Giving Birth In Israel

As you all know by now, on August 9th, Adam and I welcomed our baby girl, Adina Sarah, into this world. She must have been anxious to meet us since she arrived 3 weeks early. It definitely caught us off guard, something she is bound to do often throughout her life. Why not start right away?

Discussing the birthing experience here in Israel would be another opportunity to compare and contrast America and Israel, but unfortunately I don’t have any experience giving birth in the US, so I can’t really offer a comparison. What I do hope to do in this post is give you some sense of what it is like to give birth in Jerusalem in addition to highlighting all the amazing people that helped bring Adina into this world.

One of the main differences we know of between giving birth in Israel and giving birth in America is the people involved in the delivery. From what I know about the US, typically your doctor or the doctor on-call from their group is called into the hospital when you go into labor. In Israel, unless you are willing to pay for a private doctor to be present at the birth, deliveries are performed by midwives. Each hospital has a staff of midwives that are medically trained to deliver babies. Assuming a “normal” birth, when you arrive at the hospital, you are assigned a midwife who will help you through the process of childbirth. If the midwives feel that more intense medical attention is needed to ensure the safety of the baby and/or the mother, a doctor from the hospital will be called in to deal with the situation. Because you are not tied to a specific doctor or midwife here, you are not tied to a specific hospital. In Jerusalem, there are a number of hospitals, and it is up to each individual couple to select the hospital that best suits their needs. To assist with the choice, each hospital offers a tour so that you can see the delivery rooms and ask questions about hospital protocol. Most people take the tours in their seventh or eighth month so that they have time to preregister with the hospital of their choice. By filing out the paper work in advance, it is supposed to make things easier when you arrive in labor.

Picking a hospital was very stressful for me. What if I made the wrong decision? Early on in our discussions of which hospital, Adam and I narrowed it down to Hadassah Ein Kerem and Sha’arei Tzedek which are both phenomenal hospitals with excellent reputations for successful deliveries. Our doula, Ilana, suggested that we do some online research to see what other people thought about these two hospitals, and as with all internet research of this sort, we were given mixed messages. Some people loved Ein Kerem and other people hated it. The same for Sha’arei Tzedek. So this research wasn’t exactly helpful. I did find a site that described the amenities at each of the hospitals, and it turns out that this list helped me make my decision. While both hospitals have great facilities, Hadassah Ein Kerem had a few extra options that were appealing. The main one was the rooming-in option which means that instead of the baby spending time in the nursery during your hospital stay, they are in your room with you 24-7. For most people that doesn’t sound appealing because that means you don’t get a lot of rest time after the baby is born. Adam and I liked the idea of it, however. It seemed better for us to just jump right into being with the baby all the time since that is what life would be like when we got home.

We signed up for the tour of Ein Kerem in English, which only happens the first Tuesday of the month. We missed the July tour so we signed up for the tour on August 6th. The tour confirmed our feelings about the hospital; the midwives seemed dedicated to making the birthing experience what you wanted. We felt comfortable knowing that they were flexible and non-judgmental about things like epidurals or natural births. We felt like we would be able to have the birth experience we wanted.

We tried to preregister the day we took the tour, but our insurance company was being a bit of a pain, so we were unable to accomplish this task. Having private insurance in Israel can sometimes make things a bit more challenging. We were lucky throughout the entire pregnancy, however. The pregnancy and childbirth rider that we purchased covered everything that we needed done to ensure our baby’s health. Occasionally we had additional aggravation that citizens on the national insurance don’t have but in the end, it all worked out. The struggles with the insurance company when we tried to preregister did motivate us to quickly obtain a letter from the claims department stating that the insurance company would pay for the birth. We had to write a letter that our friend translated, and Adam faxed it to them the next day. They were very good about giving the approval quickly and faxed the letter to Adam’s office on Thursday, which was perfect timing since I started having contractions that morning. After we visited the hospital to see what was going on with the contractions, Adam went to the university to pick up that letter. While it didn’t help him avoid the headache with the insurance company and admissions on Thursday when I was trying to get checked out, it did make admissions super easy on Friday when I actually gave birth.

