It looks so easy, doesn’t it? We’re all familiar with the sanitized silver screen version of how a bitty baby grandly saunters onto the world stage. Usually, the assembled actors include a Lady Madonna with perfectly flushed cheeks strenuously putting her Lamaze training into practice while the delightfully befuddled sperm donor stands sentry behind the rapidly hyperventilating object of his affections, periodically whispering sweet words of encouragement and keeping any stray, blond locks from intruding upon his cherie amour’s lightly perspiring forehead.
And let’s not forget Doctor Heathcliff Huxtable, offering up pleasantly vague aphorisms that serve as friendly guide posts along the birth canal that’s being slowly traversed by an incoming bundle of joy.
Well, dear reader, were it so that life imitated art so neatly. It isn’t and it doesn’t. I had the great good fortune recently to witness a birth first hand – actually, my first viewing of this long-running spectacle. From the day that Israel turned 63 to the day it turned 64, a record 161,000 babies were born in the country. While I can claim credit for having put up the initial seed money, it was my wife that in fact did all the heavy lifting on our small, independent production.
I brought to the set, Jerusalem’s Bikur Cholim Hospital, a perfect ignorance on the subject of childbirth and a tepid attitude regarding the receipt of well-intended but scientifically dubious advice. I can attest to a number of weak attempts at enlightenment by way of perusal of “What to Expect when you’re Expecting”, the influential guide to the summarily knocked up. Yet, boredom at the sheer banality of having my heir apparent compared to a rump roast precipitated a near-total detachment from further educational pursuits.
Then, came the first contraction. And the 26 hours that separate that first shot across the bow to a little lady’s diving, head first, into the arms of our eminently elegant gynecologist will be forever emblazoned across my gray matter, searing it with snapshots of facial contortions, primordial growls and Herculean feats of strength.
Fear not, gentle reader, for the vast majority of those files have been classified – accessible only to blood relations and bloody good friends. No, the following is but a summation, a rather crude but altogether useful recording of a moment in time.
I suspect that a brief, localized strike was in effect at the much maligned Bikur Cholim baby factory since my wife’s delivery room was remarkably bereft of any professional medical personnel for Sahara-like stretches of time. In subsequent moments of extreme haughtiness, I would attribute this to a quiet recognition among the smocked ones that the duly assembled in room #6 were calmly attending to the matters at hand…
More likely, I’d simply seen too many movies over the years where the delivery room is a beehive of activity, featuring stern but benevolent midwives and harried but altogether prim and professional nurses. And let’s not forget the avuncular attending physician, who inevitably layers the raucous vignette with a soothing soundtrack – by way of his (or her!) smooth, dulcet tones. On celluloid, the entire operation has an unforced, rhythmic feel to it, not unlike the faint yet comforting notion of time as kept by a Longines evidenza timepiece. Hmm…
Full reality shatters such illusions into a million, easy pieces. The four-hour battle royale featured the woman who was once my wife channeling the courageous spirit of the Māori Warrior in a nobly savage display of quick kicks, blinding blows and ancestral battle cries.
Room #6 of Bikur Cholim’s maternity ward was positively drenched in a cacophony of hoots and hollers. With fast and furious frequency, the blood-curdling war chants were bellowed out with all the force of a bull’s roar. The fierce facial expressions, grimaces, poking out of the tongue and eye bulging complete a dynamic, violent portrait of impending union between mother and child.
When the whirling and swirling was at its most intense, the Shaolin monk entered to lend a hand or two. Our trusted “gyno” played that birth canal like a Stradivarius, nimbly making ever-so-slight adjustments that facilitated delivery of the long-awaited precious cargo. Forever looking like he had just stepped out of a sauna, his suave demeanor and quiet mastery ushered in the much anticipated screaming hour: 6:07 am, Wednesday, May 9, 2012.
This blessed arrival narrowly missed coinciding with “Give ‘em Hell” Harry S. Truman’s birthday. Still, there is some solace to be mined from the knowledge that our cherubic contessa’s natal jubilee is one and the same with Billy Joel’s – the nice, Jewish, Bronx-born rocker who at some point retired his mean left hook to take up tickling the ivories full time.
And so it goes. With all that could have gone horribly awry easily outweighing the only one thing that could have gone right, there’s a hint of the miraculous to the closing scene of this piece of cinéma vérité: the happy meeting of a healthy mother with her healthy child.
The closing credits include a fast cut montage of a sister nursing a labor-induced bite mark on her ear left ear lobe, a radiant grandma coddling the squirming, squalling, whippersnapper and a close up shot of the newly minted mother’s bleary, laughing eyes and beaming, subdued face.
And…that’s a wrap!