My Passover Hypnobirth by Esther Handler
Five years ago, Shabbos Hagadol was on Erev Pesach. Five years ago, Shabbos Hagadol was also the date my third baby was due to arrive.
My first two babies’ births had been traditional hospital births attended by board-certified obstetricians. But this was different. After my second baby’s birth, I had discovered HypnoBirthing and had subsequently trained and obtained certification as a HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator. During my third pregnancy, even as I cleaned out closets and scrubbed my sinks, kashered my kitchen and turned it over, I was eagerly looking forward to my own first HypnoBirthing experience.
There was another “first” in this impending birth for me as well. It was Erev Pesach: the freshness of spring was in the air; calm, gentle birth was in my mind; and after weeks of scouring and scrubbing, chometz-free spotlessness was in my home.
Although my “due date” was on Shabbos Hagadol/Erev Pesach, I knew from my previous births that I would go at least a couple of days overdue. This meant that in all likelihood, I would be giving birth on Pesach. I could not, would not, picture myself stuck in a non-Jewish chometz’dik hospital during this glorious Yom Tov. Here I had scrubbed my house until it sparkled, covered my tables and countertops with layers of extra-heavy silver-foil (as an additional chumrah after kashering), and now I would resign myself to eating from a hospital-tray where chometz had been served the day before?
And so with hesitation and trepidation (on my husband’s part…) and joyful anticipation (on my part…), we decided to plan a homebirth. Even though homebirths were – and still are – rare in our ultra-orthodox Brooklyn community, by Hashgacha Pratis we were referred to an incredible homebirth midwife. Tioma Allison, our midwife par excellence, answered our questions and assuaged our concerns. I was deliriously joyful as I ground the maror and set the Seder table. I was going to have a Pesach homebirth!
Shabbos Hagadol was uneventful. We had two beautiful Sedarim. Chol Hamoed was wonderful, with pre-labor warm-ups intensifying but the baby taking its time. My cleaning lady came on Erev Shabbos, which was also Erev Shevi’i shel Pesach, and my apartment sparkled with the beauty of Shabbos and Yom Tov once again. I was ready.
We went to my parents’ home for the Friday night/Shevi’i shel Pesach meal; by the time the Seuda was over, I was definitely in labor. We left 2-year-old Dovid at my parents’ for the night, just in case.
I slept most of the night, waking up at regular intervals to breathe through my surges. By 6:00 a.m., my surges were stronger and closer together; I decided it was time to call my midwife. Despite the early hour, Tioma was cheerful and promised to come right over.
I spent the time waiting for my midwife’s arrival breathing up with my surges, the way I had been coaching women to do for more than a year. I stood, leaning against a wall, holding onto my baby’s crib, gripping the silver-foil-covered countertops as I breathed up, working together with my body and my baby.
I relaxed with Tioma’s arrival, and urged my husband to go daven with a minyan. (It was Yom Tov, after all… and besides, I needed his tefillos!) My husband wasn’t sure, but after checking my cervix (which was 6-7 centimeters open) Tioma reassured my husband that he still had time to daven for about an hour.
My husband left for shul, and my labor intensified with every surge. I continued breathing up using the HypnoBirthing “surge breathing” technique, which had worked like magic up until that point. But now, as hard as I breathed, I felt a tightness and discomfort that was simply not alleviated. It took several surges for me to realize – in my semi-amnesiac, advanced-labor state – that it was time for me to start what HypnoBirthers call “breathing down.”
After Tioma had prepared her supplies, she had retreated to a corner: alert but respectful, she gave me the space, privacy, and complete freedom I needed. I felt the urge to use the bathroom, and motioned to her that I would be moving to the bathroom but would leave the door open in case I needed her.
I sat on my “porcelain birthing stool” and focused on breathing down, calming and quieting the waves that were moving my baby downward. It was the seventh day of Pesach, the day Hashem split the sea to allow His Chosen People to move across safely. How befitting, I thought, as I felt my body literally splitting apart, opening up to allow my beautiful baby to safely emerge.
I knocked on the half-open bathroom door for Tioma to come. She squatted in front of the toilet and reached out to receive my baby, who arrived, b’Chasdei Hashem, en caul (his bag of water intact), eight pounds, fourteen ounces, leaving nary a scratch on his mother.
I held my baby close as Tioma wrapped him in a blanket. I was exhausted, euphoric, elated all at once. “Thank You Hashem! Thank You Hashem! Thank You Hashem for this magnificent Yom Tov gift. Please let my precious little son grow up to be a Talmid Chochom, a God-fearing Jew who will bring you Nachas and Kavod.”
My husband arrived home from shul just as Tioma helped me move onto my bed. After all of my efforts to persuade and convince him of the benefits of a homebirth, he had actually missed the birth!
After I had changed, nursed my baby, slept, and she had checked both the baby and me, Tioma left our house, promising to be back the next day. My husband and I shared the most beautiful Yom Tov seuda at our own Pesach’dik table, with our baby safely ensconced in his bassinet right next his parents. Oh, the freedom of Pesach! Oh, the freedom of giving birth calmly and gently, safely and comfortably, b’ezras Hashem.
Mendy will be five years old this Seventh Day of Pesach. Leah, our second homebirth baby, was three years old in Elul. And Yossi, our third homebirth beauty, is eighteen months old.
Esther Handler is holds childbirth education certification both with the HypnoBirthing Institute and Lamaze International. She teaches HypnoBirthing classes in Brooklyn, New York and considers it a special z’chus to help Jewish mothers achieve the best of both worlds: a calm, gentle birth in an atmosphere that befits the arrival of a precious Jewish Neshama. She may be reached at email@example.com.