Waiting 15 Years for Baby Natanel by Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Waiting 15 Years for Baby Natanel by Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

The following is an excerpt from Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum’s journal from her pregnancy following 15 years of infertility. Rebbetzin Chana Bracha is the director of Midreshet Berot Bat Ayin and the author of the acclaimed book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion.

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha wrote:

My story starts out like the stories of many of my friends. I came to Israel at the age of 19, searching for my roots. By 21, I was learning Torah, following a religious lifestyle, and married to Mechael, a young doctor and yeshiva student from the U.S. My son, Meir, was born a year later and everything in my life seemed to be falling into place.
However, when Meir was three years old, and all my friends had already been blessed with a sequel, the doctors found that I had dermoid cysts on both ovaries. I was operated on immediately. I was “lucky” that in addition to my regular gynecologist, the specialist I had seen for a second opinion attended the operation without extra cost. In hindsight, I suspect that they both felt obliged to participate in the cutting which left me almost nothing to work with. “Sure, you can still have children,” they told me. But I remember seeing tears in one doctor’s eyes and heard him mumble, “But she’s so young…” And in the years which followed, I did not conceive, despite my desperate prayers.

Six years had passed from the time I weaned my first child. By then I was deemed a hopeless case. People always tried to be helpful, but I could only laugh when they suggested treatments such as herbal therapies and massages. Finally, my yearning for another child spurred me to visit the In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) department of Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. After a series of routine blood tests the diagnosis was bleak: Ovarian failure, not a candidate for IVF.

More years passed. I was 35 years old and my only son was 14. During a routine checkup, my female gynecologist, Dr. Chava Schreiber, brought up the subject of fertility. I told her my story, and, after we both shed tears across the desk in her office, she gave me new hope. I made an appointment to see her at the Fertility Institute in Talpiot. Blood tests, a biopsy, and an ultrasound later, Dr. Schreiber said that I was ready to try IVF.

[CJ Weisberg adds:An interesting twist to Rebbetzin Chana Bracha’s story is that Dr. Schreiber herself suffered many years from infertility, and went through 11 IVF treatments until she had a child. Today she is one of Israel’s leading gynecologists specializing in helping infertile couples.].

Here are some excerpts from my journal throughout the IVF process:

November 1995

Today, after the fertilization of my eggs, a fetus was implanted. I am already starting to feel compassion for this little unknown being. I hope it will be comfortable in my womb. It is only microscopic now, consisting of just 4 cells, but I feel it has something like a soul already. I am feeling optimistic again after so many years of despair. There is a fair chance (at least 30 %) that I will become successfully pregnant.
I enjoy how I am feeling right now, fragile and feminine. I am not allowed to lift anything heavy or mop the floors for Shabbat. Mechael is so protective and considerate. This whole process is bringing about a special kind of closeness between us. I can now see how our childlessness has made our relationship dry and sterile. The possibility of creating new life together revives our love. Mechael gives me such a compassionate look, and takes my hand to help me into the car after my visit at the clinic. These gestures endear him to me. We have a secret between us.

The first few days after the IVF I am elated. I actually feel that I’m carrying life inside for the first time in 14 years. With all the spiritual, emotional, and physical preparation, I’m sure that everything will succeed. G-d will have mercy on me, and I will be able to proclaim His miracles in the world. My life is going to change completely. The gnawing emptiness inside me will be replaced with new life. I will no longer suffer loneliness and low self-esteem. My newfound joy will imbue my teaching and also my self with freshness. Although I know this is all magical thinking, I can’t help fantasizing.

Deep down I’m aware that no miracle, no matter how great, can solve all my problems. These dreams are only another way to escape from facing myself. I know this should not be my reason for trying to have a baby.

My mind keeps jumping ahead to the coming test, which will tell if I am actually pregnant. What if the answer is no? What if all my built-up hopes and efforts are for nothing? What if all my husband’s solicitous help–mopping the floor and carrying my bags–will only bring me feelings of guilt? What if all the tears, prayers and segulot have gone down the drain? “No,” my husband tells me. “Nothing is ever wasted, not one word of prayer will have been in vain. The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that all prayers, efforts and hopes have an effect. Even if we don’t see an immediate result in terms of new life below, new souls are created above, or perhaps someone else will be remembered with a child as a result of our prayers.” His words help me cope with the possibility of disappointment.

