My grandmother would tell of how my grandfather, a suburban general practitioner in the 1930s, would rush out in the middle of the night to the home of an expectant mother, just in time to ‘catch a baby’. I myself didn’t grasp the full meaning of the phrase until the day that OUR baby needed catching.
Breathe On, Sister
“Hee – hee – hee – hooooooooooooo… Hee – hee – hee – hooooooooooooo… Hee – hee – hee – hooooooooooooooooo…”
Over and over I repeated these syllables out loud to my wife, just as we had learned to do in our natural childbirth course a few weeks before.
We were driving south toJerusalemon a winding mountain road that led from our home on a high hilltop inSamaria. Eight years before the second intifada, we were too busy worrying about the magnitude and regularity of my wife’s contractions to consider whether or not our neighbors would be shooting at Jewish vehicles that night.
“Hee – hee – hee – hooooooooooooo. Hee – hee – hee – hooooooooooooo….”
As we made our way up, down, and around the ancient, rounded hills of the Benjamin and Ephraim regions of Israel, my driving was just short of reckless as I struggled to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.
At the Hospital
When we arrive at the hospital, they sent my wife to a curtained-off area adjacent to the delivery rooms. They checked her over, hitched up an EKG monitor, and told us to wait. It was now about11:00at night.
I watched the monitor carefully so that I could anticipate each approaching contraction. We practiced our controlled breathing exercises together, in order to make it through the moments of heightened pain.
A few hours passed. Then, suddenly my wife screamed out in panic. She noticed for the first time that she was bleeding onto the hospital bed sheets that lay beneath her waist.
The Action Begins
I ran out of the room and called to one of the on-duty midwives. She was a short, stocky woman, who seemed to be in no particular hurry. She entered the curtained area where my wife was lying, made a quick scan with her eyes to size up the situation, and gave orders that my wife be wheeled into the delivery room, a brightly lit area sporting what looked like a large dentist chair in the middle. The midwife unbuttoned the sleeves of her shirt and slowly, methodologically rolled them up above her elbows.
It was then that I noticed that she was packing some serious, well-developed biceps and triceps. I began to feel a growing unease. ‘What is going on here?’ I thought to myself. ‘What on earth does she need those muscles for?’
I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on the matter, because once my wife was in the delivery room, everything began to move fast.
In accordance with traditional Jewish practice, I dragged a chair over to that monster delivery room dentist chair/bed, and drew shut the dividing curtain that was hanging from the ceiling, effectively preventing me from viewing the increasingly frenetic action in front of me.
Roll ‘Em Out
By now, my wife had moved on to that drawn-out, ‘mother of all contractions’ – the birth process itself. It occurred to me fleetingly that if we harbored any doubts about having children at this point, there was clearly no turning back now.
The entire hospital ward was now aware that my wife was in the advanced stages of the birth process, because every so often she let loose with a healthy, double-lunged, blood-curdling scream.
At this point, the midwife got up from her stool. She looked like a referee in a major league baseball game, the kind that had a thick wad of chewing tobacco stuffed in his mouth. I was surprised to see her exercising her hand muscles – extending, curling, and then extending again the fingers on both hands. Now she resembled a wrestler going through pre-match warm-ups.
I began to sweat. The blood in my own veins had begun to curdle.
“Wait a minute – is this it?” I asked myself aloud. “You mean this is what it is all about? Could it be that THIS IS THE WAY HUMAN LIFE COMES INTO THIS WORLD?”
Now the second midwife joined the fray. I hear the sound of flailing human appendages slamming into the steel bed’s mattress. The makeshift dentist chair squeaked as it rolled back and forth across the hospital floor.
I couldn’t see what these tough little women were doing, but they barked orders to each other, and to my wife. “Come on, push!! HARDER!” growled the head midwife. “Aaaaaa-yyyyyyyyy-Eeeeeeeee-Aaaaa-AAAAA-HHHHHHHHHH!!!!” replied my wife.
Get a Life
A minute passed, and then two more – and then someone yelled: “Push. Push! Come on, Motek, PUUUUSH!!!”
My wife relates that at this point, she found herself floating, looking down upon herself from a point high above the bed, where she could see all that was happening.
She remembers tumbling downward, and crash-landing into her own body – just as her final muscle contractions closed around the baby, pushing it violently, without mercy, out to a new world – OUR world.
…there was one more long, loud scream. And then – an eerie silence.
But wait. I bent my ear to hear. Now I heard a whole new kind of high-pitched squeal.
“It’s a boy”, said the midwife, matter-of-factly.
A son. MY son!
“So THIS is how it is!”
“Lift up your eyes around and see – all of them are gathered, have come to you. Your sons from far away will come, and your daughters will be carried on the waists of nannies.” (Isaiah,Ch.60, Ver. 4)
The midwife left the baby in his mother’s bed to make his first attempts at nursing.
“God spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children ofIsrael, and tell them: a woman who conceives, and gives birth to a male, is spiritually out of balance for seven days…” (Leviticus,Ch.12, Ver. 1-2)
“And the text further hints about the Collective Soul of Israel, whom we see is called ‘Woman’ … the text informs us that if the Collective Soul of Israel conceives, she will certainly give birth at the highest levels…” (Rabbi Chaim ben-Atar (“The Or HaChaim HaKadosh”), Commentary on the Torah)
The midwife walked over again to my wife’s bed, and returned to my side of the room cradling a little critter in her powerful arms. She plunked him down on a cold metal electronic scale, and not knowing quite what to do, I stood there and watched as he wrinkled his tiny face, his active hands and feet grasping at the air around him.
How small he was – and my, how his skin glowed! Apparently he had made his way into this world, through a vale of blood and guts, almost squeaky clean.
Are We Ready for the Catch?
For more than 3,000 years, the prophets and sages of the Jewish People have promised two things: one, there will surely be a future redemption for Am Yisrael, the nation that received the Torah in the howling desert at Mount Sinai; and two, that the process of Redemption is, in its largest sense, analogous to the birth of child.
If this is indeed the case, how far along are we in the process?
We’ve been experiencing contractions – ‘the birth pangs of the messiah’ – for many years now. The modern history of the Jewish people – from the great migrations in Europe, to the yearnings for a national home in Zion, to the searing flames of the European Holocaust, and onward to the formation of the State of Israel and the resultant wars of survival that continue to this day – has been characterized with wrenching and painful contractions.
Those pangs are clearly growing stronger, arriving in ever-shortening intervals.
The moment of truth approaches. The expectant mother is becoming impatient. And if you look carefully, you can see the midwives are just now rolling up their sleeves …