Thoughts on having a baby in Israel

My daughter’s first Hebrew birthday was this week. When my second son turned one, I had an urge to write down the story of his birth and I am finding myself with that same urge for my daughter. I think the labor process is a beautiful one, one that connects you to God, the world, your child, and yourself. The main difference with this birth is that this child was born in Israel.

Over the years, I have met a number of women who told me that they wanted to move to Israel, their homeland, but couldn’t because they wanted all of their children to be born in America/Canada/United Kingdom/Insert Anglo country here. Or they waited to move to Israel until all of their children were born. They were afraid of giving birth on foreign soil. If you are one of those women, this story is for you.

When I moved from New York City to Israel, I was 11 weeks pregnant. I left behind a private doctor on Park Avenue who is truly excellent (shout-out to Dr. Gila Leiter), a word-class private hospital that happened to be around the corner from our Manhattan apartment (shout-out to Mt. Sinai Hospital), where labor rooms overlook Central Park, and friends and family lived nearby.

I came to a country of socialized medicine, doctors who spoke a language that I did not yet speak, a different schedule of tests and procedures, and an entirely different doctor-patient approach. My first appointment was in an office building in a mall and couldn’t find it. I was 25 minutes late. I hated the parking and I hated the building. I didn’t understand that I was supposed to go to a different location afterwards to get my urine and blood-pressure tested. So I found a doctor who had an office on the first floor of a tall building that was reminiscent of my Park Avenue office and that’s how I chose my doctor. It was certainly not for her bedside manner or her refusal to treat any medical conditions that did not involve the fetus (she didn’t even have a stethoscope!). She once left me a voice-mail (voice-mail!!) before a major holiday (no office hours!!) stating that one of my blood tests was elevated and my baby was at a high risk of a major disease. Turns out she was confused and was wrong. That was a fun holiday. So, why did I say you should read this article? I didn’t know at that time, that I would grow to love the health care system, that I would love how they approach birthing in this country,  that my sister would arrive from America the day my baby was born, and that my new community would support me after the birth in so many positive ways.

Once I got into the groove of the medical system, and learned some more Hebrew, things started to go more smoothly. I enjoyed that the sonographer was always a medical doctor, I enjoyed knowing that when I went to get my blood pressure checked there was a doctor there in case anything was wrong, I enjoyed the way the nurses would tell me how brave I was for moving to Israel and how much they appreciated it. I loved the way they didn’t make a big deal out of being a strep B carrier like they did in NY. But the best part of the whole process was the actual birth.

On the day of the birth, a blogger friend who became a real-life friend when I moved to Israel (because that’s how things work here), came over and brought me organic chickpea stew and lots of well wishes. Later that afternoon, I took my younger son for a haircut, where the male hairdressers insisted that I sit down with a glass of water while they entertained him, cut his hair, and brought me tea and crackers. My water broke an hour later at home while I was playing Lego Ninjago with my eldest son. I called my husband. His phone battery was dead. Great. So what do you do when you are in Israel, in labor, and can’t get through to your husband??!! You call your neighbors who become your family. My upstairs neighbor was in my apartment calming me down almost before I could hang up the phone with her. She got on the phone with her friend, a doula, and we reminded ourselves of the rules of what to do if your water breaks at home. And she sat with me through some contractions until my husband came home. A few hours later when the contractions waved over me with a force that lets you know you better get to a hospital, my in-laws came over to watch our sleeping boys. Although I was most nervous about the half hour drive to the hospital (very different from our two minute walk in NYC), we made it to Ichilov/Tel Aviv Medical Center/Baby Lis (turns out those are all the same place) with plenty of time to spare.

I informed them that although I seemed calm, it was because of my birth training (I use the Bradley method) and I was sure this baby was nearly here. Previous experience also told me that I dilate from 5 to10 centimeters faster than most cars go from 0 to 60 miles per hour. They didn’t really believe me since I was only 2 centimeters but somehow agreed to send me to a labor room, transported by a nurse that also happens to work in their natural birthing room. Things were going great. They transferred me to the care of a midwife (shout-out to Tali from Nachlaot). She was into natural birthing and totally “got me” but also didn’t really believe I was near birth. So she told me to get dressed and that I could wait comfortably without being attached to equipment on the pregnancy medical wing just next door until the morning when I will be ready to have my baby. So my husband and I got to be alone, unattached to medical equipment, while I sloooowly attempted to get dressed. We also called my mother-in-law who was at our house to read a prayer to us over the phone; a friend photocopied a Jewish prayer that can be said during labor but I left it tacked to our fridge. I remember feeling the words as she read “May the child come out into the world in an instant, with ease and with no harm.” Almost immediately after, I told my husband to ring the bell and let her know I was ready to have the baby.“You sure?” he asks me, afraid I would embarrass us. But  seven months of being pregnant in a country where you have to speak up for yourself like it’s nobody’s business gave me the courage to say quite loudly with maybe some expletives, “Yes, I’m sure, ring the bell, this baby’s coming!!”

In walks Tali, calm as can be, takes one look at me in the throes of the second-to-last contraction before my daughter is born, sits close to the edge of the bed, and tells me to say a prayer. “It’s a good time to ask God for something.” I tried to think of some prayer but the pain was too strong. Instead I just thought to myself, how amazing that I live in the land that God intended for me, with a midwife who just told me to say a prayer, and a baby on the brink of entering into the land of Israel. There is something very special about that moment in between worlds. Like when you are watching your baby fall asleep and their blinking eyes slow down and flutter, eventually slowing down so much that their eyes stay closed, and you know that your baby has entered a different land.

I leaned back slightly on the birthing bed, my wonderful husband supporting me at my side. I waited for Tali to touch me or drop the bottom half of the bed to easily catch my baby, who is literally on her way out. She does neither. Instead, she asks (in pretty-good English) “Do you want to come get your baby?” Always up for a new experience (why else do you move to Israel!), I say yes. She gently shows me where to position my hands around my baby’s body as I bring my daughter into the world, delivering her straight into my arms, into our family, and into Israel. My first daughter, Israeli by birth, a gift from the One above.

About the Author
Debra Waldoks is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Lactation Counselor with a Master's Degree in Public Health, and additional training in Functional Nutrition. She has a private practice in Israel. She has been an adjunct nutrition professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Queens College-CUNY. Her area of expertise is Women's and Children's nutrition. She specializes helping women use nutrition and lifestyle factors to regain their health, enhance or preserve their fertility, reduce their symptoms of PCOS, and lose weight. She also works with "picky eaters" and their parents to start enjoying eating healthy food in a positive environment. She currently lives in Modiin, Israel with her husband and three children. Prior to moving to Israel, she lived in New York City, where she implemented public health programs for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.