I am writing to all you Jewish mothers and potential Jewish
mothers. I am writing in the name of all those yet-to-be-born
children whose souls are still waiting to be brought down
As a certified Professional Labor Support person (sometimes
called a `doula'), and a Childbirth Educator-in-training, I
have to admit that we face a HUGE challenge. This is a
"microwave generation": push a button and out it comes. No
muss, no fuss, and very little clean up. Childbirth classes
abound, everywhere and in every language.
The Moms of the previous generation were of two schools of
thought: the Lamaze method in which you did your best to
breathe through contractions while focusing on a point on the
wall, picture, etc. The other was a believer in the Doctor,
who was given the status something short of G-d Himself. If
he "knocked her out" or strapped her down in a way that was
convenient for him, she agreed.
The "twilight sleep" of the 20s and beyond was an old-
fashioned version of the modern day epidural: taking birth
out of the hands of the woman, even if she's managing. She
wants to enter motherhood with a feeling of accomplishment,
and bond with her baby without being hooked up to machines
like a sick person, but is stripped of her rights of simply
allowing herself the freedom to labor and deliver upright,
drink and eat as she feels and even eliminate when she wants.
Never mind the fact that many of the unnecessary
interventions can hinder the progress of labor and put her
and the baby into potential harm.
So what is the main difference between the previous
generations and this one? In some ways, the previous one was
in much better shape physically and spiritually.
Over the decades we have developed from the praiseworthy
"work ethic" generation to a generation in which there is
more value placed on how little you can do with maximum gain.
When the feeling of kneading the dough and watching it rise
gave way to the dough hook, that was bad enough. (Actually,
the old-fashioned clean-up was less, as the one bowl,
measuring spoons, and hands became a counter filled with
appliance parts and utensils to wash.) Then we graduated to
the Magic Mixes and finally the bread machines. Stand back
and let the work be done for you. This distancing, as well as
the lack of effort put forth, did not give one the same
appreciation for the bread.
Oh, it smelled and tasted fine, but the same "sore muscle"
feeling was missing. That intense, hard work, leading to a
sense of accomplishment was not the same. And what happened
to the children who used to enjoy being with Mom in the
kitchen and also see the fruits of their labor as they taste
from their creation? Now all they hear is "Be careful" or
"Don't get too close". The Machine has taken over. That is,
if the mother has time to even bake anymore.
How would an Olympic runner feel if he crossed the finish
line and his heart wasn't pounding, forehead dripping with
perspiration and calves sore from the exertion? Would the
satisfaction of wearing the gold medal be the same? I don't
think so. Nor would the pianist who never practiced or a Ben
Torah at a siyum who never strained to learn. Through
toil we feel a sense of achievement, of kinyan and
acquisition. A person would feel they cheated or demeaned the
prize that many people tried to achieve with perseverence.
Spiritually, the older generations heard from their mothers
that childbirth was painful but with mesirus nefesh
you went through it. Some women knew that the body was meant
to do this work and that birthing and nursing were G-d-given
and natural. The other group was made to believe that the
bottle was best and the Doctor is always right. Doctors have
their place in birthing, however, when you need a light bulb
changed, you needn't call in an electrical engineer. Let's
use the professional when and where they are needed. Midwives
and doulas, the Shifras and Puahs of today, as well as a
supportive environment, are what birthing women need in most
Why is society dictating, once again, how we are to handle
the most common and natural situation known to women? In one
of the most advanced and informed generations, something very
absurd is happening.
So now we come to the main point. Why are women who take
childbirth classes focusing only on the birth? Why are they
mostly interested in how to cope with the pain or avoid it
altogether? Don't we want to be challenged and inspired in
aiding in an easier and healthier birth experience through
Physical preparation, i.e., nutrition and exercise as well as
emotional, spiritual and mental `calisthenics,' are the
foundations underlying the outcome we all want.
With exercise and proper nutrition, the body's muscles,
tissues and ligaments will be oxygenated and flexible. Also,
stamina will be greater and stress hormones lowered while the
body's natural pain-relief hormones (endorphins) increase.
This will lead to fewer requests for pain medication and a
reduced chance of premature labor and underweight/overweight
Emotionally, studies have shown that women who are
continually stressed during a pregnancy, for a variety of
reasons, can have a more difficult pregnancy and birth. It
stands to reason that the opposite is also true. A baby feels
calmness while still in utero. Our Sages said many years ago
what science has finally proven: a baby can hear and see in
utero. So, saying Tehillim and surrounding ourselves with
kedusha affects the fetus. Look at the prenatal
struggle of Yaakov and Eisov that Rivka felt.
Looking at it another way, there is something to be gained
from experiencing the pain, itself. Understanding and
appreciating the purpose of why Hashem gave us this
challenge, to rise to it, knowing that it has a purpose and
acknowledging that it is the healthiest way to bring a baby
into the world. Birth is a normal physiological event and the
outcome, a wonderful culmination of the complete process.
Labor is a time for tshuva, to speak up on behalf of
those women who would love to be where we are, and to
remember that like the golus, it leads to the
Childbirth classes should focus more on the process. A woman
should be given information, and the 8th month is not early
enough to ensure that the fetus is getting enough nourishing
food, increased oxygen through exercise and positive
The prevalent attitude in society that what comes easy is
best must be kept from the Torah world. We need to balance
the scale by teaching sound nutrition and give women a
balanced outlook. An emphasis must be on educated choice as
well as responsibility. For instance, when offered Jacuzzis,
80% of women who had wanted epidurals did not take them.
Maybe we need to ask why hospitals are offering the latter
and not the former.
The new mother will start the journey into motherhood having
tapped into her inner resources discovered through pregnancy
and birth. This will ultimately have a long term positive
influence on the mother-child relationship.
Comments and questions at e-mail: email@example.com.