My baby is almost a year old, and although one can never know, judging from previous experience this is about the time for me to get pregnant again.
And I’m afraid.
I’m afraid of unfeeling, uncaring health care that will pressure me into having expensive, invasive, time-consuming procedures and check-ups – far away from my home, far more than is necessary, which will drain my limited energy and disrupt my home life and the routine of our whole family.
I’m afraid of going to the hospital again. I’m afraid to have, once more, rude jokes made at my expense; to be tactlessly subject to unnecessary paper-work questioning while I need to be focused on labor; to have unnecessary staff members detracting, by their very presence, from the sacred intimacy of the birth process; to have to resist, while I am vulnerable and can hardly think, all sorts of needless interventions.
I dread the moment when I, weak and confused after just have given birth, will have to fight for my right to keep my baby by my side day and night; to fight to make sure that no one pushes formula or vaccinations during or right after check-ups at the nursery, if I am not present.
I dread having to spend several days in a strange, comfortless environment, away from my family, from any place that makes me feel safe and protected, just when I am most vulnerable and exhausted. I dread the several hours of waiting and paper-pushing that accompanies being checked out of an Israeli hospital after giving birth.
I know those fears will sound petty, compared to what other people have to endure – death and serious illness, infertility, or newborn babies having to remain in the NICU for months. After all, what I have had so far were two relatively normal, uncomplicated pregnancies and two normal, straightforward, natural births, and I’m perfectly aware of the blessing of it.
But I also know that there are many women out there, who are perfectly able to identify with what I’m feeling on the account; who loathe feeling like a cog in a big machine, the moment they cross the hospital doors.
If, as is most likely, I will have another hospital birth, I will keep in mind that it all depends, perhaps more than on the official hospital policy, on the people you fall in with – the midwives, doctors and nurses that happen to be on duty when you arrive. It’s the people who make the difference, who can make your birth experience horrid even when things are going fine, and who can comfort you in the most hopeless circumstances.
I’ll just give one example to illustrate what I mean. When Tehilla was born, it was the evening of Rosh Ha-Shana – two days of holiday, followed by Shabbat. I gave birth in a religious hospital, full of Orthodox Jewish women who of course could not be checked out and drive away until Shabbat was over. Which means that the hospital had 3 days of checking in, with no checking out – and by the end of those 3 days, it was full.
So, during the second day of my stay, a receptionist coolly mentioned to us that they are checking the possibility of opening another floor for postnatal care and transferring us there. Oh, and that floor doesn’t have a nursery and the pediatrician won’t bother to go there, so you won’t be allowed to keep your baby with you. You will go there, and your baby will remain here in the nursery, on another floor.
Well, you can imagine how that affected me, in my after-birth, whacky emotional state. I went back into my room and cried buckets. I didn’t know what to do. Theoretically, I could wait until my husband’s visit, check myself out, and we could walk with baby in arms to my in-laws’, who live nearby. But would I have made this walk, by all measures an easy distance, two days after giving birth? I have no idea. Just to make it clear to those who may not know, it is allowed to use a car on holiday or Shabbat to go to hospital to give birth (which is considered a matter of life and death), but not to go home from the hospital – if you aren’t within walking distance from home, you’ll have to stay where you are until Shabbat is over.
Anyway, when I wheeled my baby’s bassinet to the dining room for dinner and sat down to eat, I simply burst into tears and was comforted by all the other sweet kind women who said there is no way they will put up with being sent to another floor and leave their babies behind. And in the end, none of it took place, none of us was transferred, and I was able to remain with my baby all the while – but just the memory of the possibility of separation is like a black stain on my whole experience of that hospital stay. It’s like they could have done anything they wanted, and I was only spared by mercy. The cool, unfeeling conduct of that receptionist who didn’t even try to sympathize with what we were going through, strikes me as nothing less than cruelty.
I’m not sure what will happen next. I’m not even pregnant yet, and if and when I am, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Perhaps I’ll seek alternative health care options, although in Israel those are very expensive and very marginal. Or perhaps I’ll just put up with it all, all over again.