I suddenly realize that it is my yetzer hara, my negative side, which makes me so certain that everything will go right–making me feel that I don’t really need to pray. It wraps me in sweet dreams which make me deny my painful situation, distancing me from the pain deep within, which is crying to be released in prayer so intense that it will penetrate the gates of Heaven. I try to make myself imagine the devastation of a negative result and really pray from the pain of that perspective. But I’m unable. I cannot imagine such a thing. The rapture of hope leads me astray.

Thursday December 28, 1995

The ultrasound today was so disappointing! The ovum on my left side appeared to have vanished. On my right side there were three ovums, but they were almost too small to be counted. Dr. Schreiber looked disappointed too. “Don’t despair. Don’t despair,” she told me. I knew that she was also talking to herself.

I am really trying hard to be positive, but my negative thoughts creep back. I recall the doctors’ earlier prediction that I could go through menopause at a very early age because I’m missing most of my ovaries. I now fear not only complete infertility, but also becoming “old.” It is no longer only a question of having another child. I want to feel young and full of life.

Sunday January 21

It is the 11th day of my latest fertilization and I am still waiting to hear if it has taken. Most likely I will know the answer on Tuesday. My mind keeps wandering. Yes or no? Yes or no? I often make sprouts in a jar on my kitchen counter. Not all of the seeds take, but a lot of them do develop lush green tendrils. Three sprouts were placed within me. If I were to place three of my green alfalfa sprouts in the ground would they all take root? Would any of them? I hope I am tending my little sprouts well. I have always been good with plants.

Tuesday January 23

Today is the crucial day when I will find out if I am carrying a viable pregnancy. I expect the answer around 4 o’clock. It is now a quarter to eleven. I have more than 5 hours to wait. Obviously I cannot concentrate on anything. I am half-sick with uncertainty. I have a million classes to prepare, but I feel cold and restless and hungry. I just want to snuggle under the covers with a good book, but I can’t keep my mind on that either.

As the hour crept close to 4:00 my whole being started shaking and I became more and more afraid. The time is now past 4:30 and no call. Is this an indication that the answer is negative and the secretary doesn’t know how to break the news to me? Is she waiting for me to take the initiative? I grab the phone and anxiously dial the number. It’s busy. I keep calling. Finally I get her on the line.

“Sorry, we don’t have an answer for you yet because they didn’t check the Betha…”

“So when will you have the answer?” I was already dreading another day of uncertainty.

“Later tonight, not before 6:30. I will call you.”

I am thankful that my state of limbo is nearing its end.

While we’re eating dinner the phone rings. I hear the excited voice of Dr. Schreiber: “Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov! Your Betha was 100 and…I am so happy for you. We expected this, since you had three very fine fetuses and your hormone level has been great…”

Dr. Schreiber couldn’t stop babbling in her happiness for me. I myself couldn’t believe the good news. Baruch Hashem Baruch Hashem Baruch Hashem! How I had waited, hoped and prayed for this moment. I felt like bursting forth in a proclamation to the whole world: I am pregnant!!!! I AM PREGNANT! After all these years. It is unbelievable. I must publicize this miracle.

My first impulse was to call my sister and to jump over to my neighbor, who had just become pregnant for the first time after the birth of a son five years earlier. We would share each other’s happiness and marvel together over G-d’s wonders. At least I should call my grandmother, who had closely followed the entire procedure and who would be so overjoyed by the good tidings. Then, of course, it would be wonderful to tell my parents. Perhaps they would even plan a trip to Israel for the occasion, and, both being medical doctors, they would need to schedule their vacations far in advance.

