Three weeks ago, my husband’s uncle died. He was no standard uncle. Uncle Larry was a motorcycle-driving, meatball-making, Woodstock-attending math genius who taught me about Bob Dylan and how not to get too caught up in corporate BS. My husband immediately boarded a plane to attend the funeral in New York. Even though I was due to give birth to our fourth child in another six weeks.
We have time, I said.
You won’t miss it, I said.
Twelve hours later, I went into early, unexpected and dangerous labor. Due to a history of emergency cesareans, I was in danger of a uterine abruption and underwent emergency surgery, giving birth to our son six weeks early. My sister and I phoned my husband from the emergency room. He had been on the ground for five hours.
After four emergency cesareans, I was no stranger to recovery but the world of premature babies was new to me.
He was in a box.
I couldn’t hold him.
I couldn’t nurse him.
There were wires everywhere.
He was absolutely tiny and couldn’t eat by himself.
I was in shock, and my husband was on a plane.
And thus began the cycle of pumping breast milk to put into his feeding tube, learning how to change a diaper through two hand-sized holes in his incubator, and waiting for my husband’s arrival.
Next to my tiny baby was another in similar circumstances. Both boys. Both born on the same day via emergency cesarean. Both barely two kilo. I ran into the other mother many times each day. We were both sitting next to the incubators. Both staring at our miniature infants, wide-eyed. Both pumping milk and willing our babies to grow. Both singing softly to them through tears.
Then, after four days, we were both released from the hospital, but our babies weren’t. Then came the collective panic. Should we go home and rush back and forth to our babies every three hours for feedings? Could we afford the hotel attached to the hospital? Should we go to our parents’ houses, which, in both our cases, were closer to hospital than our own homes?
Here’s the difference: the other mother, and her baby… they were Arabs. She lived in Ramallah, just down the road from my sister, who lives in Migron. We both knew that eventually, our two sons, fighting today for their mere existence, could fight each other some day.
We were both educated people. We were both facing one of the scariest things in our lives. And for a week… we counted on each other for news of each other’s baby’s accomplishments (“He had his oxygen tube removed! They let me hold him today!”).
I’ve never been exposed to an Arab woman in this manner before. Neither of us cared about the differences between us at the time. We had more in common than we had separating us. We each carefully coaxed our preemie babies to thrive.
I was allowed to take my son home a week ago. The day we left, she said she had only a day or two to go before they’d be allowed to go home. As I write this, my son is sleeping on me. He hears my heartbeat. I can hear his tiny breaths and feel his warmth. I’m sure the other mother is doing the same. We both have an incredible capacity to love and to prioritize our children.
MK Smotrich, this experience left me with a new and elevated understanding of our sameness. If you segregate maternity wards, you are stealing opportunities for exactly this type of camaraderie and support. Please, instead, empower us all to thrive… together.