Thursday night we took the dog out for a walk. The snow was drifting down from an orange sky. The Rehavia student crowd was out in its disheveled beauty, frolicking in the snow. The Israeli driver crowd was out in its collective idiocy, honking, gesticulating, advising. And then, with the dog examining the merrily tumbling snowflakes, my wife, Tali, said: “Either that Jerusalem artichoke [we just ate] gave me some serious farts or I may be having contractions.”
And that is when I knew. Of course, she is having this baby in the storm.
“Probably just farts,” she said, knowing her husband might, say, worry through the night rather than sleep.
The next morning the cars were covered in what looked like eight inches of fresh snow, which, when tallied in a sort of Middle-East-dog-year calibration, is equivalent to, say, 34 inches in Toronto, 21 in NYC and two in Cairo. My wife, joining me at the window, stuck with the Jerusalem artichoke line, saying she still could not be sure.
We took the kids out to the community garden on Brody Street and did our best to sled on a pool floaty ring. I was proud of the fact that our girls have snow gear from their American cousins. That they know that touching snow, even falling in it and making snow angels, does not give you the flu on contact. And a little less proud of our Israeli sled, which looked as confused on the snowy hill as the contorted palm trees in the community garden.
Even Tali, in her 38th week of pregnancy, took a turn on the “sled.” But with a little less gusto than usual.
The cousins somehow never sent the snowboots, or perhaps we never wanted them, and after a few minutes the kids were cold. Tali went in first with the little one and I followed after a while with the older one. When we got in we learned that the electricity was down. The heat was off. Still, though, it was gorgeous out and I stepped back outside to get a bottle of red wine – generally good for the beginning of contractions – and always good for the oxtail stew I planned to make.
When I got back I called my friend, whose father used to be the head of the intensive care unit at Shaarei Tzedek hospital and today lives around the corner from us. “How’s Efraim at delivering babies?” I asked.
He laughed. I filled him in on the details and he said he would consult with a friend who is a midwife at Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center. She relayed that the hospital was well prepared for the snow and that the administration had sent a 4×4 vehicle, led by a snowplow, to pick up the midwives and the necessary doctors on Friday morning. Since I had no such service on hand, she suggested, I should start making plans to get to the hospital.
And yet, I couldn’t shake the visions of our arrival in the hospital last time. After hours of watching movies and bathing and sipping wine and waiting and breathing, I’d finally said I couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to go to the hospital. My wife reluctantly agreed. And we arrived too early. The midwife sent us to walk the halls. For a very long time. Had we stayed at home, Tali said, the labor would have been totally different.
So, this time, I called Magen David Adom and asked a few questions about how long it might take for an ambulance to reach us. They said they could not estimate. “An hour?” I asked. “Five hours?”
“If you need an ambulance, sir, order it and it will get there as soon as it can. If you don’t, wait till you do and then order it.”
I went back to the couch. It was snowing on our cone-shaped cedar pines. Afternoon was fading toward evening, the forecast was for more snow and the house was dark. I had spare batteries and flashlights and nearly a dozen memorial candles. And there was the stew and the pre-soaked beans. But there was also a five-year-old and a three year-old in the house and, though my wife was having the sort of contractions that can go on for days, they were also the sort that can lead to the I-can’t believe-I-had-the-baby-in-a-stuck-taxi-in-the-snow sort of story.
We took the essentials from her birth bag, packed up a backpack, bundled up the kids and started walking over to my parents’ place. It’s a 15-20-minute walk in good conditions. With the sidewalks impassable and one lane open on Palmach Street and every ars in Israel out with his Audi Q7 to test it in slippery conditions, it took longer.
Tali, though, was glorious, keeping the kids calm, cheerily marching through the snow despite the contractions and the pregnancy.
The line we used at my parents’ door was that we’d come just because we wanted to be on the safe side. They welcomed us in to their partially lit home and Tali lay down in bed to have a cup of tea and take stock of the situation. “I think we’re going to be having this baby tonight,” she said, shortly after reclining. “But let me go in the shower and see how it feels.”
After a few more consultations, we decided we needed the ambulance. The woman who answered the phone asked all the right questions and complimented us on the decision to call. I said the street was snowed in but that if she could tell us when the ambulance might arrive, we’d wait on a nearby main road. “No,” she said. “You stay comfortable and safe inside. We’ll come get you.”
“In how long?” I asked.
“I can’t say,” she said. “But I’m sending an ambulance.”