But in the end I knew that I had to control myself. “A blessing comes in a hidden place.” And we have to give time to make sure that everything keeps developing as it should. There is no reason to give anyone false hopes, not even myself. I must try to relax and not get overly excited.
Still, there was no way I could hide the good news from my son.
He had overheard my phone conversation.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“Sure.”
“Guess what?”
I knew that he had guessed it.
“You’re pregnant,” he said in an unexcited, matter-of-fact tone.

Perhaps, as a teenage boy, he was embarrassed to talk about such things. Perhaps he had mixed feelings about the prospect of a new brother or sister. Perhaps he was uneasy about his position as an only child being undermined. But I am sure that he will greatly benefit from having a sibling, in spite of the age gap. And I know that Meir will be a great brother.

It is now getting close to 9:30 and I can’t wait for my husband to call. We are in two completely different worlds. He is still in the world of unawareness, while a Whole New World has opened for me…

Thursday January 25
They are monitoring me very carefully. Today I went for another blood test. I was a little nervous, but I feel G-d’s kindness caressing me. I know that miscarriages do happen, especially in the beginning, yet I feel deep inside that this is it.
It is so strange to change my prayers after all these years. Now I focus on asking G-d to guard the fruit of my womb, to make it grow healthy and normal.

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) January 27
It was on Shabbat afternoon that I discovered a slight stain. My whole world fell down. My hopeful plans brutally torn apart. I hurriedly took my husband aside. “Does it mean I’m losing the pregnancy?” I became filled with regret and immediately confessed: “It’s all my fault. I tried on my dresses on Shabbos to see how long they’d still fit me. Not only did I overconfidently plan for the future, I did it on Shabbos, which is supposed to be a day of rest! I was so eager for people to find out that I was pregnant. Then they would realize how special I am, what a miracle was done for me and how much G-d loves me. And then they would love me too. Now I’m so embarrassed about these thoughts. Do I need a pregnancy to boost my ego? Perhaps G-d has decided that I am not worthy of His gift after all.”

“Chana, calm down,” my husband told me. “It could be something very natural like the fetus attaching itself to the lining at the uterus.”
He began leafing through his big orange book of obstetrics, which I had been reading on Shabbos, hiding it under the couch pillow when guests entered the room. I lay down in bed, paralyzed. My husband got third meal ready but I would not come to the table. I was too frightened to move.

As soon as Shabbos was over, I dialed the doctor.
She was encouraging: “Do you have pains?”
“No.”
“Which hormones are you taking?”
“Progesterone.”
“Don’t worry, it’s probably because of the hormones.”
“You mean it’s normal?”
“Quite normal, it happens all the time. Don’t worry.”
“Do I have to lie down?”
“No, you can go on with your regular tasks, and come in for a blood test in the morning.”

Wednesday January 31
I am now in my fourth week. I count every day. It says in the orange book that nausea begins around the 5th week. I am looking forward to this. As uncomfortable as it will be, morning sickness will be concrete proof that I am really pregnant.

Friday February 2
Yesterday I saw the fetus for the first time, although what I really saw was a minuscule point inside the sack. The sack is about 4 cm, a very clearly defined black hole inside the clouds on the ultrasound.
It was an awesome experience seeing “the baby” for the first time. A point barely noticeable, seeming as if it could easily disappear into the empty space around it. I understood even more how fragile my condition is. One wrong hormone injection could obliterate that which barely exists. “In another week you’ll be able to see the fetus more clearly,” said Dr. Schreiber. “At this stage it has the most rapid growth rate of the whole pregnancy.”

I am so looking forward to next week and the weeks to come. I can’t wait to see the outlines of the tiny head and body. I want to know everything that is going on inside, especially now when the process is still so concealed. The orange book does not fill my needs. It is too doctorish, and difficult to understand.

