| Family Tempo |

Hugely Tiny Blessings

This is the place I don’t want to be. Looking at some other women waiting in the hallways, I can tell I’m not alone in that sentiment

208 Yafo Street. The building is nondescript, standing alongside so many others on this busy thoroughfare in downtown Yerushalayim. But for me it stands apart, evoking feelings of dread.

Beit Egged. Even the name of the building makes me cringe. It’s ironic that although it’s named for Israel’s bus company, I’ve never seen anyone coming to fill a Rav Kav or to sort out transportation issues. We have another destination: eighth floor, Meuhedet’s gynecology department. This is the place I don’t want to be. Looking at some other women waiting in the hallways, I can tell I’m not alone in that sentiment. They also seem stressed.

The most benign reason you’re sent here is for a detailed ultrasound. Sifrei Tehillim are in almost every pair of hands, as we wait, and wait, and wonder: Is everything okay? Will I make it through, will we make it through, healthy heart, healthy limbs, healthy baby?

I examine the faces of the women around me, abstractedly guessing what brought them here. If only I could also be here for a postdate appointment — ultrasound, monitor, home-free. You can tell who’s here for that. They unceremoniously drop themselves onto any available chair and take out crackers or chocolate. They don’t seem anxious, just annoyed at the wait.

Then there are the women who aren’t even showing yet. Bad news. They don’t meet anyone’s gaze and seem to be so vulnerable, waiting for their number to be called. I wish I had something comforting to say, but don’t have the words… and anyway, most of them brought their husbands along. More bad news.

Then there’s me. Is there anyone else here for the same reason as I am? How can I find out… take a poll, maybe?

“Anyone IUGR here?” I’d ask. “Anyone else’s baby staying the same size, week after week?” I’d find someone who understands, someone to daven for, someone to compare notes with. Do they also have friends asking, “You’re due when? But you’re so small!” I scan the room one more time, but there’s no way to tell.

We’re all sitting together, but we’re all so alone. Too afraid to confide, too nervous to daven, too numb to do anything but wait. And wait. I hate Beit Egged.


A woman enters the room marked “ultrasound,” forehead creased with worry. She emerges a few minutes later, tears streaking her face. I suck in my cheeks, trying to keep my own emotions in check. There but for the grace of G-d go I. Go we.

I finger my number restlessly. Why do things take so long here? I glance at the screen on the wall. Its red numbers stubbornly refuse to budge. More women join the packed room, others wait in the hallway.

Finally, my number appears on the screen. With a mixture of relief and anxiety, anticipation and reluctance, I gather my things and make my way to the dark room where the tech awaits. She tells me to relax — have I been holding my breath all this time? I forget about the waiting room outside, forget the other women, the secretaries, the doctors, even the tech at my side. Now I’m only aware of my own shallow breathing, straining my ears for the whooshing of the little heartbeat I’m desperate to hear.

The tech interrupts my thoughts. “Yesh dofek, baruch Hashem, there’s a heartbeat.” There’s a heartbeat. The rest of her comments rush by me. There’s a heartbeat. Tears spring to my eyes unbidden. I don’t even bother to wipe them away as I emerge from the office into the glaring light of the hallway, clutching my papers.

After showing the results to the doctor on duty, I’m free to leave this place. I rejoin the bustling crowd on this street in downtown Yerushalayim, grateful to be a part of them once more. I look over my shoulder at the slowly receding building, not as menacing now that I’ve escaped it.

My shoulders droop. Who am I trying to fool? I’ll be back on Tuesday.

Today is no different than the others. Same cheerless, plastic chairs in the reception room. Same bored secretaries inspecting their nails and sipping coffee. Same overtired me, stuck in the same line for the same ultrasound.

It’s become so routine that I turned down my husband’s offer to come with me — I appreciate the support, but I don’t need him to also do this all over again.

The tech takes my number and asks me the usual questions while she sets things up. I don’t need to consult my notes; I’ve said it so many times to so many people.

“What week are you?”

“37 weeks, three days.”

“Why are you here?”

“IUGR.” The rest of the words come out in a rush. “In my 28th week, a routine checkup showed the baby isn’t growing well. Nothing I can do about it, but they want to keep an eye on it.”

