Birth Day in Jerusalem
By Joanne Jagoda
I check my email, it is about 3pm in the afternoon and I see a terse message from my son in law, "Her water broke."
"Wow, ok I think. Stay calm. I immediately get on line, start checking flights and make a reservation on El Al scrapping a reservation I had made months ago on another airline which was not for ten days. It is no longer necessary to worry about booking flights to Israel months in advance with so many airlines flying there! The little guy was making an early appearance like his two sisters. I was already planning on getting there two weeks before her due date, but it looks like he was going to be a month early. We were very excited as we knew it was a boy, the first for our family of three daughters and two granddaughters.
I scramble and finish getting packed and doing all kinds of last minute details, making lists for my husband, paying bills, canceling appointments. Even though it is ten days before I was going to leave, I was mostly packed. My children think it is funny how early I get ready for a big trip, which they do at the very last minute, but this time it was definitely a good thing.
We did not get any phone call with baby news during the night and after a restless sleep I call my son in law at 5am.
"No baby. Her labor has stopped and it does not seem as though it was her water after all."
"That's ok. I got a new ticket and I'm on my way. I leave at 7:30am and will be in Israel by tomorrow at 4pm."
"We're so relieved. Our downstairs neighbor had to come up here at 2am when we went to the hospital. It will be a big help when you are here, especially if we have to go in the middle of the night or on Shabbat."
I call the children as soon as the plane touches down, when half the plane grabs their cell phones, hoping the baby decided to make his appearance while I was on the long flight from California only to find out that everything was quiet and no baby. My second granddaughter was born as I was changing planes in Atlanta and had just turned off my cell phone. I did not hear about her arrival until I landed. Everyone in the seats around me that day knew I was anxiously expecting the news as my daughter was in labor when I left. After I made the phone call and heard about the baby, they all cheered for me.
I arrive in Israel picked up by my favorite cab driver whom I had contacted quickly when I knew I was coming. I got to know him on one trip to the airport and always call him to get me. I knew his wife just had a baby and we catch up on his family news. I get to my children's home in Kiryat Moshe, a religious neighborhood northwest of Jerusalem , and my very pregnant daughter greets me with the two other grandchildren, ages four and a half and two, jumping up and down so happy to see me. They call me Savta, "grandmother", and they know when I arrive, the red duffel bag has lots of surprises for them. One of the problems of being a long distance Savta is that you only have a few times a year when you can see the children and "spoil" them. I bring them mostly practical things like socks and underwear and clothes. They love books and art supplies, but I try to sneak in at least one toy for each, despite my daughter's disapproval. Fortunately these days with the amazing technology available such as Skype, we see the children almost every day on the computer and they know me and my husband and their other grandparents and extended family well despite the far distances and infrequent visits.
I arrive erev Shabbat, and we spend the evening having a nice meal and catching up on news from home. I go to bed early trying to fight the jet lag but still will go through a few nights of crazy sleep patterns. By Sunday no baby, the Israeli work week begins, and my son in law heads to his job grateful I am there to be around. I was definitely glad to learn the older children's daily routine. There is a certain technique on how to make "pink yogurt" with the correct amount of jelly and how to prepare their favorite noodles with soy sauce and sesame seeds and who gets to go in the bath first and all the other little but important details of their life. I do lots of projects in the home they never seem to get to like organizing single socks and always keep busy. I encourage my daughter to rest as much as possible.
Every day I pick up the children from their summer Gan or nursery school at 1:30pm , to me the hottest time of the day. I bring them home, fix them a little lunch and we wait for the teenage babysitter from downstairs whom they adore. She comes loaded with creative art projects and is great at keeping them entertained.
Some days my daughter and I venture out for an early lunch or shopping in the neighborhood, but she does not have much stamina at this point and it is too hot to walk around for long. The nerve-wracking waiting game has begun in earnest with intermittent episodes of false labor and several close calls where they are ready to go to the hospital. We begin to wonder if the baby is going to come out at all!