March 12, 1996
I am going into a new state of pregnancy. When I called Sunday afternoon to get instructions from the fertility clinic, the secretary said:
“Make an appointment with Dr. Schreiber.”
“Fine, but what are the instructions?” I asked impatiently.
“That’s all it says in your file,” replied the secretary matter-of-factly.
“What? I don’t have to come in for my weekly blood-tests and ultrasounds?”
How I had waited for this moment. To feel that the worst danger is over, to feel normal. Yet, I felt like a baby whose bottle has been replaced with a cup. I felt alone and vulnerable without my familiar routine. I also felt uneasy about discontinuing the strong drugs so abruptly.
I am terrified of “going it alone.” This is the same reason the Jewish people didn’t want to leave the slavery of Egypt. People are simply afraid of freedom. Yet, once you take the step it is a great liberating feeling. Nevertheless, I decided to just sneak in for blood tests and ultrasound one last time. It is hard to give up my weekly encounters with the little one within.

March 21, 1996
When we came home it was almost 12 o’clock, so we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to call Mechael’s parents, to tell them the good news. We had already rehearsed in the car. I was going to say: “You know the diet I was on? Well it really worked, but you won’t be able to tell because when I visit you this summer I will have gained back a lot of weight!” Mechael thought that his mother would have to be pretty clever to guess the good news from this hint, but to me it seemed obvious. For women, the only time gaining weight is good news is during pregnancy. Either I was right or Mechael’s mother is very sharp, for she guessed right away. She was breathless and nearly crying over the phone.
“But I thought it was impossible!” she gasped.
“It’s a miracle!” I replied.
“Mazal Tov! I just can’t believe it…how are you feeling? How far along is it?”
My mother-in-law was exhilarated. I answered all her questions and couldn’t hold back an ironic smile when she asked whether I was going to a doctor. “The whole thing started with the doctors. Only now have I stopped to go to doctors all the time.”
After the phone call I remarked to Mechael: “It’s good we didn’t tell her any sooner. She’d have had a hard time coping with a disappointment.”

April 5, 1996
I am now in my fourth month, and my stomach has become noticeable. Last Shabbat one of my students asked me:
“Do you have any other children?”
“I only have the big boy who you saw.”
“But one is on the way, right?”
“How did you know?”
“You can see it!”
I was amazed that someone would actually notice. People are going to start admiring my secret treasure, one by one. It is so much more exciting if they find out by themselves. I start to look for other women in the community who are at the same stage of pregnancy. It is interesting to see who I’m going to have a baby with, who will be this child’s friends. I feel an invisible bond with all other pregnant women. While I used to shy away and ignore their condition, I now show interest and wish them “Besha’ah tova! May it be in the right time!”

May 6, 1996
Next week is my twentieth week — half way through — what an accomplishment! There’s a standard Ultrasound done at that time, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a very exciting reunion. I can’t imagine how much the baby has grown in the nine weeks since I last saw him on the screen.

May 8, 1996
My friend Miriam Wolfson knows now. She’s the second person who said she could see that I am pregnant in my face. She said: “Perhaps it is the extra soul which illuminates the face.”
This baby is already starting to change my life. He makes me feel closer to others, especially other children. I feel more relaxed with them; less shy and tense.

May 22, 1996
For the past week people have been coming up to me to wish me “B’Sha’ah Tova!” Now the news is spreading and it’s a relief to start wearing comfortable dresses and not have to hide my condition. I know that once these women find out, the news will spread like wildfire that I am pregnant after 15 years. It’s a bit unnerving.

July 17, 1996
My nesting instinct started a while ago, but now it’s at its peak. I feel a strong need for a peaceful and harmonious environment without clutter. Our small caravan really started to bother me. Everything is packed as tight as a puzzle; there is not even room for the plants as they grow.
Someone called today. It was a wrong number, “Is Netanel home?” he asked. For some reason I answered, “No. He doesn’t live here yet!” I wonder what the person on the other line thought of me. The minute I heard it, I knew that was the name I wanted. The name, which means “G-d has granted” in Hebrew, rang so sweetly in my ears. One day someone will call again, asking for Netanel and I will answer, “Just a minute; I’ll call him!”

