Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email [email protected]and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
Before Ammi married or became a mother she was pretty satisfied with life. By her early 30s, she had a great career, was part of a tight-knit community, and had wonderful friends. Having a family, though, was definitely on her mind: She says having children with the man she married, who had a daughter from a previous marriage, felt like a given. Ammi describes becoming a stepmother to a 9-year-old, being unable to fit into triple-wide shoes, why her husband walked 13 miles to the hospital where she gave birth, and what she’s grateful for today.
On not imagining herself as a mom. My parents were divorced and I am the youngest of four kids and the only girl. My mom worked full-time, and my parents had typical custody arrangements (for that time) — we saw my father on the weekends. We were home alone in the afternoons and had a lot of independence, like many kids with divorced parents. My parents did a lot for us and we knew we were loved, but I don’t have many of those fairy-tale-like memories of family life. I didn’t come from a home where there was a lot of hands-on activity. Motherhood wasn’t something I thought much about.
My now-12-year-old daughter is very different — she’s determined to become a great mom someday. She wants white couches because no one’s going to spill.
Before I got married, I was never one to run to the newborn in the room; I was afraid to hold babies — they were so little! I was nothing like I am now, when holding a baby is calming and relaxing. My Jewish identity blossomed after college and I became more religiously observant in my mid-20s. An Orthodox Jewish lifestyle is very family-oriented, with family life very much at the center. Still, I didn’t think about it for myself too much since I wasn’t yet married.
On marrying into a family. I was 32 and my husband 40 when we got married. Like I said, starting a family was a given for us. My husband had been married before, and had a daughter who turned 9 shortly before we got married. I was blessed; I already knew my husband was an involved and hands-on father, which was important to me.
My stepdaughter is amazing, and I am grateful for the special relationship we have today. Of course, there were growing pains along the way. My husband’s family is very close and lived near us, while my family was geographically spread out. An increase in the role of family in everyday life was a big change for me.
I thought, like everything else in my life, getting pregnant would take time. But we were blessed: I got pregnant shortly after we got married.
An early scare during her pregnancy. About six weeks in, I was driving to the train and a woman talking on her cell phone while driving totaled my car. Thank God, she hit the passenger side. I was physically okay, but scared: The thought of anything happening to my pregnancy put me in a state of panic. The tow-truck driver assured me everything would be okay and rode with me in the ambulance.
My husband was at work, almost an hour away from the hospital, so a dear friend met me there. A nurse came in and told us, “Everything’s okay! I hear a heartbeat.” And that’s how my friend found out I was pregnant. She promised she wouldn’t tell anyone.
The thought of losing that pregnancy was very scary. I had the usual morning sickness, but it was mostly uncomplicated after that. We tried to keep the pregnancy news private until about five months along, when I transitioned into wearing maternity clothes, signed up for a birthing course, and was beginning to wrap things up at work.
On what turned out to be an emergency. At about 30 weeks, I started to experience swelling. I was eating normally, but gaining a lot of weight. At the doctor, they said everything seemed fine. My blood pressure was normal; the urine sample looked good.
But then, the swelling got really bad. It was Friday night, Shabbat, when we refrain from many day-to-day activities including turning on and off electricity. Shabbat is central to the Jewish lifestyle and an island of time (25 hours), during which we don’t have the distractions of phones, emails, work, etc. It’s a time to focus on our own spirituality, connect with family, reflect on the week past, and look forward to the week ahead.
We had company that Friday night and when the meal was over and our friends left, I asked my husband to do the cleaning up; I wasn’t feeling well. “It feels like I’m walking on water balloons,” I told him, and he said that that didn’t sound very good. But it never occurred to me that it was a medical emergency.
The next day, I felt a little bit better, after some rest. Someone asked whether I had preeclampsia, and I said no. Plus, I had an appointment coming up on the following Tuesday. It didn’t occur to me to call; I figured they would just check me out then. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t normal for me to not fit into the triple-wide shoes I’d just bought.
At my appointment, they took my blood pressure and urine sample, the doctor called me back into the room and said they were sending me over to the hospital. The doctor was sensitive to my growing state of panic and like my friend suggested, they suspected I had preeclampsia. They explained what might happen — if an ultrasound and some blood work showed any danger — that the baby could be delivered that afternoon. If things seemed stable enough, they would send me home to do a 48-hour urine sample and then readmit me to the hospital at the end of the week, where I’d stay until I had the baby.
