Thursday, July 28, 2005

Jewish Birth

I was invited to a birth 60+ miles away, as an assistant to one of the other midwives. I'd done one other birth with her and it was really nice, so I knew it’d be great.

This couple was different in that the husband was a Rabbi. They had several other children and had had the other home births with a different midwife, but chose this midwife for a variety of reasons – she is an Observant Jew herself (her preferred term – most of us would call her “Orthodox.”)

Prenatally, I was asked to wear something conservative to the birth. I chuckled inside since I can’t recall any birth where I wasn’t discreet – ever. She mentioned it more than twice. Finally I told her I would be fine, wear scrubs and she didn’t mention it again. I’d planned to wear a head-covering, but lost it along the way (more on that in a second).

I was given a head’s up about her labor, but that I wasn’t needed quite yet. I drove up and was going to stay at my sister-in-law’s house close by, but instead found the house I was going to and then drove to an AM/PM to nap.

I love my Explorer. Pillow, blanket, soft music… I can sleep well. I’d sleep better if I could put my feet up, but sometimes we can’t have it all, right?

I put my sunshades up (to keep the convenience store shoppers out of my sight) and went right to sleep (it was after 11:00pm).

I awoke with a start to screaming and pulled the sunshade aside and saw a man and woman fighting (physically). I grabbed my cell phone and called 911 – along with the other 8-9 on-lookers around me. The fighters ran across the street, leaving a friend/relative in the car (it was running, lights on, etc.) and he got out of the car and took off after them.

While waiting, the boyfriend (?) drunkenly stumbled back covered in blood, sat down on the curb close to my car and the deputies finally got there to talk to him. I never saw the girl again. Or the third person that got out of the car.

I talked to a deputy and shared what I knew, what I saw, who I was – and then the midwife called and said, “come now!” so I had to go. As I drove off, I noticed my scarf had fallen off and now I didn’t have time to put it back on and adjust it properly. They’d just have to deal with my bald head.

I settled myself before entering the home (a combination synagogue/living quarters), went to the bathroom, washed my hands, and then went upstairs.

This was a house. A regular house. In a neighborhood. And it was messy. Sure, there are kids living there, but it was messier than a typical messy kid house. I was surprised. The foyer had a ceiling that surpassed the second floor and as I sat on the second floor’s hallway overlooking the foyer, the ledge across the space held socks, toys, and loads of dust bunnies. Interesting.

(It reminds me of the really messy messy house owned by extremely conservative Christians – this house was nothing like that, by the way – but what happened to “cleanliness is next to Godliness?”) If it was Thursday (before Shabbat), I’d be more inclined to think it wasn’t a typical day, but it was after Shabbat, when major cleaning is supposed to be done.

So, I knock softly to let the midwife know I am there and when a contraction is over, she opens the door and introduces me to mom and dad. I then step back out and sit on the floor in the hallway, reading Weight Watcher’s magazine.

Sweet moans waft through the walls in crests and I hear mom getting closer to pushing her baby into the world.

I know a little about Jewish births. I know that privacy and discretion are important and that blood is an issue. I was comfortable with all of that and was ready to do what the midwife needed me to do.

I heard mama pushing and the midwife talking softly to her, saying she could see the head. The midwife called me in and I tiptoed in, hanging close to see what she would need.

Before the birth, she told me she really likes to do as much of everything as possible unless there is an issue… baby, mama… and I knew this as the baby was being born.

I put gloves on and waited just to her side, sort of behind mom, but dad kept looking at me smiling and saying the most loving and encouraging things. Mom made a comment somewhere along the way that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t even had one vaginal exam – that she’d had several with the other births including a cervical lip being pushed up for a long time with at least one of the births. She said this was so different! So great! And she pushed, without ever being told she was “complete” or that she had “permission” to push.

Her lovely daughter slid into the world, no tears, dad thrilled (I’m not sure where the kids were… asleep? Somewhere else?), and soon after the birth, when the cord had stopped pulsing, it was cut and dad took the baby out of the room so we could quickly clean mom and the blood up so the dad and baby could be with each other again.

It was fluid and easy… not a big deal at all. We washed her feet, washed her hands, I put peroxide on the carpet and towels, covered the soaking blood with clean towels, the placenta was born, her pad put on, she was wiped down once more and then a new cover-up put on, sheet pulled up and dad came right back – maybe 4 minutes? 6? Not much more than that. It was coordinated and easy-going.

I took the instruments and cleaned them for the midwife, gathered up dirty things and garbage and such, put things where they should go, cleaned her doppler, etc. and then thanked the parents so much for the honor of attending their birth, asked the midwife if I could do anything else and when she said, “nope,” I headed back home at about 2:00am (might have been a tad sooner than that).

It was a sweet birth. Quick. Uncomplicated. Respectful. Loving. And another different birth than I’d experienced before.

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