I’m a procrastinator.
No, really. Like, if I have to do something and I have a deadline, it will always be done at the very last moment. Always.
That is what surprised me most about birth. It happens. It happens when it happens, you can’t decide, control or postpone the time of birth. And this detail left me gobsmacked. I was so used to over thinking and procrastinating that I was shocked, nay, indignant that I did not have a choice to leave it to the last minute. I was overwhelmed that this great unknown would be navigated if I was ready or not.
That I would meet a stranger that I already loved.
That my body could do things without me planning and controlling it.
So, obvs, my first birth happened suddenly and unexpectedly. It was week 36 and I was taken by surprise. But, who are we kidding? I would have been surprised on week 42. Somewhere deep into it I had a shift. In between contractions I called my husband to lean in close to whisper to him that I wanted to go home. He said “but we are having a baby”. I said “Ohhhh!”.
At that point I accepted that I was going to be somebody’s mom. That I was going to have a baby. From my vagina.
I also realized that I knew a lot about what having this baby meant. I did not need to carve out meaning, ritual or ceremony to accept this baby. I knew it was already waiting for me, because birth means something in my culture.
That is when I got focused on the great mystery of giving birth. On the one hand it was my experience alone, and on the other, it was part of a long chain of birthing mothers, stretching back to our foremothers.
I was having a son. I knew he would have a brit milah (ritual Jewish circumcision), pidyon haben (a ceremony at 30 days of life), and later on upsherin (a three year old Jewish boy’s first haircut), and ten years after that a Bar Mitzvah (A coming of age celebration at age 13). I knew he would have a Hebrew name. I knew that I would say the Gomel (a blessing in public thanking God for the kindness done to me.) A blessing also said by people that cross an ocean, a desert, that have been released from prison or have survived a very serious illness.
I knew that a quorum of at least 10 men and lots of their kids would come to my baby’s bedside the night before his brit milah to recite passages of prayer over him.
I knew that lots and lots of casseroles would be prepared and frozen for me.
I knew that I had to provide amulets against the evil eye for my baby.
I never had to think about these things once. Even with all the planning, and daydreaming and obsessing. I knew that this little baby boy, my baby boy, was a link in a chain. A scion. A blessing.
I knew that millions of Jewish women before me had delivered their babies too. In deserts, in tents, in fields, in fancy maternity hospitals, in death camps, in bomb shelters, with midwives, sisters, aunts, medical specialists, fully drugged, drug-free, by cesarean and vaginally. I took my place in that line of mothers.
It did not matter how or where, it mattered that I joined those ranks. I remembered something about our foremothers Sarah, Leah, Rebekah and Rachel. They were always considered our foremothers even before they had kids, and after too. They were Jewish mothers because they mothered.
NOT BECAUSE THEY GIVE BIRTH.
I took my place with the knowledge that in the moments that I released the need to control my situation and my body I was accepted into the matriarchy.
Loving and praying over a baby being born opened my mind to the eternity of peoplehood. I was a player in a continuum, not an individual.
I took that empowering knowledge and used it to P U S H.
I pushed a new soul to join my tribe. Continue my heritage and be a blessing in my community. And you know what happened? I stopped thinking. I accessed an inner well of strength and saw me and my baby blend into the timelessness of peoplehood.
And you know what? I was proud of myself. For once, the self doubt and the fear of judgement subsided. I was focused and strong. I kept thinking of Yoda’s words. (What?! Jedis are basically rabbis.) “Do or do not, there is no try.”
I know, I’m kind of a spiritual gangster…
Now, do I think every Jewish woman has this exact experience? Certainly not.
I am a doula. I have spoken to many women as they prepare to give birth. I know that some women have doubts, and question themselves, our Religion, our customs, I get that.
I know birth is not a spiritual experience for everyone. But I have never been with a woman in a birth or at her home during a postpartum shift and not seen, at some point, her look at her baby THAT WAY.
I am a doula and that means that I offer non judgemental support to all women. I respect choices, even when they are not the ones I would make for myself. I work with people having babies in the Jerusalem area in Israel. I have met people that do not circumcise their sons, that do not give Hebrew names, that do not consider Judaism or being Israeli as part of their experience. But I have never sat down with a woman who did not know that these matters would come up in our conversation.
Negotiating feelings about birth will always intersect with feelings about identity.
Being Jewish and Israeli has meaning, context, and history. So does having a baby.
It does not mean the same thing to every person. But I have never been at a birth in which the people in the room did not cry out “mazal tov!” when they see the baby.
Mazal Tov is how we say congratulations. It literally means that you wish someone good luck. When we say it we are giving them a blessing that this moment will not disappear among the details of life. It means that we see that this moment has a positive and lasting effect on everyone and it reminds us to be open to that blessing during our life.
It’s the one time I don’t procrastinate. I always say “mazal tov”.
Authored by: Sharon Zimmerman