Before my son got married, every member of my immediate family had been born between October (several in just this month alone) and December. With the addition of my daughter-in-law and grandson, we spread out a bit more - but not much. So, birthday season is in full swing, with my oven working overtime to produce a steady stream of birthday cakes. Despite the fact that everyone expects to be presented with these cakes on the Shabbos before their birthday, I continue to bake and then hide them until we bring them out. The recipient cooperatively goes along with the show and acts surprised. It’s part of the family tradition. During this period, I think back to the time surrounding each of my children’s births and remember every last detail as if it were yesterday (which incidentally it was).
As all of my children were born early, I didn’t always realize I was in labor until pretty late in the game. Especially with Thing 1. It was the middle of the night right after a three-day Yom Tov, which my husband and I had spent at my parents’ home. Over and over again, I woke up I to go to the bathroom. I thought nothing of it and was half asleep in any case. But then my stomach began to hurt. As I was still not due for several weeks, I assumed the culprit was the herring my mother served over Yom Tov. As the night progressed, I began to wonder how anyone could have sold such bad herring, especially since my parents had actually bought it at the factory! How long could it have possibly sat on the shelf? My husband, usually a deep sleeper, eventually began to stir and asked what was going on. I told him that my parents had unwittingly bought a container of bad herring which was not sitting well in my stomach. But all would be well. This continued on for a few hours and, due to the increasing discomfort I was feeling, I made a decision to call my parents first thing in the morning and strongly suggest that they throw out whatever was left of that spoiled herring. Nobody else should go anywhere near it! A bit later my husband asked me if I realized that the herring was causing me to go to the bathroom exactly every fifteen minutes. Really? No, I did not realize that at all. Hmmm. A quick call to my obstetrician was met with clear instructions to head straight to the hospital. My oldest son was born not long after that. Baruch Hashem.
Having some experience under my ever-expanding belt, the second time around I felt confident I would recognize the signs of labor. I had it down. Easier said than done, however. When I developed a stomach problem late in my pregnancy, I was sure that was it; I was in labor once again. But I soon found out that I just had a virus, which lasted until the end of my pregnancy. Once again, I wasn’t exactly sure when labor began. After all, I wasn’t due for another few weeks, plus I had a virus. Somehow, we managed to get ourselves to the hospital in time even though I wasn’t even positive I was in labor. I kept telling the nurses about my virus, but eventually the doctor told me that my discomfort was coming from my baby, not from the virus. He said he did not want me to deliver my baby into a bedpan and whisked me off to the delivery room where Thing 2 was born moments later. Baruch Hashem.
My next two kids were born in Israel. I was looking after my kids before dinner when my husband called to ask me if he could go to a levayah on his way home from work. Since I was in my ninth month, he tried to stay close to home as much as possible. I told him that despite the fact that I was feeling something “funny,” I thought it would be okay since the funny feeling felt nothing like my previous birth experiences. He said he would start driving and call me when he had to pick his destination. When he called back, I told him I wasn’t really sure what was going on. “What do you mean, you don’t know what’s going on?” he asked. “This is your third baby! When are you going to figure this thing out??” My husband ended up coming home because he didn’t want me to deliver in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, as a friend of mine had just done. He wasn’t taking any chances! Things didn’t change much for several hours, but later that night, I was sure I was in labor. When I got checked after we arrived at the hospital, I was told that I was not in childbirth. Now that was a switch if I had ever heard one. I told the nurse that if I realize I’m in labor, then I’m definitely in labor. No two ways about it. She told me to go for a walk and come back in an hour. Well, after about ten minutes, walking became impossible. She checked me again and was shocked at how quickly my situation had changed. She agreed with my assessment that I was indeed in labor - and progressing at lightning speed. I was to skip the labor room and go straight to the delivery room. Too late for an epidural. That was all I had to hear. When I insisted that they give me something for the pain, they offered me a mask. I didn’t know what that was but I didn’t really care. I was desperate. Unfortunately, they looked around and found that they had no masks. They gave me some sort of anesthetic and moments later Thing 3 was born. Baruch Hashem.
For the entire nine months prior to my last birth I made it abundantly clear to my husband that his mission, should he choose to accept it, was to make sure I get an epidural. And if he wouldn’t accept it, he may as well not come with me to the hospital. We had to make several trips to the hospital during the last week of my pregnancy due to the fact that, although I had symptoms of labor for several days (I was an expert at figuring this out by now), I was told that it was false labor! Can you imagine? What on earth is that about? I was dumbfounded. So, we repeatedly went back and forth to the hospital all week long until the nurse finally told me I was in real labor. My husband immediately asked them to give me an epidural but they said it would take some time. We would have to follow protocol. My husband explained that they must give it to me or he will be in very big trouble. He begged. They acquiesced and Thing 4 entered the world. Baruch Hashem.
My husband celebrated his birthday this week. Since he is currently in isolation, we couldn’t actually celebrate with him. So, we scheduled a family Zoom party and left a cake, balloons, candy, and a present outside his door. It was an unusual type of celebration, but I think this time he was genuinely surprised.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.