3 Earth-Shaking Birth Stories
(Taken from interviews with religious mothers in Jerusalem that appear in Expecting Miracles: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Pregnancy through Judaism)
The Privilege and the Lesson in Giving Birth
Aviva is an English-born 38-year-old mother who was expecting her fifth child at the time of this interview.
I prefer giving birth at home or in a more natural setting at a birthing center. I always try to stay home as long as possible. I took a labor coach for the last two births, and it was amazing. I like the support of another woman being with me, in addition to the midwife. I just found labor the most incredible, incredible experience.
I’m really looking forward to this birth, but I’m scared of the pain. I hate pain- I scream, I’m not like a big tsadika [righteous woman] who just whimpers. I had a labor coach who helped me with the meditation on G-d’s name. [concentrating on the letters that make up G-d’s Hebrew name- Yud, Heh, Vuv, Heh]
There’s just nothing like labor, there’s nothing like the pain, and the anticipation. It’s like the pain of excitement. It’s so real, you can’t pretend to be a good little girl, you’re screaming and crying and you have to be very real. And I like that it forces me to work with my body. We get so caught up in life, and lose touch with our bodies, and in birth the body just takes over. You can’t control your emotions in the contraction. It’s a very spiritual experience, but also a very physical, animal experience.
If you can meditate on Hashem’s name I think it does elevate the birth beyond this world. I think it’s the ultimate female experience. And knowing that you’re enduring incredible pain for the good, I enjoy that lesson. It makes us remember that often to get something good we have to go through pain on the way. That’s why I wouldn’t get an epidural, because I think it’s important to experience the pain.
That’s how women have been able to endure the pain of the galut [the Exile]. The Kabbalah calls the birth of a baby the “geula” [redemption], and as we get closer to the geula the labor pains are more intense, with the Shoah [Holocaust] for example.
Women have always been the ones to endure the worst of the Exile, to carry through and be the strong ones. It might sound stupid, but I attribute this to women’s enduring the pain of labor, that we know that the best in life comes through enduring terrible pain and going through mesirut nefesh [self-sacrifice]. Somehow we’re able to endure pain and hardships which I don’t think men would be able to, since we have this incredible privilege of experiencing the birth of a child.
That’s why I wouldn’t want to have an epidural, because of the relief afterwards. I’m always exhausted, but I’m on such a high. I’m on an absolute high afterwards. I think it’s important to have a woman there with you, a labor coach, not a professional, but someone who can work with you. My husband has come with me in the past and davens [prays], but I think that with this baby, I’d be just as happy if he would stay at home and daven here.
I don’t think birth is for men. I think that birth is a women’s experience. My husband’s a doctor himself, and I remember once he came and saw me with the labor coach and the midwife, and he just stood at a distance and looked on in awe at how this was women’s work. So I told him that for the next one he should stay home and daven and watch the children, since I really feel like this is a women’s thing, and this is our privilege, to bring children into the world. But that’s me, a lot of women get a tremendous amount of chizuk [lit. “Strengthening”/ moral support] from their husbands.
That’s wonderful, but I don’t. And then afterwards I’m on such a high. Just to smell a new baby, and to nurse her. I love it, I love it! The first two years with the baby I feel is like a honeymoon. Even though I’m tired, my problems are more dealing with other members of the family. But with the baby, for the first two years, it’s just amazing.
The following is from an interview with Nili, an Israeli-born 28-year-old mother of three boys. (translated from Hebrew)
The high point of my pregnancies was always the birth, since I was always working during the pregnancies and wasn’t able to focus on being pregnant so much.
Thank G-d, I had easy births. I remember the births as a real pleasure [ta’anug], not that they weren’t painful, but I really experienced them as a good thing. They say that a woman has to bring a sin offering after she gives birth, since with each birth she is breaking the vow she made during the previous birth never to become pregnant again. But I wasn’t like that. After the births I always say to the midwife “See you again next year!”
The first two births, I was under the influence of Demerol. The last birth I was completely aware for the first time, and the birth was so quick, only an hour. I was so happy after that birth, to have experienced it so fully. I cannot say that I enjoyed the pain, but I can tell you something that I learned from another woman- that the screams of a woman in labor are very meaningful.
So the first birth, I yelled the verse from Psalms, “Pitchu li Shaarei Tsedek” [Open up for me the Gates of Righteousness] during each contraction. I don’t know why, maybe because we were at Shaarei Tsedek Hospital, maybe because I thought of birth as a time of gates opening up. That verse just seemed to have the right connotation for what I was feeling.
