WOMEN ONLY PLEASE!!
“Mom on Fire” (formerly titled “Okay, Hashem”)
By Rina Bethea
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you; when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” ~Yeshayahu/Isaiah 43:2
To my son, Bentzion Shalom, who came to heal me.
To my friends and family – the parts of this book that raise judgment in you are fiction; the parts that raise compassion are True.
Loshon Hara Disclaimer: While this book is based on a true story, I have changed and dramatized names and details. Please assume the best about characters and assume I completely made up their flaws and misdeeds. For the sake of their privacy (and mine!), please don’t ask me what really happened. I’m checking with a rabbi to see if it’s even kosher to make a fiction story out of this, but I think I can share the first chapter safely…
Okay, Hashem. I will write.
My son Bentzion Shalom was released from the hospital yesterday. My precious two-year-old baby, released to go home, but not to his mother. My home, usually full of boisterous boy energy, sits quiet, haunted, and empty. I sit with it, watching Flat Earth conspiracies on YouTube, feeling the same.
When will my children be home again, Hashem? When will this insanity end?
I remember the day I went into labor with Bentzi, driving from our home in Baltimore, across the border into Pennsylvania on a mission to find fresh-from-the farm, unpasteurized goat milk.
“I may have this baby in Pennsylvania,” I called Adam to say, as I felt my body clenching with contractions. But it was two weeks too soon. My other babies were right on time, give or take a day from their due dates. I looked back at the two of them, strapped into their car seats, happy to listen to music and watch the farms pass by as we travelled up I-83 North. Ezra was four; Efraim was almost two. Innocent.
“Get back here as soon as you can,” their father told me. “Keep me posted.”
He cared back then.
I got the goat milk and got home and got the boys tucked into bed that night and still felt irregular squeezing contractions. I had never had Braxton-Hicks contractions with my other sons, but I was in denial this could be real labor. I am good at denial.
“Call your midwife and see what she says,” Adam told me, and I obeyed. She prescribed rest and water, theorizing dehydration and too much activity.
We lay in bed that night, and Adam fell asleep quickly. I remember feeling strangely amused at how quickly he could leave me alone in the midst of potential childbirth. A woman’s work, I supposed. I have always preferred to be in labor alone, though; so I didn’t wake him and got out of bed to take a warm bath.
I let the bubbly water soothe me, and wondered how and when I would know if this were real labor. A few hours and many contractions later, when I needed to use the bathroom but felt the pain and effort of getting out the tub would be greater than the disgust associated with pooping in the water, I realized this was it. Only a woman in real labor considers pooping in her own bath. I called my midwife and told her to come, but still didn’t wake Adam. It was 3am. I would let him sleep a little while longer; there was nothing he could do for me anyway.
Natural childbirth at home terrifies most women. Hospitals terrify me. Doctors with metal tools and cords and monitors and stress and fear and pills. No thanks. Almost one in three women being cut open for C-sections. Not me. I have always been low risk, and my first two home-births went beautifully, thank G-d. I am a warrior when it comes to birth. The secret? Fearlessness. Fear causes tightness which causes more pain which causes more fear. A vicious cycle. Relaxation; however, causes openness, which lessens the pain, which brings more relaxation.
This pain is bringing a baby. Hashem is with me in this pain. This pain is bringing good. This pain is bringing life not death. This pain is normal and necessary.
These mantras all went out the window with Bentzion’s birth. The midwife arrived and woke Adam, and I refused to move from the bathtub. “I HATE CHILDBIRTH!” I screamed at my trembling husband.
“You really shouldn’t say that,” he lectured me, in typical Adam fashion. “What about your positive affirmations?”
“When YOU’RE pushing a baby out of YOUR vagina, you can tell me what to say!” I screamed from my all-fours pushing position in the bathtub. He backed off.
A few minutes later, peace came with a beautiful, tiny, early baby. “He’s not so tiny,” my midwife said, wiping his smushy gooey face. We later weighed him at nine pounds, four ounces. Thank G-d he was early or I could have had an eleven-pounder.
“I really just want a big shawarma platter,” I told Adam when he asked what I wanted for breakfast.
“You brought my son into this world,” he said, lovingly holding our new nameless baby in his strong arms. “You can have whatever you want.”