When Tragedy Strikes

Last night I lay awake in bed unable to fall asleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about the terrible tragedy that happened in Connecticut. The victims. The parents. The heroes . The monster. The incredible cruelty of it all. And finally, because I couldn’t chase it from my mind, I said to myself, Okay, instead of thinking about this tragedy which has nearly destroyed my faith in humanity, think about something good, something faith-restoring.

So I rummaged through my mind, and I recalled some recent acts of kindness that people have done for me which have made me feel like, “Everything will be okay.” While these acts of kindness certainly don’t erase the tragedy, they are the only things that give me a chance at living a life of hope and light, and not one of darkness.

Here is one example of kindness I experienced recently:

My husband was out of the country on business for a few days. The first night he was away, a friend came over to hang out (and help entertain my fifteen month old). The second night, a different friend. The third night, my mother-in-law came over and helped me bathe and put the girls to sleep. I also had different friends calling me and checking in to see that I was managing. I know that for each person, it was a phone call, or just one night of their lives and not the biggest deal – to me, it was support when I was lonely, calmness amidst a storm of two babies, and, by making my nights easier, they gave me energy to be a better mother in the morning.

It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. It’s just like when you’re having a bad day and someone smiles at you, it can make all the difference in the world. Or conversely, when you’re having a bad day, and someone scowls or snaps at you, that too can make all the difference.

The reality is, a monster made a terrible, terrible difference in so many lives. He destroyed families, innocence, he almost destroyed God Himself. So in the face of this tragedy, in the face of Evil personified, the only way I know to fight back is to be a person who changes lives for the better. Who, like the people who helped me so much, can start a chain reaction of kindness that can be passed from person to person. Who, through doing small acts of kindness, to friends and strangers alike, can bring light and hope into the world.

I hope I am up to the task.


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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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Get Your Hands Off My Belly

I know I’ve written about this before, but I can’t hold back from addressing this issue again. Maybe if I word it differently, it will be like a weight off my chest? Don’t know, but here goes:

For some reason unbeknownst to me, pregnant women seem to become the property of the world.

While no one would dare comment on a non-pregnant woman’s weight gain, or dare to touch her stomach, these inhibitions seem to vanish when it comes to pregnant women.

Some of the comments I’ve heard throughout both my pregnancies:

 “You’re huge!”

“Are you going to make it through the summer?”

“Are your legs swollen?”

While the offenders are not ill-intentioned, they’re still offenders.

Because I don’t want anyone commenting on the size of my stomach, at any point in my life. I don’t want anyone laying their hands on my stomach unless given express permission to (which I don’t know why I would grant, unless the person is my husband or a doctor).

I want people to treat me the way they would treat anyone with a health condition. To only speak about it unless I broach the subject. And since I rarely broach the subject, I’d like people to follow my cue.

Unfortunately, because certain people do not take their cues from me, I’ve simply stopped talking to them; in my mind I know that they mean well, but in my heart I cannot take their constant comments on about my stomach, my health, my state of mind.

Friends are different. Friends are friends.

Close family is different as well. They have their rights.

But, please, non-friends and family members – I know you might be happy for me, I know you might be excited and all a-jitter – but just stop. Stop reaching for my belly, and stop commenting on it. It’s really none of your business.


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My Forgotten Friend and Me

By now you must know, I don’t have much sympathy for people who get married and fall off the face of the planet. Let’s redefine “planet.” I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to parties every Thursday or Saturday night; I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to Shabbat meals with 20 people – these meals are generally made by singles, and if married people aren’t invited, I can’t hold it against them. I’m not even talking about people who get married and move out of Jerusalem – I can’t expect them to travel in all the time!

But I can expect them to pick up the phone. The people who don’t pick up the phone are the ones I have no tolerance for. Those that don’t go out at all, even with small groups of friends or one-on-one, because they feel the need to be home with their spouse every night. People who become completely absorbed in their spouse, so that they make efforts for his or her friends and family, but neglect their own. I understand it might be in the name of shalom bayit, of wanting to please your new partner, hey, maybe it’s even in the name of love. Whatever it is, it’s no excuse. (And might I add, though I’m no psychologist, it seems unhealthy.)

Where has my passion against these people come from? Obviously, my own experience! Interestingly enough (to me, at least), I wasn’t burned by a married friend when I was single; it happened once I was married myself. And perhaps because I took such efforts to keep in touch with my single friends once I got married, the burn stung so much more.

I was going to use this as an opportunity to vent. To go through the whole sordid story of my friend who got married and dropped off the planet and blahblahblah.
But I’ve decided to take a different path.

I’ve decided that instead of focusing on the hurt this friend has caused me, should look inwards. I’ve patted myself on the back that after I got married, I maintained contact with my single friends. That I went out at nights despite being tired, made phone calls and Shabbat meals and put forward my strength when I felt that I had no strength left in order to maintain friendships.

But have I really been all that great? Have I really made the efforts I think I did? What about old roommates who I’ve lost touch with? Sure, we were never great friends to begin with, but we did live together. We knew the intimacies of each other’s lives the way only roommates do. What have I done to maintain a connection?