At night after dinner, I head down to the sweet little "in-law" apartment they had fixed up for the two sets of California grandparents and frequent out of town visitors. I keep the cell phone next to my bed hoping for that middle of the night phone call and had clothes laid out if I had to make a quick dash upstairs to their apartment.
Finally after two weeks of waiting, on a Wednesday morning at 7am when I get up to their place my son in law greets me with a big hug and a huge grin.
"I think this is it. She has been having strong labor for a couple of hours."
I am both thrilled and nervous and help the older children with breakfast and get them dressed for Gan. My son in law checks in with their labor coach or "doula", and she advises them to head to the hospital. They had done this twice before so this time they waited at home as long as possible to be sure. He calls a cab as they don't have their own car. For now they did not find a need to have one and rent a car when necessary. Driving amidst the impatient Israelis constantly blasting their horns and finding parking in Jerusalem is not fun.
At around 8am I kiss them both good bye, bless my daughter, and they get in the cab, not especially in a hurry but very excited. My daughter's labor pains at this time seem to be getting stronger though she is very calm, but I am glad they are finally on their way. I drop the two older children at their respective, nursery schools. One of the schools is directly across the street, an attractive recently remodeled facility. The second, for my younger granddaughter is a "home" school down the street in the crowded apartment of a serene, amazing mother with nine children of her own. I get exhausted just thinking about all the laundry and cooking she does every day. When I greet her daily she is cheerful and upbeat, and today is ecstatic to learn my daughter is headed to the hospital. Thankfully the girls were sweet and cooperative and went off without any melt-downs.
When I get back to their apartment, I try to keep occupied with mindless tasks, wiping away the ever prevalent Jerusalem dust which manages to get through the screens and mopping the stone floor, sticky from the children's breakfast, with the rag and mop stick combination. I can never seem to coordinate the two to work properly.
The phone rings and I run to grab it on the first ring. It is 9:15am. I can see it is coming from my son in law's cell phone. "Tell me what's happening? How is she?" I am certain they will be keeping her this time and I am prepared for a nervous day-long wait at home.
"She's fine and so is the baby. He's here!"
"What?" The words don't register at first. "How can it be? You only left an hour ago."
"You can come to see him. Everyone is great! Got to go!" He quickly hangs up.
Stunned, I pause to say silent prayers of thanksgiving. I quickly make a few phone calls to share the exciting news with the immediate family then run around looking for my purse and keys. I don't know why I was so panicked. The baby is here! I rush to Farbshtein Street a major thoroughfare near their home and get a cab quickly. It is around 10:30am and the summer heat is strong. I know to always carry a bottle of water with me and take a few sips after I settle in the cab.
"Hadassah Ein Kerem" I tell the driver. He asks me the usual question some drivers try to pull on oblivious Americans, "Meter?" Yes, I say and answer in Hebrew, "Moneh b'vakashah, meter please, which most often assures a cheaper fare. We head off for the hospital which will be close to a 25 minute drive passing by residential neighborhoods on busy traffic clogged roads. The road narrows to two lanes in some places with breathtaking canyon views off to the right. I am savoring this amazing moment, heading to the hospital to see my first grandson.
I can't contain myself any longer. I blurt out to the cab driver who speaks English, "My daughter just had a baby
a boy, the first boy in our family." And then as it can happen only in Israel , the driver busts out with a huge maZAL tov (emphasis on the ZAL) wishing me congratulations or Good Luck. We are now connected like mishpocha (family)! The cab driver proceeds to tell me that his four children were born in Hadassah Hospital. He is also proud of the fact that he almost had two babies born in his cab on the way to the hospital and has even taken a course on how to help along a delivery.
Oh, great I am thinking. I hope it was not that close of a call for my daughter.