I was in shock. I called my husband to tell him and then walked to the hospital. Fortunately, everything seemed fine and I was sent home with a big jug for my urine samples. When I brought the jug back on Thursday, the doctor told me again that I should expect to be admitted to the hospital the next day, possibly for as long as eight weeks, until I had the baby. I was told to go home and rest and they would be in touch the next day. It sounds silly to me now, but I asked the doctor if I could go to Target before going home. He said yes.
On going into the hospital. It was now Friday morning and I was preparing to go to the hospital; my husband asked if he should stay with me for Shabbat. His daughter was getting ready to travel for the summer, and it was their last weekend to be together for a while. I told him no, I’d be in the hospital for a few weeks anyway. As soon as he left, I started crying. I was lonely, sad, and scared. Even though I was in the hospital, I was able to observe Shabbat. If someone has a serious health condition or life -threatening situation, there are things that are permissible to do that wouldn’t be done under other circumstances. Since this was an usual situation, we spoke with our Rabbi, who gave us warm guidance and emotional support during this unexpected turn-of-events.
Shabbat morning (Saturday), the doctors did a stress test on the baby. The baby’s heart rate was low, but the nurse was very calm about it. She explained they were going to take me down to labor and delivery for an ultrasound. This nurse was so reassuring that everything would be okay. I was completely shocked when they told me that they would be delivering the baby.
Our baby was having heart-rate dips, they explained, and they could try to sustain it but wouldn’t be able to for so long. I was like, What! If I’m having this baby now, then someone needs to find my husband.
I explained that he was in synagogue. They said, Okay, when will he be home? And I told them that it’s Shabbat, so even when he was home, he wouldn’t be answering the phone. If the doctor or anyone had told us there was a chance we’d have the baby in the next 24 hours, my husband would have stayed with me.
We had to get a hold of my husband. I began to think of people who had answering machines and could hear a message to pass along to him. The nurses made at least 30 phone calls over the course of two hours. Finally, a friend heard the message and went to find my husband, who ended up walking all 13 miles to the hospital. It was July, and the heat index was over 100 degrees.
My husband eventually got to the hospital, but only after I had the baby. The doctor thought they could wait a few hours for him to arrive, but they ended up doing an emergency C-section.
When he got there, he had no idea I had the baby — he asked what was going on, and I said, “We have a baby girl!”
In this situation, my husband actually could have taken a cab. Because we don’t drive on Shabbat, our community has a service where you give the driver a voucher and deal with the logistics afterward. Unfortunately, he didn’t know about this service.
On having a premature baby. My newborn daughter and I were both recovering from the trauma; I didn’t see her for almost two days and didn’t hold her for almost a week. It was a totally shocking experience. I’d never been in a NICU before or even knew such a baby-haven like this existed. Our little daughter was 32 weeks and just over two pounds. She was so tiny; there were so many wires and so many flashing lights. I was afraid to touch her.
She was in the NICU for just about a month. She came home under five pounds, but was relatively healthy — she was, as they say in the preemie world, a grower and a feeder. When she came home, the adventures continued. I guess they had already begun.
On being a thankful parent. Today, we have four kids. I had an additional two pregnancies — both healthy. The medical care I received with each pregnancy was exceptional. When I was pregnant with my second, I was in a high-risk group and with my third I was in an all-new medical system since my family had moved to Israel.
At the time of my daughter’s premature birth, our then-neighbor, a psychologist, had recently co-authored a book about caring for a premature baby. We received three copies within 24 hours of her birth. I think my experience was both unique and universal. It meant that we don’t take having healthy children for granted, and we appreciate the blessings each day.
One of the greatest lessons parenthood has taught me is that giving starts at home. Before I was married, I could choose when to help others: If it worked into my work schedule or social calendar, I was the first one to lend a hand, on my terms. However, with my own family it’s not a choice; I don’t get to choose a convenient time when I want to give. Our families always need us.
My parenting triumphs and challenges stem from the love I received from my own parents. My mother passed away when I was 23, my father when I was 40. I know they continue to get enjoyment from their children and grandchildren from above, and I am forever thankful to them for giving me a life filled with endless opportunities for growth.