Category Archives: Pregnancy

Guest post by Yael Ben-David (fellow pregnant woman)

Over the course of my adult life, my weight has generally fluctuated between 115 and 125 pounds. I was about 117 at my wedding, 124 before I got pregnant, and have never gone over 135. Today—in the middle of week 32 of my first pregnancy—I weigh 164. That’s right—I have gained 40 pounds and they say you gain the fastest towards the end, so I can only expect to go up and up from here.

In May 2009, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) made changes to the guidelines concerning weight gain during pregnancy. The last recommendations had been released in 1990 and many things have changed since then about the childbearing woman. Taking into consideration the demographics of the current childbearing woman, the IOM made their new guidelines using the World Health Organization’s (WHO) body mass index (BMI) as the starting point. For women like me, who were a normal weight before pregnancy with a BMI of 18.5-24.9 the recommended weight gain guideline is 25-35 pounds.


Now I know these guidelines are general, so what about my specific case? Well my obstetrician said in his opinion I can safely gain 20 kilos, about 45 pounds. Well that’s better, but I’m still headed towards maxing out. My obstetric nurses are not at all pleased with my rate of weight gain and boy do they let me know it. I’ve tried to explain though that I’m not doing anything wrong—this is just how I carry! I eat right, live an active lifestyle, and even joined a weekly prenatal exercise class. I sleep enough, drink enough water, and all my other indicators (e.g., blood pressure, edema (or lack thereof, in this case), glucose tolerance test results, etc.) are completely normal/healthy. So I’ve convinced myself, if not the nurses, that I’m just fine the way I am and there’s nothing I ought to do differently, nothing to worry about, this is just me and it’s fine.

But my confidence is slipping. And I feel guilty about it.

This guy at work calls me “Big Mama” and I kind of love it—I so want to live up to that motherly role, that carrying the weight of raising the next generation concept, that in charge of the foundation of the future role, that go-to makes-it-all-better type, that nourishing headquarters of humanity idea! But most of the time I just feel fat.

I feel unattractive and kind of like a failure because I’m not one of those women who look exactly the same as before pregnancy save having swallowed a basketball. But then I feel ashamed for not being proud of this amazing thing I’m doing—bringing a new life into the world. Shouldn’t that be enough for me? So many women long for that and can’t have it, and here I am wishing I was thinner? Who am I to contradict nature? How dare I not accept wholeheartedly what this journey entails! This is a blessing. But alas, I still feel fat.

It doesn’t help when people say, “Wow, you’ve really gotten big all over!” Or, “That picture you just posted on Facebook really isn’t representative—you look much bigger in person.” Or, “Now I see it… I didn’t see any swelling in your face until this week.” Or, “People probably think you’re farther along than you are because you look so tired. Are you tired?” [No—I was not tired when she asked. I actually had put on make-up with extra care that morning and thought I looked particularly together…] Then there’s, “In my family, we were all big babies—at least 5 kilo—and I have to tell you, it looks like you’re carrying at least that!” Or, “How are you week 32??? You look week 42!” Or, “When are you due—in a week or two?” [No, in two and a half months.] Or, “Are you both due the same time?” [Indicating myself and a woman a full trimester ahead of me.] Or, “You’re only going to get much bigger.” [I can thank my mom for that last one. She claims I’m carrying just like her and so she certainly doesn’t mean this in a bad way. But I do not find it encouraging, nevertheless.]

Maybe that’s part of why I’m so focused on my size—it’s all I ever hear about! No one looks me up and down and says, “Wow! What a miracle! Do you feel so blessed? What an honor! I can’t wait to be/miss being/am so loving being pregnant.” Heck, I don’t even hear, “You’re glowing!” It’s either, “You’re huge,” or “You’re not that big.” And so I feel focused on all the wrong things, and then guilty about that, and the vicious cycle is quickly spiraling out of control. And so I’ve decided to focus on what I’ll do about it.