She nods without much interest; I’m surprised by the disappointment and renewed anxiety I feel. Was I really hoping for empathy from the ultrasound technician? How pathetically vulnerable.

This time, the hums that fill the room sound different, ominously loud. The heartbeat I’ve come to recognize is still heard, but its sound is overshadowed by another, chaotic thrumming.

I watch the tech’s face intently for a clue, any hint of what’s going on, but she offers no explanation. Eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed, she focuses on the screen. That’s all the explanation I need.

As the moments take on eternity, I daven. Please Hashem, I’m not prepared for this… don’t test me this way. It’s the first tefillah of many like it I’ll come to say that day.

She finally switches the light on again as image after image prints on a long strip of film. She gestures at what to point out to the doctor upstairs. My head spins as she urgently indicates different areas — I’m trying to hang on to each word, but don’t understand a thing she’s telling me.

She stops abruptly and gathers the papers. “Come with me.” That’s never happened before. I meekly follow her into the elevator, too beleaguered to ask her the questions racing through my mind. I barely trust my own voice.

The tech curtly nods to the secretaries and raps on the doctor’s door, bypassing the line. I feel all the eyes in the waiting room burning me with their pity and curiosity as the door swings open.

The doctor greets me with a hard stare over his blue-rimmed glasses. It’s unfair of him, almost cruel, but he wants to hear the story from me, not the tech. With a voice strained, cracking with emotion, I start to run through the details again.

He lets the tech take over my sorry attempt at coherence. Speaking Hebrew at a clip too fast for me to understand, she gestures from diagram to diagram as he listens intently. Flipping through the pages, he asks her several questions.

He tosses the papers down on the desk in front of him. Almost congenially, he asks, “Where were you heading after your appointment today?”

“To work,” I barely whisper.

“No,” he says briskly, “you’re not going to work and you’re not going home. You’re going to the hospital and you’re having your baby today.”

I crumble. There’s so much I want to ask, but all the words have been sucked out of me, leaving me with nothing but overwhelming panic.

“Look, it’s very simple. Today, your monitor results are fine, but the ultrasound doesn’t look good. Tomorrow, the ultrasound can look bad and the monitor can also fail. And the day after, the baby can be dead.

“That’s why you’re having the baby today.” Trying to cushion the blow, he adds, “Why are you crying? You get a mazel tov — you’re becoming a mother today! B’hatzlachah.”

Within seconds, I’m back in the hallway. I’m feeling like I’ve just been punched in the gut, hit by a car, or both. The hallways could be empty for all I care at this point; I’m completely uninhibited as I futilely try to stem the tears and regain composure. Fingers shaking, I call my doula, then my husband, then a cab.

The drive passes in a blur. It’s surreal; I never imagined that I’d be racing to the hospital to give birth without feeling a single contraction. I’m aware of my husband speaking to our rav over the phone, but only through a haze. We’re out of the taxi before it’s even come to a stop and on our way to the ninth floor: labor and deliveries.

Once there, our desperate dash screeches to a halt. While I hear the clock ticking menacingly loud, the staff insists on running the whole battery of tests again. I want to scream: This is my baby’s life in the balance!

I hear them repeat the details as they review my file, while I’m imagining the worst-case scenario. A too-small, fragile, vulnerable baby, relying on me for the blood and oxygen it needs to survive. That supply is running dangerously low. Every small movement I feel reassures me, and frightens me.

Finally, they admit me to a room and tell me to wait while they get ready. Noting the time and savoring the rare moment of quiet, I pull out my siddur, preparing to plead my case before the only One Who matters. Davening Minchah in the solitude of the curtained cubicle, I never felt so desperate, so sincere. It was my Ne’ilah, a last chance to daven Shemoneh Esreh before getting aboard this roller-coaster labor. I ask, beg, for this to end well. As I take three steps back wiping tears, I turn to see a nurse who’s been waiting for me. They’re ready to begin.

A few short hours later, I’m holding my daughter in my arms. She’s tiny — a mere four and a half pounds of squirming, pink perfection. But she’s mine, and she’s everything I could have wished for.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 697)

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