For the next births, I said to my husband “Why are we just yelling these words? There are so many people who really need us to scream for them.” So then, before each birth, we would prepare a list of everyone we knew who needed help, and each contraction my husband would read me a name, and I would yell it. We told the nurses that if they had names they should give them to us to say. Baruch Hashem (thank G-d), I felt as though it really worked, even though I can’t say that it solved the problems of everyone on the list, but I certainly felt that it justified the pain of the labor.
I thought if it is anyway going to hurt during the labor, and I’m going to yell, then I should at least yell for things which we really need. It’s not that the pain is less, but at least you feel that there is a purpose to the pain, that you can scream out for a friend who isn’t married, or a couple without children. What was interesting is that one of the people I yelled for was the father of a friend who was very sick and suffering, and at the same time we were yelling for him, he passed away at the same hospital a few floors down from where we were. I felt as though maybe we had helped him to die, to end his suffering.
Experiencing the last birth without drugs made me feel happy and proud. With Yonatan, when I felt that sensation like hot water coming out of me when he was coming out, I knew there is no physical sensation in the world that is more wonderful than that, when the amniotic fluid comes out of you with the birth.
The Inner Essence of the Torah and Giving Birth
The following American-born rabbanit is a highly-respected teacher in Jerusalem seminaries for women, and a mother of over a dozen children, and many grandchildren.
When you’re learning Torah, or involved in tefila [prayer] or a mitzvah, you are coming close to the tachlit [goal] of coming close to being with Hashem [G-d]. But in the birth itself, Hashem is right there- you don’t need to search. You’re not even caught up in yourself, which is what keeps us from doing all of the mitzvot the way we should, since we’re still thinking about how we’re doing it and if I’m doing it right or if someone else thinks I’m doing it OK.
But when you’re in a birth, you’re not involved in the physical or spiritual niceties of how you’re doing this mitzvah. You are completely involved in the birth itself. You are fully concentrating on the hope that the birth should go well. Every woman feels that, and you don’t have to be on a high level. This is the most important thing in the world that has to be done right now and you’re going to do it.
After the birth, and at all other times, you’re striving for that same place. But it’s never as powerful as it is in the moment of birth. But when you know that moment, you can carry it with you for your whole life. This is what I’m teaching my friends now. We’re already middle-aged, but once you know that place and Hashem has taken you to that different place, then you can take that moment of birth to other experiences. But you first must know that moment. And then you can approach prayer and the Torah and mitzvot with the same intensity.
I had a great zechut [merit], that I never used any drugs during my births. I think that most of my pregnancies and births were pretty regular even though on the books some were more difficult and some were less. I can go through a description of each one of them. I’m grateful for all the experiences that I went through. In other words, I wouldn’t trade in one moment of even any of the longer, painful births. That’s the difference of before and after!
Now I can feel the sweetness of every moment of those difficult births. I can taste what it will be like in the future when Hashem will show us and explain to us all of the tsarot [troubles] of the Jewish people, of all the exiles. And this is because I can now say that if I were given the choice again, I would still go through every birth naturally and not use anything. Because now, after the fact, I’m grateful for every moment, even every painful moment that there was.
A lot of times, even in the pregnancy or the labor I would connect with the birth of the Jewish people and the birth of Moshiach. The words in Hebrew are all the same, you can’t not connect between them. Chevlai Mashiach [the birthpangs of the Messiah] is Chevlai laida [pain of childbirth]. They’re all the same words. Birthpangs and the time leading up to the Messianic era are amazingly the same.
And this feeling during the transition where you feel like the birth will never end. It’s just this point in the birth when you can’t handle it. You don’t know where to go with the pain. And it seems like it will never end. And that’s the state of Jewish people. We’ve been in a state of transition for a very long time. When transition ends, you have this knowledge that the birth will take place. It should be soon now.
This is a teaching also of the Baal Shem Tov, that everything that happens to a person in his lifetime can teach him about the state of the Shechina [Divine Presence], or the state of the Jewish people. It’s a simple and powerful teaching. Everything that happens to a person, at all levels, is coming from Hashem, and it’s meant to teach him or her about what’s happening with the state of the Divine Presence.
It’s true for simpler situations, but the birth is a very clear description of what’s going on with the Jewish people and the Divine Presence. It’s very powerful.