Pregnant in Jerusalem or The Tale of Thirty Pounds

We found out on Chanukah. I must have taken ten home pregnancy tests since we started trying, only two months before. And believe me, these home pregnancy tests add up – almost thirty shekels a box! Nevertheless, that tenth test finally gave us the answer we wanted: two thin pink lines instead of one.

We lit candles that night in acknowledgement not only of the miracle of Chanukah, but of this strange new miracle happening inside of me. Of course, I didn’t actually believe I was pregnant. The second pink line was quite faint, and I hate to have my hopes dashed. Better to doubt and be pleasantly surprised than to believe and be disappointed. But my husband, the great optimist, was certain. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t make him come with me to a lab to get my blood tested. Only after the private lab results came back positive was I convinced.

Pregnant, how exciting! Newly married with a baby on the way! While my husband always (for all of the two months that we were married) treated me well, suddenly I was a queen. No more sweeping and sponga for me on Fridays before Shabbos – he took on the job with gusto. Of course, at four weeks pregnant, I was quite capable of doing these things myself; but why turn away kindness when so lovingly given?

We basked in our secret and stayed up at night going over the minutia of my experience – how did I feel, was I nauseous, tired, hungry? Nauseous, no.  Tired and hungry, yes. Oh was I tired. Oh was I hungry. I went to bed at eight every night and after ten hours of sleep woke up tired. Then I ate from morning till night. I ate and ate and still could not be sated. Or maybe it was just the exhilaration of eating whatever I wanted that kept me going and going. No more counting calories and carbs; I had an excuse to eat like I’d never eaten before.

At three months we had a scare. A separated membrane, the doctor said. Of course, he said it in Hebrew, and a “separated membrane” is the literal, not the medical translation. I still don’t know the medical term in English. But whatever it was, it got me a week of bed rest and no exercise for a month.

Now, I’ve never been the most fit person, but I did have a regimen of walking and jogging since high school, and yoga since before my wedding. When I got pregnant, I vowed to continue my regimen. Not only that, I added a pre-natal exercise workout that I found on YouTube. Don’t scoff – this video was 30 minutes, and it was intensive. It included exercises such as “rock the baby,” “baby-go-round,” and “listening for baby.” I loved it. Every other day I woke up early in the morning so I could do it before I went to work. On the days I didn’t do it, I walked to work – a brisk, 45 minute cardio workout.

But the separated membrane threw a wrench into my plans. I tried to eat less but had already gotten used to my gluttonous ways. Still, I vowed I would not be one of those women who, when you look at their wedding albums, you do about five double-takes between the album and the woman, not believing that they are one and the same.  I was beautiful at my wedding, and damn it, I wanted to be beautiful after my baby.

So once I got permission from the doctor to exercise, I resumed, but found it was very difficult to kick the habit of stuffing my face. And let me tell you, after years of being on low-carb diets and only eating bread on Shabbat, every day when I bit into a fresh roll from the bakery beneath my work was a little bit of heaven. So I guess you might say that my determination in the face of pregnancy weight was ambiguous; I wanted so much not to gain, but on the other hand, if not now, when?

My confidence in my ability to eat without gaining weight was compounded in the first few months –despite eating bread every day, I didn’t seem to be gaining weight! And I didn’t actually show until my fourth month, though I thought I was showing since my second. I took pictures of myself standing sideways with a hand over my belly to accentuate the little bump that appeared (but could be easily hidden by loose sweaters); during my seventh month I looked back at those pictures and laughed. You call that a belly, I thought.  In my ninth month I looked back at my seventh month pictures and thought, just when I thought I couldn’t get any bigger…

My doctor never weighed me. I was surprised. Rebecca, my pregnant friend in America, told me her doctor weighed her each visit to make sure she was gaining enough but not too much. But that’s the way doctors in Israel are. They give you a few terse sentences of instructions (never actual explanations), and that’s it. You’re on your own for the rest. My doctor, he was one of the best at keeping things to himself. But I wanted warmth, explanations, reassurance and more explanations. After all, a first pregnancy only happens once, and after hours of reading the dos and donts on the internet, the bottom line is always “Consult your physician.”

So I consulted my physician, asking questions that I thought were quite important, wondering why he didn’t offer the information without me having to ask (I was naïve in the beginning, and didn’t realize that Israeli doctors are secret-keeper). For example, can I eat fish? Well, duh, not only can I eat fish, but I should eat fish, twice a week. Good to know, I thought, all the while smiling in my sweet American way. Sometimes I wish I could be like my Israeli husband, who says what’s on his mind. I wish I could have said to this doctor, “Don’t you think this is important information for me to know? What else should I know that you’re not telling me?” Of course, Rebecca told me her doctor emphatically told her DO NOT EAT FISH.

The one thing that Israel has is tests. Oh, do they have tests. Every few weeks I found myself at the main branch of my healthcare service, thankfully only a seven minute walk from our apartment. The way it works here is that your doctor tells you what tests you need, but doesn’t administer said tests. You go to a clinic of sorts and they deal with you there. You then return to your doctor with the results. It can get confusing. But that’s socialized medicine for you, and at least we didn’t have to pay through the nose for these tests. We did pay through the nose for our doctor though. We went private, idiots that we are. While my husband maintained that ours was one of the best doctors in Jerusalem, I maintained that if I wanted a tight-lipped secret-keeper, I didn’t need to pay five hundred shekels a pop for him (roughly a hundred and forty dollars).

Still, we paid and paid and paid, and I ate and ate and ate, and eventually we started seeing a decrease in our bank account and an increase in my everything. I tried to cut back, but by seven months I had trained my body to eat so much that it was just second nature.

Nursing will take care of everything, I told myself over and over again. Ha!

Once the baby is born, I’ll go walking in the park every morning, with baby in stroller. Ha!

Listen, there are some mothers who run marathons six weeks after giving birth. I’m not exaggerating; a friend of mine did it (and through a big effort on my part, I manage not to hate her). But most mothers aren’t able to do that, I discovered. I certainly wasn’t.

After 42 weeks, I gave birth to a 3.5+ kilo baby girl (about 8 pounds). And although everyone had warned me that I wouldn’t get any sleep once the baby was born, I didn’t really understand. You can’t really understand until it happens.

I actually did not sleep. Because I had issues with nursing, a lactation consultant put me on a schedule of nurse, bottle-feed, pump every three hours. That left about an hour or so in between for just the option of sleep; usually I was too stressed to do so. So with nursing not being the savior I thought it would be, with subsisting on virtually no sleep for three months and thus not having energy for my power-walks through Gan Sacher, the weight didn’t come off.

“Nine months to gain the weight, nine months to lose the weight,” my aunt reassured me.

Except that I became pregnant again three months after I gave birth. Oops! My grace period diminished by 66%, my dreams of being one of those women that doesn’t necessitate five double takes between her and her wedding album photos are dashed. If I thought I was big during my first pregnancy, I had no idea what was in store for me with the second! In my seventh month now, I am basically carrying the weight of two pregnancies, since I didn’t have enough time or energy to lose the weight from my first.

But there’s something else I have this time around that I didn’t have before (besides the extra thirty pounds).I have a beautiful baby girl who lights up my life.

Cor-ny, I know! But it’s the truth. While of course I still want to lose weight (and yes, I’m planning a perhaps-delusional exercise/eating routine for post-partum that is sure to make a dent, if not an impact, in my aspirations), now at least I see the fruits of my labor, no pun intended. And while I have my whole life to lose weight, I don’t have my whole life to have more of these beautiful babies.

And hey, the second time around, we’re much smarter. I don’t have to worry that my doctor is a secret-keeper; I know all the secrets already.

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