and told him how much I love him. Harry did not reject the attention, he may look like a 6.5 kilo mini-tiger but he is one of the most affectionate cats I know. After several minutes, he continued to allow me to cuddle him, but started to whine just a bit, as if to say, "C'mon, why can't I just finish my nap?"

It occurred to me that this baby in a way is not my first born, that taking on Harry as a kitten over seven years ago opened me up to a place I had never truly experienced before with my own upbringing: overflowing and full expression of the emotion of love, the idea that I can love someone or something so much, that my own needs become secondary. And when I later rescued Sarel "Runs Like Rabbit" (Rest in Peace), it taught me an even more important lesson, that of accepting a person/feline for who he is, with his background and complete set of baggage and loving him just the same.

Considering how well adjusted Harry has become, I figure I can trust my human parenting skills and instincts as well.

And so I thank Harry and Sarel, for educating me and for bringing this warmth into my essential programming. I feel as if this child will gain from the person I have become, and that no matter the circumstances, there will be affection and security in the love I have for my daughter.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Breathing Easy, Almost

Work today was, to put it bluntly, torture. I knew that at the end of the day I had the follow-up ultra-sound, and every client, every phone call, felt like an imposition on my sanity.

Thankfully, the experience today was vastly different than two weeks ago. First of all, the technician today treated me like a person with real concerns and real questions, rather than the vessel that happens to be carrying a baby. She dealt with me with warmth and compassion, very often explaining more than she is "allowed," and repeating tests on several different machines, to allow for the greatest clarity.

From what I understand, the purpose of today's testing was to make sure the baby has grown in the last two weeks, albeit proportional to the findings of the previous exam. So indeed, hooray, everything is two weeks older, though the stomach lags behind other parts of the body, as it did two weeks ago as well. She has gained approximately 400 grams in the last two weeks, and has passed the 2.3 kilo mark. The Doppler test for the pulse of the umbilical cord is in the 95th percentile, and she was quite active throughout the ultra-sound. As regards the stomach, the technician pointed out that she takes after her mother, tall and thin. The key take-home point is that she is growing.

This child, in my unbiased opinion, was cooperative and well-behaved today, and showed her face to me to be able to say she does not look much like me, and is quite beautiful. Phtoo phtoo etc.

Of course the final word comes from my gynecologist, with whom I have an appointment next week. He will decide if there is a need for further testing and monitoring before the birth.

Right now I can breathe easier emotionally - physically speaking, she is putting much pressure on my diaphragm - and maybe even get some sleep tonight.

(A special set of thank-yous to the following, who helped me get through the last two weeks, in alphabetical order so as not to insult: Debi Badichi, my cousin and adopted older brother Kory Bardash, "Savta" Shira Chernoble, Naomi Magen, Dr. Ronen Mendi, my friend and Chiropractor, Michal Toledano)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fake it Until You Make it

The follow-up ultrasound takes place next Monday, and I made the active choice to stop obsessing and crying, at least for most of the day. I choose to talk about this birth as a healthy birth, in the proper time, and transmit my faith and optimism to the baby, who has hopefully by now gotten the message and done the needed repairs.

I am still surprised by some people's reactions to the pregnancy and impending birth, and yesterday was no exception. First, I got a call from an on again-off again client, who decided that now is the perfect time to sign up for consistent and long term Chiropractic care, after months to years of neglecting her body. I told her that I could pretty much only schedule for the next four weeks, because there was a strong likelihood that after such time I would start my maternity leave.

Dead silence on the line, then a tentative, "Oh, congratulations, I guess." And then a lengthy discussion of my professional responsibilities towards her, with a request to not abandon her.

Because my pregnancy is all about her...

I got another call from a Rabbi, with whom I had spoken several years ago in his role as a match maker. He had called me yesterday to clarify a posting I placed on-line, and inquired as to my general welfare, dating and otherwise. I told him that I was not actively dating right now, as I had larger and more pressing issues having to do with the birth. He got all excited and said, "So you got married!"

When I answered simply, "No, I am not married," again, about 30 seconds of silence on the line, and then he added, "Wow, you are brave lady. I admire you." Of course he made sure that I understood that motherhood was not mutually exclusive of my getting married some time in the future.

I will never expect to have full acceptance from the Jewish community regarding my decision, but then again, I never needed it in order to proceed with this most amazing of experiences.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Awesome Responsibilities

After a seriously deep treatment, both emotionally and physically, with my Chiropractor on Friday, I think I can get through the next week and a half without crying, more firmly set in the belief that the worst is over. According to his exam, my placenta is AOK, my body strong, and the baby has let go of the false beliefs she adopted. As well, it seems she has fully accepted the terms of our deal, so assuming the next ultra-sound comes back with better results, this child officially has a name, the name she has chosen.

As the birth gets closer, I have started to think about two important legal issues: one, who I can choose (in Israel) to make medical decisions for me, should I be unable to speak for myself; and two, who would I choose as a guardian for my child, should something G-d Forbid happen to me.

The first problem is more easily solved, I broached the topic with my cousin who lives here in Jerusalem, he has become my adopted older brother in the past few years. He may have joked about it - to reduce the tension of the seriousness of the implications - but he does understand how I grew up and the core values from my childhood, and my stated preferences.

The second question of guardianship becomes more complicated: if my sister were not living in the Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva world in New York, I would have no hesitation asking her. She plans on having at least 13 children, so what is one extra...and she and my brother-in-law (when he is home) excel in parenting their current brood. Unfortunately, I want my child raised in Israel, and I want my child raised in an environment where the option for women is not restricted to strict schooling, marriage at 17 and children at 18. For all of the nurturing and love they could provide, that path is not even on my radar for my daughter.