I relayed this to Tali, who somehow remained calm and happy in the shower. “I’m staying in here,” she said. “Let me know when they come.”
Now I had a vision of a paramedic delivering the baby in my parents’ bathtub.
Forty five minutes later, there was a siren outside. My mom went out and led the paramedics in. “Can she walk?” asked Yisroel, the ultra-Orthodox paramedic.
“Yes,” I said, “but first she needs to get ready.”
Tali dressed and dried her hair and I stuffed the birth bag essentials, or most of them, into a canvas tote that my mom had in the kitchen.
Yisroel was at the wheel, Yissuchur in back with us. They were exceptionally cordial and accommodating, if, dare I say, nothing about them said midwife material. Tali told them that she had signed up for birth at Hadassah Ein Kerem but would be willing to go to the more accessible Shaarei Tzedek, where she had a comical but painful experience the last time.
“Whatever you want,” Yisroel said. “I want you to be happy.” He added, though, that he had no way of contacting the police and had no idea what the very steep road down to Ein Kerem was like.
We chose Shaarei Tzedek. So what, so they left us alone last time and Tali’s brave sister caught the baby and I ran to the get the midwife. At least we wouldn’t be having the baby in the snow.
Yisroel did some swerving and slipping on my parents’ street and I said a silent lament that one of those moshav-raised, combat off-road drivers that have taken me all over in the dark with nothing but a star-light device on their eyes was not at the wheel. The road to the hospital, though, was assiduously kept open and Yisroel, once on the main streets, made haste. “It’s not yet an emergency,” I told him. “Take your time.”
“I know,” he said. “I want to get home before Shabbat.”
I had what to say about this but held my tongue.
Inside the hospital, the labor progressed much as the previous time – slowly, but with Tali in good spirits, especially once her sister, Moran, managed to make it to the hospital. Traipsing through the hallways outside the delivery rooms we looked at the photos of the hyacinths in bloom and the little babies cupped in weathered adult hands. We looked at the flickering Shabbat candles on the aluminum foil-covered tables in the hallway and the steady dance of the snowflakes outside.
After several hallway conga lines and turns on the exercise ball and all sorts of other stuff, we were allowed into a delivery room. My friends were all over the Whatsapp and the SMS. It was like they wanted me to live blog the birth. I didn’t answer. I figured I’d respond only when there was news.
The French-speaking midwife who had been with us early in the labor left, saying she wished she could deliver Tali’s baby but that she would leave us in good hands. Then she popped into the delivery room and said that we’d gotten Rina, the best.
Rina, it turns out, further fleshing out Tali’s belief that midwives are the fighter pilots of the female domain, was not even supposed to work that night. A woman in her community, in Psagot, a settlement just outside Ramallah, which gets more snow than Jerusalem, went in to labor and contacted her. She left everything on Friday night and, along with the settlement’s security officer and the pregnant woman, traveled the treacherous, unplowed road to Jerusalem in the dark. Since she was already in the hospital and was anyway supposed to work on Saturday, she decided to put in a shift.
I told her that Tali was incredibly in touch with her body and in great spirits and would surely do fantastically well but that, because she doesn’t yell, she got left alone last time and no amount of pushing on the buzzer brought the midwife back into the room. She said she understood and assured me it would not happen again.
Fast forward through several more hours of contractions. Then Moran and Tali disappeared into the shower. When they came out, Moran’s jeans were soaked through and Tali was within sprinting distance of the pushing stage.
Rina checked her once more, at eight centimeters, and said she would soon be ready to start pushing. She left the room and I saw the same thing that happened last time start to happen again. One or two Herculean pushes later and it was me and Moran in the room alone again. Luckily, this time the midwife was listening carefully and she said that the last contraction sounded markedly different.
She swooped back into the room, checked Tali and called over her shoulder, “We have a birth here!”
She opened the sterile towels and sheets and told Tali to breathe, to keep her eyes open, to wait one more second, and, along with the water from the amniotic sac, out came the baby. “It’s a boy!” she said, knowing that we didn’t know.
Rina cleaned the baby’s face and lay him on Tali’s chest. She waited till the blood stopped pumping and then cut the umbilical cord. Then she left the room, got Tali some sweet tea and a warmed blanket and let us bask in the glow of the natural miracle of birth.
Later than night, at one in the morning, I walked home through the falling snow with Moran. Her jeans were soaked and I hadn’t remembered gloves. But the two of us were warmed by the natural fuels of elation, adrenaline and a love, more pronounced than ever, for Tali.