Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5763 - January 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

The Longer Shorter Path [somewhat abridged]
by Sarah Goldstein, ICEA Educator-in-training

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 from Heaven.

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 births.

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 proper preparation?

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 babies.

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 geula.

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 emotional bonding.

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.

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