Here in Israel, I know many couples with children, and most of them are not great parents. The couples I know who truly invest in their children, may not want to take on another, or cannot think about that option given certain circumstances in their own lives. So that remains unresolved at the moment.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Already a Person, Let the Parenting Begin

Because I can't imagine getting through the next two weeks with my sanity, I had a consultation with my friend and Chiropractor, Dr. Ronen Mendi, whose specialty is Kinesiology. After various exams of my physical state - my tail bone needs assistance - Ronen gave me this revelation about my daughter: she has chosen, with no impetus or indication from the woman who has joyfully chosen to be her mother, she has decided on her own that my being a single parent will be difficult, and that she will be a burden to me. And so, while the rest of her is right on track in terms of her growth, she is internalizing these feelings in her stomach, which is under-developed compared to the rest of her.

I delved into my psyche for two years before opting for this route. I suffered - again, gladly - through fertility treatments for a year, and the day I was told that the pregnancy was successful was the happiest day of my life. (Until the day I can hold her in my arms.) I read her books and play music to her stomach, and constantly tell her how much I love her, and how I can't wait to meet her.

True, I have moments of panic about financial issues, or the fact that I am not sleeping and certainly will not sleep well and through the night once she arrives. But there is a vast difference between hardships and being a burden.

Little one, since four months in the womb you have shown yourself to be a person with opinions, sometimes you disagree with me and I know that you have thought through other options. You have already told me which name you prefer, and every time I use that name, I feel a sense of joy and serenity flowing from my stomach.

It does not surprise me that seven weeks before your birth, I must now communicate with you inside, as I will communicate with you as my child when you are on the outside. I must acknowledge your concerns and at the same time, I must point out that your choice is principally flawed: Anything worth having and doing, anything that truly means something, it requires 1000% commitment - emotional and physical, and work and yes, sometimes hardship. The result of all this effort will become the most magical adventure for the two of us, and you will never be a burden for me.

You were wanted and loved by me before you were even conceived. I love you now, and every day for the rest of your long long life. If you don't know this yet about your Mommy, I am someone who throws myself passionately into the people who are important to me. You are the most important person to me. I am so excited to raise you to fulfill your fullest and happiest potential

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And Now for the Scary Part

My medical marathon was almost over, I thought, until I went to my gynecologist this afternoon. I had even thought that I could get in a small local vacation some time in the next few weeks, but no...

His response to the results of yesterday morning's ultra-sound was to order another ultra-sound in two weeks. He actually explained to me that not only was the pulse of the umbilical cord on the low end of the scale, but the larger issue is one of the ratio of growth of stomach, compared to the head.

In certain cases of placental insufficiency (he actually called it "premature aging" of the placenta), it slows down the growth of the fetus, and the first place to see it is at the stomach, which is considered a less essential organ than the brain. The ultra-sound in two weeks will determine if the finding is a fluke, or something that must be monitored closely, an actual risk factor.

In addition, while most women gain significant weight in the last trimester, I have actually gone down a kilo. Again, my doctor seemed nonchalant about the number, saying that I still have reserves from which the baby can feed, but noting that generally one would expect a woman in the eighth month to go up rather than go down.

So I get to experience two weeks of hell until the next exam, and I have switched into full prayer mode, repeating the mantra to G-d, the Universe and whoever else is listening, "Please let my child be healthy, please let her grow."

All the more unfortunate, in the last few weeks communication has seriously broken down between myself and my mother, and I don't feel that I can call her and talk to her about this. I don't feel I will get the emotional support I need.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We Are Head Down!

The beginning of this week was a very baby-intensive week.

On Sunday morning, I went to the baby store (Baby Michel, Talpiyot) and ordered the nursery package, to be delivered after the birth of course. The package includes a crib, a dresser, a stroller and car seat, and a bathtub; plus a bunch of small extras to get a new parent started. It felt almost surreal, picking out sheets and furniture for a child who already has a personality of her own, I hope she approves of my choices.

On Monday morning, I had my Week 32 ultra-sound, an assessment of the size of the fetus, the level of amniotic fluid and other factors. At some point the technician seemed concerned that the heart rate of the umbilical cord was in the lower range, she explained to me that it could affect the size. But once the entire exam was completed, the size of the baby fell exactly in the middle of the chart, a little under 2 kilo, and approximately four days ahead of schedule overall in terms of growth. In any case, my doctor (with whom I have an appointment on Tuesday) has the final word on whether this needs further monitoring before the birth.

The other good news of the morning is that the baby is head down, and while there is time for her to turn, it is less likely at this stage that it could be a breech birth. Hooray for my little champion!

The baby has an extraordinarily strong face in terms of bone structure, and long legs as well. When the technician needed her to move a little, I used the designated stomach nick-name ("Uli") and she responded right away.

Monday afternoon and evening were taken up by Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, for the very last birth class. Four long, very long hours, with very few bathroom breaks, though probably the most informational session of the whole series. While I was there, I had intended to take the opportunity to officially register and get the birth check-in materials, but I did not have the proper identification with me, and so they would not allow it.

This morning (Tuesday), I set aside three hours to have a private session with Paula Aji, a doula whose specialty is Hypnobirthing. She was wonderfully supportive, did not talk down to me, and taught me many tools that once I practice, can be most useful for keeping the birth as natural and as intervention free as possible. She also helped me understand that most of my fears regarding the birth itself come from the horror stories and subsequent guilt my mother has imprinted on me over the years; "I was in painful labour for 28 hours with came three weeks were pressing on my nerve and the epidural didn't was the middle of the Summer and hot as hell." Paula reminded me that I am not my mother, and that births in the late 60's were far less evolved than they are today, that genetics can only take you so far.