After making aliyah, I heard from many women what a wonderful experience it was having a baby in Israel after having their others in the U.S. I still had this in mind when I became pregnant with Bill.
However, my experience of pregnancy here was at least as stressful as in the U.S., and in many ways more so. Because of the intense heat last summer, I was dehydrated several times and had to be treated twice. I have a doctor here who is less than warm and fuzzy. The ultrasounds and procedures were all done by strangers in locations spread across Jerusalem (not convenient to Beit Shemesh when I lived there). And when it came time to register at hospitals, I was unimpressed with what I saw.
In the United States, giving birth in a hospital was a standard procedure. Most women would go in, get anesthetized, and eventually give birth on their backs, either in the operating theater or in a labor/delivery/recovery room. They would then be shown to a comfortable room with its own bathroom, food on demand, and the only great inconvenience the bi-hourly vitals checks and vendors wheeling their carts of layette, nursing supplies, and newborn photography up and down the halls.
Here in Israel, hospital midwives oversee all straightforward births, and doctors are only called in if a medical procedure is needed. Rooms are generally shared, and rooming-in with the baby is much rarer here than in the U.S. Most hospitals keep the baby in the nursery for hours a day and all night, and mothers are expected “to rest.” But rest here is even more elusive than in the U.S. Rooms are nearly always shared, food is served on a schedule, and nursing mothers must be vigilant to make sure their babies are not fed bottles in the nursery. Moms concerned about being able to eat between meals are advised which hospitals are near malls or commercial areas, so the newly post-partum woman can check her baby into a nursery, get dressed, grab her purse, and leave the ward to get some nosh.
Call me fussy, but I found these conditions appalling. (And this is completely aside from the horror stories of Arab women screaming in unmedicated childbirth, their families ululating in the hallway during labor, and Jewish women’s families descending in the tens to visit the new mother in her cramped, shared room, sitting on the roommate’s bed, and making a barbeque on the floor.) When I shared my concerns with a doula I was planning to hire, she suggested that given my concerns, and my trouble-free birthing history, perhaps I should consider a home birth.
I only knew of a few home birth situations. One woman had had many successful births at home, but the other two had had to be transported to a hospital due to unforeseen circumstances.
I called the midwife who does them, and was surprised when she suggested I might be a good candidate. She came to my house one evening, looked at my test results, asked me a few questions, answered mine, and we agreed to proceed with plans for me to give birth at home. She loaned me several books (one for me, two for the children who were deciding whether they wanted to be around or make themselves scarce during my labor) and called to check up on me every few days.
When the day finally came, she called in the morning, and we arranged a time for her to arrive. I helped my husband get the children off to school, the midwife came, we took a walk around the neighborhood, returned to my house, I climbed into a warm bath, and an hour later, Bill joined us.
I’m not a particularly crunchy person. I don’t hate modern medicine (though I have a strong dislike of hospitals) but I do recognize that liability and lawsuits are a powerful motivator for interventions and medicalized births. I would not have chosen to give birth at home to a baby who appeared to be breach, multiples, or for a first birth (though there are women who birth at home successfully under these circumstances). My requirements were for a quiet place, no fights with hospital staff about how I wanted to labor, no IV lock automatically put into my arm, no fetal heart monitor belts, no bi-hourly vitals checks or roommates (except Bill and the Cap’n), and the comforts of my own bed, clothes, refrigerator, and family around me.
Thank God, Bill is a healthy baby, and my recovery from the experience has been quicker than ever in the past. I have been delighted to have experienced a much more natural childbirth than I ever did before. And we have the pleasure of knowing that our son can look at his childhood home in Efrat and say, with greater truth than most can, “That is the house where I was born.”