I will do nothing differently between now and the birth as far as eating and exercising. Between preparing to defend my Master’s thesis in medical neurobiology, making arrangements for maternity leave from my lab, the upcoming holidays, and physically feeling like a wale who swallowed an elephant in Saharan heat, the last thing I need is to take on another source of stress. Besides, I really am doing things pretty okay as is. I will work on my mindset. I will remind myself that this extra weight is supporting a life—and not just any life—my baby!  I will remind myself that my new shape is uniquely feminine and that that is beautiful. I will also get a bit more strict about keeping my legs shaved and nails painted. The last thing I need is to fall into the trap of, “Well I feel ugly and don’t deserve to feel polished anyway at this weight, so I won’t take care of my appearance in any way” which clearly feeds on itself and lands me in a very bad place.

I will also plan for afterwards. I have goals: I will reach 125 pounds by three months post partum and 115 by six months. I will walk at least an hour a day starting no later than one week postpartum and join a weekly postpartum exercise class as soon as medically cleared (when the bleeding stops/up to about six weeks postpartum). I will eat a lot of vegetables, some fruit, and vegan proteins. I will eat no sweets or red meat and only a little chicken and fish. I will eat only low-fat dairy and generally stay away from carbs, making occasional exceptions for whole grains only. And I’ll continue to drink lots of water. When I go back to work, I will always take the stairs—never the elevator, and I will walk 15 minutes to my bus to work instead of taking the bus across the street from my house four stops to reach it. I will lean on friends for encouragement, asking them to walk with me or as soon as I’m able, schlep me to their Zumba/yoga/Pilates classes with them.

This phase in my size will end and it will end happily—with a healthy child, Gd willing, and an empowered mother who knows that her changing shape was meaningful and important and put positive energy in the world. That’s the goal.



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Doulas – Necessities or Luxuries?

I’ve been hosting an internal debate recently with two opposing sides of my mind doing their best to confound me. One side says, “Yes, definitely get a doula for your upcoming birth!” and the other side says, “What are you, a wuss? What do you need a doula for?”

For those unfamiliar with the wonderful world of pregnancy, doulas are people who are trained to help women while they’re giving birth. They’re not medical professionals, more like, professional supporters. They encourage you, massage you if necessary, help relay your needs to the hospital staff, etc.

For my first pregnancy, I had a doula – I was terrified, and didn’t know if my mom would be able to fly in from the States, so there was no question about it. (Even though I have many kind family members living in Israel who offered to be with me during the birth, I knew I’d only feel comfortable with my mom. Or a vague stranger, like a doula. It’s just the way I am.) My doula was great – she calmed me, helped me breathe through the contractions and followed up post-partum to see how I was doing.

Unfortunately, she’s unavailable for my second birth.

(Actually, I had booked her for the birth, but she called me three days ago with a family emergency that necessitated her flying to the States. So I found myself, only days before my due date, doula-less.)

If she was available, I wouldn’t be holding this debate, but starting from scratch has caused me to rethink things and ask the million dollar question – is a doula something I really need?

The part of me that says yes does so because even though it’s my second birth, each time is different, plus my mom definitely won’t be here, plus it’s just better to be safe than sorry at a time of extreme vulnerability.

The other part of me feels like “better safe than sorry” is not a good enough reason to spend over 1000 NIS (yes, doulas cost between 1000-2000 NIS a pop, no pun intended). This other part of me feels like my confidence has been under-minded by a society that tells me that I’m not capable of giving birth without a thousand people cheering me on (my husband will be by my side plus nurses plus midwives). It feels that I’ve been sold the MasterCard Mentality – the idea that the only way I can attain my goal is to spend money.

I call this the MasterCard Mentality because of those commercials, you know, the ones in which an all-knowing narrator lists prices for different items, then ends with some sappy cliché like, “Peace of mind? Priceless.” (And then hits you with, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”)

(I chose this commercial only because there’s a baby in it)

Yes, Peace of Mind is certainly priceless.

But will a doula guarantee that?