August 30, 1996
I have been counting the days in anticipation of the new arrival. How different will my life be? My friend Avital, who’s youngest was 6 years old when she had her new baby, said to me: “When you have a baby you won’t care about anything else. That newborn sweetness is all that matters. When I can’t go out because of her it doesn’t bother me in the least. I don’t want to do anything but take care of my baby.” She stroked her daughter and smiled contentedly.
“I can’t see myself taking care of a baby and doing nothing else,” I retorted. “I’m not used to being home and now I’m beginning to worry about being in the house all day with the baby…”

October 6, 1996
On Wednesday, contractions kept coming steadily. I couldn’t wait for Mechael to come home. “I think maybe it’s going to be today,” I said, when I finally saw him. His face lit up in pleasure and anticipation. “My husband is great,” I thought. He never panics and is always calm and full of trust.
“So let’s go,” he said.
Mechael acted as labor coach while driving to the hospital. “Imagine the letter Mem, it is very soothing.” I breathed and panted and said Memmm. I started to get the urge to push and remembered that I was taught to blow in that case. “Yes, blow out the candle” said Mechael. “Blow, blow, blow, blow…” The heavy panting made me hyperventilate, and I had to shake my arms and legs.
It looked like we were already in Jerusalem. We seemed to be flying on a cloud as we passed through all the green lights and reached the hospital.
The gate keeper was slow in lifting the yellow blocking stick, “Open the gate, she’s ready to give birth!” yelled my husband and we were speedily let in. “You have to go up the elevator yourself, while I park the car.” said Mechael. “No. I can’t. Which floor? Come.” I was down to very basic forms of communication.
As we exited the elevator I literately fell into the arms of the midwife, and all I could say was, “Hhuhh? Hhuhh?” The midwife quickly gave orders: “Get a room ready! I have a birth here.” I struggled with my clothes and got into a hospital gown. I thrust an envelope at her containing a carefully written letter and various forms.
The midwife laughed, “I’m not interested in your papers; I’m interested in you!”
The birth was imminent but luckily Mechael was there to help out with all the technicalities such as: “Plug in the monitor! Set up an I.V. line!” There was only time to hear one heartbeat and the baby was born.

November 28, 1996
As I am preparing to light my menorah, it strikes me that the miracle which G-d performed for me is very much like the Chanukah miracle. Just as G-d took a tiny drop of oil and made its light shine beyond its physical capability, so did He create from my one tiny sliver of an ovary, a complete, beautiful, shining baby boy – Netanel Shalom – the gift that G-d granted me…

Natanel being held at his bris by his brother, Meir

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha, a native of Denmark, is the Founder and Director of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin. For more than a decade, Rebbetzin Chana Bracha has taught Bible studies and she is the author of the acclaimed book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion. Rebbetzin Chana Bracha has a married son and three granddaughters, and lives with her husband and 14-year-old son, Netanel Shalom, in Bat Ayin Israel.

Related posts:

What will the Jewish Future Look Like? (2-Minute Video)
Whoopi Goldberg: Wearing a Wig Saved Frum Woman's Life
A Convert Teaches us What it Means to be Jewish (5-Minute Video)

8 comments

  1. Amazing!!!!
    Need a tissue to see to write this! May the Rebetzin have much nachas from children and grandchildren!

  2. I learned with the Rebbetzin for a short time in Bat Ayin and I never knew this story of her struggles. It is so inspiring, thank you for sharing.

  3. Bracha Goetz

    Thank you so much for this very honest and inspiring piece – a real treasure!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your powerful and inspirational story!

  5. tziona achishena

    Holy Rebbetzin!
    What a zcut to share your story, which started long before I met you. It is beautiful, inspiring. I’m a crying and filled with hope and wonder. Praises to the Living G-d!

  6. fellow Scandinavian Jewess

    Baruch Hashem! Mazal tov! I was recently blessed with a second child as well! He is 13 years younger than his sister. Life is wonderful, baruch Hashem!

  7. The article is beautiful. but the photos… aaah, the photos! Look into these people’s eyes.

    Thank you, Chana Jenny.

    and thank you, “fellow Scandinavian Jewess,” for sending me the link.

  8. Thank you Chana Jenny for all you do and give to Jewish people, Moms, Pops, everyone.

    Enjoy your vacation with your family. It is well deserved. Although we miss you, you are still here with us. Jewish Mom is part of my daily routine.

Leave a Reply