Birth Surprise in Jerusalem
by Chaya Raizel Breger
© 2003 Midwifery Today, Inc. All rights reserved.
[Editor's note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 54, Summer 2000.]
Our twins remained in the breech position for months before their due date. We were unable to find a midwife or doctor willing to let me birth naturally unless at least the first baby turned head down. I had already tried doing special exercises, which didn't work, and no medical people would risk attempting to turn them externally.
Our other three singletons were born at home so of course we preferred to be at home this time as well. My last birth, three years ago, followed a fifteen hour labor, five hours longer than usual. Our midwife was ill and unable to be with us at home so I packed a bag and planned to go to Misgav Ladach, a well-known birthing center in Jerusalem. But because my contractions stayed at ten minutes apart until the very end, I didn't realize I was almost in transition until our baby started to come out. As it turned out, my husband Baruch caught our baby daughter and cut the cord.
I had reached the thirty-eighth week with both twins still head up under my ribcage, much to my amazement. I was eating enormous amounts of protein, calcium and calories, resting and waiting for the big event. Neighborhood girls were taking turns helping out with our kids and my husband was doing a hundred percent overtime as mom and dad while I lay like a beached whale on the couch.
Our local family doctor was surprised that I still had not contacted a surgeon. "Don't you want to know who will hold the knife?" he asked bluntly. Reluctantly I realized he was right, so I called the doctor who was with us when our first set of twins was born five years ago. I had also wanted to birth them at home but they had both been transverse and were born a month early. Thankfully they had turned head down during labor and were born half an hour after I reached Hadassah Hospital—a story in itself! I had discovered they were transverse only a week before they were born, so unlike this twin pregnancy, I didn't have much time to worry.
Baruch and I finally decided to visit Mayan Sataf, a much acclaimed special spring located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. I had heard that the spring was known to help turn breech babies and ensure an easy birth. Our last chance! So we sought the advice of three special Tzaddiks (holy people) regarding this segula (spiritual remedy). One told us to drink the waters in a specially prescribed order. A different Tzaddik said to say certain Tehillim (Psalms) while looking at the spring, and the third rabbi said to follow both suggestions! We also had the assurance of a blessing from an especially beloved rabbi who we always spoke with before each of our children's births. Many people were praying for us to have a safe delivery. I had asked all who knew our situation to keep us in mind.
When we reached the site of the ancient spring, my husband and I first drank from the spring then sat beside a tree, read Psalms and davenned (prayed), feeling both the sanctity of the place and the intensity of our request. "Please let them be born without complications, healthy and whole! Please G-d, let the babies turn!"
It was a strenuous climb back up to the parking lot, not an easy feat for someone with an oversized watermelon for a belly and who had barely walked to the corner store for the last two months. We reached the car and drove back home, nervous but hopeful that we had made our hishtadlus (efforts to help oneself). Like everything, the way they would be born was up to G-d.
I definitely did not want a c-section, especially since I had already had an abdominal laparotomy and numerous small operations over the last twenty years. Cesareans may be very common but unless you have one, you don't realize how much a woman can suffer from it. I wanted to avoid having to recover from surgery while taking care of newborn twins and our other young children. I knew, however, that I would have to accept the fact that the risk of complications was too great to take any chances delivering naturally.
I had not had any Braxton Hicks contractions that entire week, which is quite unusual for me in my ninth month, especially with twins. I had already been hospitalized during the thirty-fourth week because of contractions that would not stop. Fortunately an IV hydrated me and the pregnancy had continued normally. Now, six weeks later, I felt like I would be pregnant forever.
We made it home safely from the springs, but I didn't feel the babies turn. That Friday night after our Sabbath dinner, when all the kids were asleep, I walked outside with our guest, Chaya Miriam. My friend Sara Rifka had invited her to come for Shabbos. "Just in case Chaya Raizel needs you," she had told Chaya Miriam. I protested to both of them that I wasn't ready to give birth! When I returned home, it was already after midnight and as usual, my large size and the summer heat made it impossible to sleep. I restlessly read all night, finally dozing off at around 5 a.m.
At about 6:30 a.m. Shabbos morning I was suddenly awakened by one very intense contraction, the kind I usually feel at the end of my typical ten hour labors. I could feel my pelvis separating. I rolled out of bed and stood, wavering, then immediately felt the need to use the bathroom. Once there I realized what I really felt was a baby coming out. I panicked—two breech babies! No time to think. I rushed back to the bedroom and told my husband, who was instantly awake, that I felt I needed to push. He remained calm and collected, which was a good thing because I certainly was not.
I had had no labor, no warning. I couldn't fight the urge to push, so I quickly put a towel on our bed, lay down on my side and simply let my body work. Out came a large bubble—the amniotic sac. Then it popped, and meconium stained water streamed all over. Baruch ran for the phone and called the ambulance. He explained that I was not having any contractions, but my water had broken and there were two breech babies inside. Then we called the obstetrician who was supposed to do the cesarean. "I won't make it to Ein Kerem" I yelled into the phone.
"Don't worry, I will make sure a top physician is at Mount Scopus to receive you," he answered calmly.
As soon as we hung up the phone, Baruch asked me if I could get off the bed and squat. "No!" I shouted, but after only a moment of hesitation, almost by instinct, I rolled myself off the bed as quickly as possible, grabbed the top of the radiator for support, squatted, pushed, and out came our son's bottom. A frank breech!
"It's a boy!" Baruch shouted. Another push and out came his arms. One more push and his head was out. Baruch gently moved him out of the way. Thank G-d our baby was red and crying!
The fourth push was our daughter emerging, miraculously turned head first. Another push and she was out and wailing. Everything happened so fast. Baruch had barely moved her aside when I was already pushing out the two fused placentas. Just minutes after we had called the ambulance the driver arrived, burst into the room, and was greeted by our relieved, awed and amazed announcement, "Everything's OK now!" Baruch was already busy cutting the cords.
"What? Why didn't you call me?" the ambulance driver shouted, his eyes wide with shock.
"We did! Right away!" we answered.
Just then our nine year old ran in and said, "Imma, I hear a baby crying!" Within moments all our children were wide awake and running in to greet the new arrivals to our family. The ambulance driver insisted on whisking us away to the hospital to check the babies and me and make sure everything really was OK. One of our five-year-olds ran to get Chaya Miriam to watch everyone as I was carried out to the ambulance, with Baruch and another paramedic carrying the twins. Smiling broadly, I glanced up at our building and noticed our neighbor's children staring open-mouthed from their window. They certainly were shocked to see me carried out with two babies!
Observant Jews do not use the telephone on Shabbos except for life-saving emergencies. That Shabbos the news about our babies' births traveled by word of mouth faster than email. That a birth with such a high potential for life-threatening complications had gone so smoothly was considered nothing short of a miracle.
A week before I gave birth, when I was still a nervous wreck about how things would turn out, I whispered, "G-d, can't I just have a nice dream that tells me the babies will be born fine? A nice dream that will make me feel relaxed about the future?" The very next morning I dreamed our two babies popped out head first, one right after the other, while I squatted on the grass in our backyard at dusk. I woke up feeling great and wishing it would be so simple.
G-d arranged things so that the only one in all of Israel who would allow me to birth breech twins naturally was the one who was with me—my husband. Everyone who heard was shocked that my bearded, "ultra-orthodox" Rabbinic husband was the only one there to help me.
"So tell us how you learned your midwifery technique?" he was questioned half-jokingly. But Baruch and I knew that the real midwife was G-d Alone.
Chaya Raizel Breger lives in Jerusalem with her family. She is a labor coach.
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