Who knows??? There are a thousand and one factors that affect a birth, all contributing or detracting from a woman’s Peace of Mind. And therefore, maybe I don’t need a doula. Maybe my confidence has been stripped because doulas are in-style, so I’ve been made to feel like they must be necessary. Maybe I’m just being a spoiled American who has confused luxury with necessity. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

This is how the debate has been raging, sometimes calmer, sometimes stormier, depending on the time of night I lay awake in bed thinking about it. (I have the same debate about epidurals, but that’s for another post.)

And as the debate raged on (for all of the three days that I’ve found myself in this predicament), I had a sudden thought –

What’s wrong with me?

Giving birth is probably THE most important experience in a woman’s life. EACH birth is important – and I’m debating having extra additional support because I’m afraid of acting spoiled? Because I don’t want to spend money? Because I want to be superwoman?

That can’t be right.

The gemara says that if a blind woman is giving birth on Shabbat, and she asks you to turn on the light on because it will make her feel better, you do it. Gasp. Yes, you violate Shabbat even though, practically, it makes no difference to the laboring woman, because in her head it does make a difference. And we do everything we can to ease a laboring woman’s situation. (Disclaimer: Talk to your rabbi before actually doing this.)

So I need to get over this lump sum of money that a doula will cost, this idea that I’m pampering myself and being sold something because, hey – maybe I am being sold something – something very expensive – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Giving birth is hard! So if I can get extra support, I should. And hey – I have the gemara to back me up.

Postscript: Between the time I began writing this article and the time I posted it, I hired a doula, an absolutely lovely woman who I will feel privileged to have at my birth.

But even though I’ve made my decision, I am still suspicious of myself that I am using the gemara as validation for being spoiled. Even though my doula’s price is at the lower end of the spectrum. Even though my husband has told me multiple times that Peace of Mind is worth it, and I shouldn’t worry about it. But I do worry, since that’s just what I do, but I ease my conscience by telling myself that for the third birth, I’ll be an expert, and surely I won’t want/need a doula then.


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The End is Near

I’m two weeks away from my official due date and it’s finally starting to hit me (like a ton of bricks) that I will have not one but two babies to care for.

And so even though for the past two months I have been wishing and waiting for this pregnancy to be over so I can regain some of my old physical agility (and by agility I mean the ability to bend over without saying oy), suddenly, I feel the need to slam the brakes of time and hang suspended in this moment forever.

Because right now, things are pretty good. My daughter is awesome. She is SO cute and SO sweet and blahblahblah no one is really interested in hearing someone go on about their baby. Suffice it to say that at 12 months, she laughs, interacts, plays and I can’t possibly express how much I love her.

She also recently started sleeping through the night (poo poo poo) – which makes a huge difference in my normalcy and ability to function. She had done so at various other ages, but teething and viruses got us off-track. Now we’re back on, and even though I still wake up in the middle of the night (because it’s only been three nights, and I’m worried – why hasn’t she woken up? Is she okay?), I think I could just as easily get used to not waking up.

And in general, I feel like I’ve reached an even keel. It took me a while to adjust to motherhood, but finally, I’ve got the hang of it! I can get a babysitter and go out with my husband at night (when my daughter was younger, I was too nervous). I’m writing again, something I hadn’t even dreamed of doing for the first six months post-partum. I have a pretty good handle on keeping the house clean, cooking and baking and am also enjoying my steady, part-time job.

So what am I doing, upsetting the status quo???

Am I insane???

My nights will be sleepless, at least for a few months. My daughter will most likely go through some sort of adjustment period that I can imagine will not be too much fun for anyone involved. I will also go through a period of adjustment, which, depending on how my hormones play out, will also be not-too-much-fun or really-not-fun for everyone.

Not to mention that I want to cry at the thought of my daughter raising her arms for me to pick her up, and me being unable to because I’m nursing or holding another baby – who I’m sure I will love as much as my current daughter, but at this point might as well be an alien.

So in between panicking at the thought of juggling two babies and being so desperate to just reclaim my body, I’m in a bit of a bind.

Luckily (I suppose), the choice is not in my hands. Time marches on, and there’s little I can do to stop it. Ready or not, my world is about to be rocked.

I should really just put aside all my worries and fears, and pray that the new baby will be healthy. That’s really all that matters.

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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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