Both Thursday and Friday when we were at the hospital, we had a positive experience. Thursday, the midwife on duty (Batya) in the kabbalah or reception area, was the fiance of a friend of ours who we had met once or twice at synagogue. It was so nice to see a familiar face! She was very reassuring during the fetal monitoring and the various checks that they had to do. I felt well taken care of at that point in the labor process. When we returned to the kabbalah on Friday morning, there was a different set of midwives that we didn’t know, but they were all equally friendly. When we arrived at the hospital, my water had already broken and the contractions were very intense. All the midwives were very supportive while I screamed a bit in the middle of the reception room entrance as I got through another contraction. Then they helped me into a bed and got me hooked up to the fetal monitor. They were very supportive when I asked for an epidural, and were very calming while they checked me to see how far things had progressed. When they first checked me, I was already 4.5 cm dilated and while to me that seemed like nothing, the midwives and our doula were very excited about my progress and tried to convince me that I was doing well. Everyone helped me through a few more contractions before I was checked one more time before they would prep me for the epidural. At this point I was 7 cm dilated. The midwives were so happy for me and were very calm when they told me I couldn’t have an epidural. I didn’t fully understand, so Ilana explained that by the time the doctor could get me the epidural I would already have the baby. So, this was going to be the natural birth I originally wanted before 24 hours of contractions.

After this check, my midwife (Carmella) helped me walk to the delivery room. Here, she dimmed the lights to make things a bit more peaceful and did whatever she could to make me comfortable through the contractions. She was always smiling and telling me that I was doing a good job. She would often talk to Ilana in Hebrew, but would always make sure to speak to me in English. It made me feel better to be talked to instead of talked over, which was a fear of mine from an experience we had with an ultrasound. At all times, I felt treated like a person rather than just a patient.

Carmella was with us in the delivery room up until the point when I was fully dilated. At this point, Etti replaced her and was the one who actually delivered Adina (see Adam’s post for a picture of Etti holding Adina). Etti was very encouraging throughout the entire pushing process. At one point, she reminded us about the spiritual nature of the birthing process, and encouraged Adam and I to say any personal prayers at this moment. Shortly after that, Adina Sarah Gamzon entered this world with a powerful cry. She was immediately put on me to have some skin-to-skin contact. Etti told us that she was going to wait to cut the cord to allow any remaining blood to be transferred to the baby; something we wanted to do. Then she helped Adam cut the cord before she took Adina to be measured. She guided Adam through Adina’s first diapering, although it turns out he is a natural! At some point, Carmella returned to wish us mazel tov and to see the baby. Again, at every point throughout the birth, we felt that the midwives really cared about us, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. It made Adina’s birth exactly what we wanted it to be.

After things wrapped up in the delivery room, we were moved to the maternity ward. We had indicated that we wanted rooming in, and were told that there weren’t any rooms available at that time. They put me in a small private room because that is what they had available, and we made phone calls, etc. while we waited to be moved. At some point we asked when that would happen and they said it wouldn’t because of Adina’s small size. Since she was small (only 5 lbs 6 oz) they needed her to be in the nursery for some of the time. We were a bit disappointed at first, but it turned out to be fine. What we had was partial rooming-in. Adina was with us from 5:30 am until 10:30 pm. While she was with us, the nurses would do checks in our room or ask us to accompany her to the nursery. At night, I got up to feed her in the nursery, so the only difference between this and rooming in were the few hours between nighttime feedings that she was sleeping in the nursery instead of with me. It wasn’t what we originally expected, but it worked out nicely.

The nurses on the maternity ward were very nice. They tried very hard to speak English to me whenever they could, and you could tell that they really wanted the best for Adina’s care. Unless they needed to do a check-up, we were able to be with her on our own. However, if we needed them to take her to the nursery, they would have. They were also very good about answering our questions and showing us how to do things that first time parents like ourselves may not be comfortable with. It felt like they were equally proud of Adina when she gained a little weight and were happy for us when we got to take her home. Being in the hospital for 3 days, we met a lot of different nurses, each with a different temperament. Obviously some were more rough around the edges than others, but no one ever made me feel uncomfortable or upset.