As we get to the hospital vicinity, we go through several checkpoints with gates and security until he drops me off in front of a mall. Having been through this previously with the other children, I was not as confused as I might have been. Why in the world would I need to walk though a mall to get to Hadassah Hospital ? There is an enormous building project underway, a 19-story, 100,000 square-meter complex that will be added to the main Ein Kerem hospital campus, slated to be completed by 2012. The only vehicles which get directly to the doors of the hospital are ambulances or taxis with mothers about to deliver and other medical emergencies. I pay him and he gives me his good wishes again.
I go though another security point and see the signs pointing to the hospital. First I go up the escalator to find a bustling Café Hillel; Nieman pastries, the venerable Jerusalem bakery; Sam Book for sandwiches and pizza and Tal Burgers, all bustling with activity. Then I start the trek through the mall which is almost a surreal experience. Here I am about to see my new grandson, and I am streaming through this microcosm of Israeli life. Hassidic men in black frock coats and white stockinged legs, which they don despite the oppressive heat, are talking on cell phones and rushing through the mall. Arab women, beautifully dressed in flowing gowns, look over merchandise on tables in the center aisles next to Israeli women. Large religious families go by with a passel of children, some dressed in matching shirts as it is easier to keep tabs on them. Doctors, nurses and hospital staff are noticeable with dangling stethoscopes in green scrubs grabbing coffees and holding bourekas and other delicacies one would only find in an Israeli mall. Hospital patients in pajamas are wheeled by family members for brief respites stopping for food.
I pass a flower shop with plants and balloons and another shop with candy. The atmosphere is lively almost like being in the shuk, the bustling outdoor market on Jaffo Sreet. Then at the end of the hall I join with the flow of people crossing an enclosed bridge which leads to several hospital buildings. At last I am in a courtyard facing the hospital. There is another checkpoint in a tent and I go through with Arab parents comforting children who have come for treatment; Hassidic fathers wheeling crying toddlers and young secular Israelis dressed in tee shirts and shorts holding flowers and balloons.
I open my purse for the security and try to find where to go. At the entrance to the hospital I see patients in pajamas smoking, sadly hooked on their nicotine. I ask at the information desk and am directed to the mother's and children's hospital, pass a juice bar and promptly go down the wrong hall. Then I ask again and someone points down another hall to the right I had missed which takes me to the correct hospital. At this point I call my son in law who meets me in front of the glass elevator. I hug him and he takes me in the elevator to the room where she has just given birth.
There sitting up in bed is my heroic daughter. I hug her and I weep for joy. The baby is being held by the doula, an American woman and wife of a Rabbi in her late 50's, who was a great help through the entire process and was at the hospital already with them the two previous times. The baby was delivered by a midwife which is the routine in the hospital though doctors are available for emergencies. There I see the little tiny bundle who made a very quick and impressive entrance to the world when he finally decided to get here. I wash my hands and sit down and the doula hands him to me. He is six and a half pounds, adorable with blonde fuzzy hair, fair skin and looks very much like his oldest sister. He is already trying to suck his thumb which I think is brilliant. I am filled with awe and overwhelming prayers of gratitude. I look at this little man and pray for him that Israel will be at peace and he won't have to be a soldier and that his life will be good and sweet in this crazy world he has entered.
After a few hours of holding him, probably one of the most sublime experiences in any grandparent's life, I need to leave to pick up the big sisters from Gan and tell them the exciting news and show them the first pictures of their baby brother. As I take the reverse hike from the busy hospital through the mall and observe once again the amazingly colorful variety of people here living and eating together, shopping and laughing, very religious Israelis, hip secular Israelis, and Arabs, I have the idealistic thought that why can't people just co-exist like they do in the mall. Then I see a soldier go by with his gun slung casually on his soldier and get a quick reality check about life in Israel. Would that there could be peace for the sake of my grandson and all the children, Arab and Israeli, I saw today as I walked through the maternity wards, nestled at their mother's breasts.
Joanne Jagoda retired last year and has embarked on a long postponed journey into creative writing which she loves!
from the October 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine