Home Birth

*This article was written together by Adam and Sarah Segal-Katz

Since our first conversation we weaved a dream: to give our future children and ourselves natural births, at home.

Just as the total of life together and the sum of the growth of our family reflect who we have become since then and who we are going to be in the future, so they are the stories of our children’s births. Every birth brings out new insights into our lives. The right to verbalize these experiences together is another birth. Just like going together to tests, antenatal courses, shared preparations until the birth, when only one of us gives birth, so now – we walked together, we remembered and we processed, but only one of us put this down in words. It is possible that just as the births we experienced took place in the center of our home, in the living room, so every conversation about them is an invitation into this room and not into other rooms, even though we know that they exist in our home, in our lives.

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There are three partners in a man – and not only in the initial encounter, but also in the acceptance into the world and in his appearance from behind the curtain of secrecy. That is why we are present there, and pray that the Creator of the World will also come. Creation is occurring once again, not in writing but in actuality: “A woman giving birth breathes again from the same cell / where she herself began.”[1] The pains pull on her nerves because not in sadness will she give birth to her children, but from the nerves of the body and the precise tissues. The man sees her and is devoted: he is also undergoing a process of learning and growth.

We are no different from other couples we have met in our lives who emphasize the centrality of the partnership between husband and wife during the pregnancy and birth. Some couples around us, just like ourselves, have chosen to give birth at home. The comfortable environment, the routine warmth, and the convenience repeatedly made us prefer our home, without diminishing hospitals in any way. We knew couples whose decision to give birth at home derived from the intentional choice that only women be present at the birth. We felt that it was more correct to go through this process as a couple. We knew that we had separate physical and emotional strengths, which combined together despite the differences.

We chose to undergo an active birth, as partners in bringing the soul of a new child into our family, in a way that would enable us to make place for the immense shaking of the corridor in this significant process – for the newborn and for use. We entered this process responsibly – we did all the tests, had an organized pregnancy folder, birth bag (in case we had to go to hospital) and doctors who were available at every stage of the birth (and admitted that they understood us). From our point of view, just like many other areas in our lives, we wanted to feel at home throughout the process. We wanted to listen to the pace of my body and not to rush anything unnaturally, for example. In our choice we were aware of the medical discussion on pregnancy and birth and wanted to release the chance for any pathology, expressed mainly in thoughts about worries and not in happiness and faith in what was going on in my body. We believe in the option of a healthy birth at home, as even the law in Israel permits. There are even some studies that support the contribution of a known and comfortable space to make the birthing mother feel secure and have less difficulties during birth (this, of course, in pregnancies that are not defined as high risk). We discovered that choosing to have a home birth gave us extra responsibilities during the pregnancy: meeting with midwives and doulas in order to sense what was right and suitable for us and our dream, and to prepare our home for the birth and not only for the days after.

Similarly to many other pregnant couples at this time, we also read along, participated in antenatal courses, had conversations with more-experienced couples and hoped to share in the experience. In the last decades husbands have been in the delivery rooms next to their wives, supporting from in front of or behind the curtain, being useful, praying or showing support. Some tell of feelings of frustration in the delivery room, while the entire staff focuses on the woman and they themselves feel useless and do not know how to help – not their wives, not themselves and not with the staff. In a home birth, there is no such situation and that is also a gift for the couple who are both active and contributing in different levels to the event. There is no conflict with hospital regulations, the shared space of the couple (considering cases that require immediate moving to a hospital) is not different than at other times – the coping, dialogue, shared experience. I don’t claim that this is always a pastoral picture, but that there is the freedom to be together, even at times of crisis, and say the right calming words, remind each other of the chosen method of birth and benefit from the way they help each other.

The birth involves many halachic questions – the time of the pregnancy encourages learning of other halachot, coping in retrospect with questions that arose during the previous birth and other principled decisions that must be made in real time. This approach does not identify with stigmas of irresponsible decision and does not consider the chance that the woman would seem repulsive to the man, but this is an experience of the secrets of life.

With us, just like other couples, we cried many tears while listening to songs about the home we were building, learning about being together and identifying with the gazelle in Yona Wallach’s song, that one does not know if there is a difference between this gazelle and the one mentioned in the Zohar – but together we created a great gazelle, that awakens identity. It seems that all these myths are one clear ethos with which we enter the birth, alongside a desire that the mythological gazelle’s pains are not passed over to us (and this is always an illusion – it is always with us).

Birth is a family event, a significantly spiritual event that includes a physiological process with many layers of femininity. A birth as a joint experience for husband and wife gave us another opportunity to mend any differences, alongside the possible prices of such expectations and ideologies. Including my husband as a partner on the qualified female team made him an equal in the process, and if needed, in the great drama. The woman giving birth does not go mad if she does not get help, but the comfort she experiences improves the birth and promotes progress towards the goal – the future newborn. We were convinced that the presence of the husband at the birth can help the wife, in comparison to the potential of invasiveness and violence of the medical staff at the hospital.

The language we used when talking about the birth included a physiological understanding of every stage that the fetus goes through from the uterus to his life with independent lungs, so that we would be aware of what was going on. Even so, as far as we know, it is clear that we do not know it all. Insofar as we tried to be precise and identify a fatalistic approach, as if every second in the birth engraves a significant impression on the newborn, so we know that we can let go as well, be more flexible and mainly invest in many years of parenting, as the pregnancy and birth pass so quickly, in comparison to our eternal parenting.

It is clear to us that we come to every birth with knowledge from the previous births and making place for new experiences, just as every pregnancy has its own nature and every newborn has its own needs. Just as we invested time and thought into building new life ceremonies and making moral and other significant decisions in our lives – so it is clear here as well that we are part of the process. It wouldn’t bother us to find out that we are “just like other parents,” but we chose this way for ourselves. We wrote the script together and we grew into it. This way we are present in our lives, this is how we live.

Birth, for us, is not the realization of “purity and danger,” as described by Mary Douglas, but the realization of purity and hope, even though every time we hoped for another child, we were given a whole and living baby. It’s not as if we do not have any fears as a couple, as the wife herself and the husband as well; it’s not that we have no fears, carrying baggage from our life that has weighed us down – but faith is what we thought that is “only” body, but is only the real revelation of God. In the wisdom of the body, in the realization of itself, it does not uphold only midrashim of births as an action of God, but that the body is one with God and an image of God, in which I could give birth to something that God did not make from within Himself. Even without midrashim and Kabbalah about the secret of birth and the living strength of the woman giving birth, who has no boundaries between herself and her beginning, we discovered a strength within the body that sprouts body and soul into the world and washes us with flowing water.

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Our story is not only a private story. It is comprised of a family of a mother and a father and a “natural” birth. Many lessons could possibly be learned from our story for our friends who live in new families, more for the couples who outwardly look exactly like us. This is also the game of gender roles – more than that it is an acceptance of rigid sociology, for us it is a choice and shared bearing of the burden. But, possibly, we don’t know any differently.

We have no illusions about the roles in pregnancy and birth: one gives birth, one nurses and the price and signs on her body are not the same as her “other half.” The partnership is not in the success of synchronizing diaries to both be present for all pregnancy tests, but in the communication, the growth and the shared desire and knowledge that every contraction brings their strengths closer together.

We choose to say that “we gave birth,” thus exemplifying the shared experience. It is clear to us that one of us carried the pregnancies, one gave life (and sometimes even death), nurses, gives up on many freedoms and even moves to a new land that is different to any pre-mother autonomy, by choice, from choice. As such, it is clear to us that one is precise with words and showing support throughout the pregnancy, changes his daily schedule and does not take official (and legal) vacation but juggles between parenting and other obligations.

We will always be different – only one of us cries (always) three days after giving birth, tears that never show up in her partner, only one of us carries “bags” under her eyes for days after birth, while the other is as strong as a lion and the days of contractions with no sleep do not show on his face. Only one of us misses the kicks from inside, the connection to the fetus throughout the nine months of pregnancy, even though she is delighted that he is alive and kicking on the outside. Only one of us misses the sunrise with the minyan of partners, but when “time bound mitzvot” are calling, he always tries to understand what God wants from him – to serve him at home or in public.”

One lights candles and remembers all the fetuses that swam within her, alongside the number of candles that testify to the children that survived the nine months of pregnancy and are alive and healthy, next to her. Two answer the question “married plus how many.” One says the Gomel blessing, because she really was between heaven and earth, but two are full of song and prayer and speak happily of the birth, adding “Blessed is he, who makes us forget the years of stress.”[2] One who cuts the umbilical cord and one is the sole pipe of nutrition for many months.

One wishes to perform the brit (circumcision) (but was lucky and it was held on Shabbat) and one is there to console in the intoxication of milk and oxytocin.

Two prayed the optional  prayers of Kabbalat Shabbat during contractions, and one continued to Arvit (evening prayer) while she walked around. One said the Hamotzi blessing (over the bread) as she announced “Now,” and the baby came into this world without stopping between the blessing and the action.

One blows up the pool, boils water and fills, and one joins in dance, holds the walls and the doorposts, but two stop what they are doing and look at each other for many minutes, hours, as if they are totally alone in that moment. One for whom the team came into the house and she is washed over again and again with severe pain, about which she reports or closes into herself, but one gives strength and faith, laughter and health, because he knows that that is what she needs.

And when the new baby is in her arm, slowly getting used to breathing alone, nursing and resting, then his father cuts the cord and the midwife continues her role. So, with full hands and a foggy look, from happiness and exhaustion, we always say: see you again, we’ve gone on a journey – we’ll be back in a month or two.

The morning after the birth we are in our home – the house is full of life and an endless number of guests, because during the night we did not fight a war, but filled the house with life and happiness. A doctor comes to check the baby and the mother getting used to their new status, but the father is still overcome by excitement. The walls of the home that only yesterday heard the voices, are now getting used to a new world – a new baby is breathing in here, brothers coping with a new being among them. These children came from us, but they will most definitely create their own story of creation, in the births that happen in their lives.

[1] Meron Isaacson, Meshichat Hakatzeh, Tel Aviv, 1994, p. 34.

[2] Rachel – Rachel – Poems, Letters, Notes and Resumes. Tel Aviv, 1985, p. 253.

* First published in De’ot, magazine of the Ne’emanei Torah V’Avoda Movement, Volume 72 – on Pregnancy and Birth, November-December 2015.

*Read the Hebrew version: לידה מתוך הבית

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