The care and support from the Hadassah midwives and nurses was nothing compared to the care and support that we got from our doula, Ilana. There are no words to describe how amazing she is, and there are not enough words in the world to thank her for her help bringing Adina safely into this world. Ilana was with us every step of the way, starting at 7 am on Thursday when we told her that I was having contractions. While things were not urgent enough for her to come on Thursday, she was in contact with us throughout the day, making sure that I was eating and drinking enough and trying to come up with ways for me to relax. She was amazing when we called her at 3:30 am Friday morning to tell her my water broke. As soon as she got to our apartment, she was able to get me into a comfortable position to deal with the back pain I was experiencing with each contraction. She helped direct Adam so that they could both help me at the same time, and then at one point took over so that he could eat something and rest since he was tired and drained from the process as well. With her help, we were able to stay at the apartment and deal with the toughest part of labor in the comfort of our home rather than at the hospital. At the hospital, she helped me with my breathing when the pain was too intense to take the deep breaths that we had practiced in birthing class by having me blow up pretend balloons. She constantly was reminding me that all of this was for our baby, which for me was the best motivation that I could ask for. She held my hand as I pushed, she held my hand during the post-delivery stitches that I needed, and she stayed with me until they moved me to a room. She called to check in on us and even came to visit us once we were home to provide closure to the birthing experience. Having Ilana with us was the best decision we ever made. We recommend her to all of our friends in Israel who are having a baby!

Finally, the last person that I must rave about is Adam. Ilana and the midwives were fantastic, but in the end they were doing what they were trained to do. They did it exceptionally well, but it is something that is second nature to them. Adam, however, was experiencing this process for the first time and was absolutely amazing. People constantly tell me what a great job I did and how much work I did, but he did just as much if not more. He paced up and down the small hallway of our apartment with me at all hours of the night helping me get through the contractions. He sat with me and let me fall asleep on his shoulder for the three minutes of rest I got between contractions. He called Ilana, took care of the insurance, held my hand, told me that I was amazing at every step of the process, and stayed with our baby for the first few hours of her life so that she wasn’t alone after she was moved to the nursery while I was being placed in the maternity ward. He slept in a chair in my private room on Shabbat so that we could be together as a family. He made food and cleaned the house so that when I came home with the baby things were less chaotic. He is the most wonderful husband a girl could ask for. I knew that before we had Adina, but since the contractions started, he has proven more and more each day that he is the perfect man for me.

The one difficulty with having a baby in Israel is not being with family. Ever since she has been a part of our lives, my homesickness has become very intense. It doesn’t seem rational since it isn’t like our parents could really help with the 1 am feedings or interpreting a cry at 4 am (is it hunger? is it gas? is it a dirty diaper?). Homesickness isn’t a rational thing though. It just is. I imagine when I am slightly less sleep deprived, it will dull back down to that small ache that I can ignore on a daily basis, but until then, I find myself counting down the months until we get to visit the US. I still don’t regret our choice to come to Israel. It has been an amazing experience, and Adina came into our lives here, which makes it even more special to us. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t miss my parents, my father-in-law, my brothers and sisters-in-law, my nieces and nephews, my grandmother, my cousins, aunts and uncles, and of course our friends. Soon enough we will get to see them, and they will get to meet Adina in person instead of through a camera.

While we miss seeing people from home, we have been amazed at the outpouring of love for our family that we have gotten here. Friends, colleagues, and people from our shul have all been great at supporting us through these first few weeks of Adina’s life. Everyone is happy for us and eager to share in our joy. We are so fortunate to have met so many great and wonderful people here.

We are thankful to everyone who helped us bring Adina into this world, to everyone who has helped us take care of her and ourselves now that she is part of our lives, and to Hashem for granting us this blessing.

Until next time…

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2 Responses to Giving Birth In Israel

  1. WOw B”H I am so glad that youhas such a positve birth and thank youfor sharing your experience. It brought tears to my eyes. The happy kind of tears! HOpe to see you guys soon and meet Adina! Rifka Kaplan-Peck

  2. Clare McLellan says:

    What a great birth story! Congratulations…what a wonderful time in your lives!!

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