What about my friends and family in America? The time difference makes it super-difficult for me to call since I’m exhausted at night, and besides, during the day there they are working. So I don’t talk to them as much as I’d like. But maybe I can make more of an effort?

And I, who pride myself on hosting friends for Shabbat meals – can it be that in my two years of marriage, I’ve never left someone out? Never made someone feel bad that I invited him and not her?

I’m only human. Of course I’ve made mistakes. Of course I’ve hurt people unintentionally. So instead of focusing on the hurt I’ve endured from my forgotten friend, maybe I should focus on being more considerate myself. On not thinking that I’ve got a great handle on prioritizing and I know how to maintain relationships and blahblahblah. The truth is, pregnancy and post-partum adjustment were hard for me; maybe I think I was making monumental efforts to be in touch with friends when in reality, they were minimal efforts but only seemed monumental to me because each phone call and each outing after birth was a personal victory.

But like I said, I’m only human. As humans, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and generally vindicate ourselves in our minds. We blame the other person. And even though I do believe my forgotten friend is in the wrong, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take this opportunity as a wake-up call to examine my own actions.

Did I mention I’m an orthodox Jew? 🙂

If not, I mention it now because what I’m writing might sound like mussar, since the idea of examining your actions is pretty popular in orthodox theology. But I think that whether you’re religious or not, it actually makes sense. I can nurse the hurt I feel and let bitterness grow inside of me, or, to be trite, I can take the lemons life has offered me and add some sugar or Splenda, and have lemonade! Of course, easier said than done (especially in this country, where Splenda is scarce).

But I think it’s worth a try.

By the way, I’m not advocating “turn the other cheek” theology either. I believe in the validity of hurt feelings, and that, if you can’t get over these feelings, confrontation is the way to go. Maybe this is exactly because I’m an orthodox Jew, and the Torah says, “Don’t hold a grudge in your heart.” Of course, the Torah also warns against hurting another person with words, so the words in these confrontations need to carefully thought out (and I can’t say I’ve been all that eloquent). But again – why be consumed by bitterness? You’re the only one who will suffer in the end (I say to myself).

Whether confrontation works is a different story. In my tale, it didn’t. That’s what made it all the more heartbreaking. That’s why I’ve been haunted by this question of friendship, what it means, what happens when people grow apart, and so on. That’s also why I’m trying another tack. Trying to use this opportunity to grow as a person. Whether I succeed or not will be a different story.

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Insensitivity II: The Flip Side

I read Bridget Jones’ Diary years ago. It was possibly one of the only books I’ve read which has a movie counterpart that I liked better. But that’s not the point. What I remember from the book are two things: first, every diary entry begins with her current weight, which is brilliant. (Also, not the point.) Second, the way she refers to married people. She calls them “Smug Marrieds.” (Yes, this is the point.)

Why is it so? Why do married people get a bad rap?

Because some married people say incredibly stupid, insensitive things.

When I was single, I actually started keeping a list of stupid things married people said to me. (I figured, if I’m being insulted, might as well have a sense of humor about it.) I don’t know where the list is now, nor do I remember many of the detailed barbs, just a few:

Smug Married to Single Me: “You have no idea how good it feels to be married.”

Smug Married to Single Me after a break-up: “Don’t worry, you’re not that old.”

Smug/Stupid Married to Engaged Me: “I’m so happy you’re getting married, I couldn’t figure out what was taking you so long.”

Generally, I’ve come to accept that people say stupid things. It happens to the best of us. Moreover, stupidity can be more easily excused than insensitivity.

But at what point do you make the distinction?

At what point do you say, I know everyone says stupid things at one time or another – but this is downright insensitive, and you should know better!

I found myself contemplating this since I bumped into two random friends last week – friends of mine, acquaintances of each other. Both women were around my age – one pregnant, the other not.

And as we all paused for the socially acceptable “stop and chat” to hear what’s new with the other, the pregnant woman started to complain that maternity clothes are soooooo expensive in Israel.

Like I said, people say stupid things. If she said it once, fine. It happens.

But she said it a number of times. And not in a sensitive way. She said: “Who can afford to have babies in this country? Why is everything so expensive?” And on and on.

Now listen – maternity clothes in Israel are expensive (and nowhere near as nice as the clothes in America) – she is 100% correct.

But wake up – you’re talking to a single woman who would kill to be married, expecting and paying through the nose for maternity clothes – and you’re complaining!

At what point did people decide they can say whatever they want with complete disregard for other’s feelings? At what point did we become so enamored with the right to express our own feelings that we forgot that other people have the right not to be around stupid, insensitive people?

I was embarrassed for this pregnant woman, who was, albeit unintentionally, spewing complaints in front of the most inappropriate audience. She had no idea how bratty and insensitive she came off. Which is unfortunate – because there is a time and place for  pregnant women to complain and express their feelings. It’s to others in similar situations, or to a really good friend who despite being single will understand, or to your husband. Not to people who you bump into to on the street who you’re sort-of-friendly-with-but-not-really.

So I understand Bridget Jones’ brilliantly coined phrase, “Smug Marrieds.” I just wonder when will these women open their eyes and ears and stop giving the rest of us Nice, Sensitive Marrieds a bad reputation?

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