When I wrote about Hasidah and Jewish infertility support recently, I realized I’d never written about Jewish pregnancy. There are a few Jewish customs which may seem odd to those outside our community.
A few things to know:
What to say: Do not say “mazal tov” or “congratulations” until the baby is safely born! Instead say, “B’sha’ah tovah” (b-shah-AH toe-VAH) to the parents until that time. It means, “In a good hour” which means, “May everything go well.” You can also say, “Wonderful! I’m happy for you.”
About gifts: Many Jewish families do not collect things for the baby in the home of the parents-to-be. While some will tell you this is about “tempting the evil eye” or some such, it has practical implications as well, since there are no guarantees about pregnancy. Ask what the family is doing about gifts, and follow their lead.
About the name: It is an old Jewish tradition to keep the name of an infant private until the bris or naming (usually at eight days.) If they seem coy about telling you the names they’ve picked out, it’s because they are observing that custom.
I remember knowing that this one was my last. I felt very strongly that one for each hand was my limit, a decision I still feel was the right one. My marriage was in terrible shape (it would end three years later) and I was still very unsure who I was or what meaning I was going to make of my life. I was depressed. Having children was what I thought was expected of me.
Having children in that state was a terrible idea, but we were lucky. As Joseph points out at the end of Genesis, sometimes people do things for stupid or bad reasons, and it still turns out for blessing.
Part of what turned my life around was the act of giving birth. I was terrified of the popular “block” anesthetics, so I opted for so-called natural childbirth. I used Lamaze for the first birth and hated it, but when the second pregnancy came along I was still not going to let anyone put a needle in my spine if I could help it. The nurse-midwives at the University of Tennessee Hospital suggested that I might be a good candidate for autohypnosis, and that’s what I did.
Hypnosis doesn’t work for everyone, but I swear to you that I have no memory of pain from Jamie’s birth. It was fast, it was free of pain, and I felt totally in control (a big issue for me at the time.) I remember a labor nurse was worried that I was so quiet and relaxed something must be wrong. What I did have was an experience I can’t adequately describe. I will just say that it was a key milestone on the spiritual journey that ultimately would bring me home to Judaism.
I feel sad at most of what I read about natural childbirth. There’s been quite a polarization around it since that morning in 1983. Seems like every article is either by someone saying it’s the only “right” way, or someone else saying that only stupid people go into childbirth without chemical help. My own feeling is that every woman’s body is different, and every woman’s mind-body connection is different, and it pays to try things and see what works. Don’t try the non-medicated stuff if it scares you, but certain adventuresome souls may find it satisfying as all get out.
The great lesson of motherhood for me was that control is an illusion. I could plan the labor and delivery, and all those plans could have been changed had the medical situation demanded it. I was sure that I had detailed plans for proper child-rearing, and then real human beings fell into my life and I fell in love with them, and it turned out that they had other plans. And then there are things no parent wants to think about: an accident or an illness can change everything in a blink. Those have happened too.
Parenthood continues to be an engine driving my spiritual life. It has drummed humility into me. It has bathed me in wonder. It has made me cry and laugh, often at the same time. I love my sons, and I love being their mom.