Friday, November 29, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: The Copycat Pregnancies

Today's Jewish Motherhood Project mommy lives in America, was married at 26, and had her first baby at 28. If you want to participate in The Jewish Motherhood Project, the hop over to the Q&A! Also, I'm looking for more words of advice from first-time (and seasoned) fathers.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not?
Just always assumed I would be.

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling?
Greatest fear: something being terribly wrong with the baby. Greatest anticipation: seeing him for the first time.

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Thrilled. The baby was the first grandchild on both sides.

What was your pregnancy like?
My husband says I "conveniently" forget each time, but I would say relatively easy. I've been blessed with three beautiful children. (However, I had a second-trimester miscarriage with my third pregnancy and an ectopic pregnancy the fifth pregnancy.) One minor complaint was that I had borderline gestational diabetes, and they put me on a very low carb and no sugar diet. I was always hungry.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
We waited until the end of the first trimester, but we told our parents as soon as we saw the heartbeat. We found out the gender every pregnancy, definitely my idea and not my husbands. We kept this to ourselves (though I might have "accidentally" dropped a hint or two to my mom and my best friend).

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
I induced on a Monday for my first pregnancy and was still in work on Friday, just three days before. I was working full-time and did a fellowship.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
For the first one, shock and disbelief and it was very much a planned pregnancy! I never held a baby before my son. I didn't think it was real.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
Other than my own silent prayer when lighting Shabbat candles, I only turned to Judaism when things started to go terribly wrong. (Only infused plenty of drugs into the labor experience and it was wonderful.)

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier?
Each pregnancy was fairly similar. As for prepared, I never took a birthing class, electively induced, and even picked the day well in advance.

My first two even weighed within one ounce of one another (the third was about 5 ounces less). All the deliveries were similar, too. The second was "sunny-side up," but still very quick and easy (I'm almost afraid to say it, but all three were under four hours). I was much more relaxed with the second two deliveries knowing more or less what to expect.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother?
  1. Don’t obsessively read pregnancy books or obsessively look symptoms up online. It will make you crazy.
  2. Develop a birth plan that you (and your doctor) are comfortable with. You don’t need to make other people happy.
  3. Don’t share possible names with family members because you will get opinions.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Take a trip together now. Maybe one more before your baby can walk. After that, good luck!

Chavi's commentary: I couldn't agree more about the obsessively reading pregnancy books bit. Although I was hardcore jonesing for "What to Expect When You're Expecting," and although Mr. T searched near and far for it to get it for me, I couldn't help but feel like every page I read was another warning of something horrible that was happening. This is why when it comes to baby/pregnancy books I stick to things like The Pregnancy Instruction Manual and The Baby Owner's Manual, because they're hilarious and practical.  I really wish that we could take a trip together before the baby shows up, but I think we've passed our window of opportunity, unless I can convince the mister to drive north to check out a chocolate factory or something fun like that. Here's hoping!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

The great thing about this cartoon is that it reminds me of the people 
that drive around with the chanukiyah (menorah) on top of their cars!

On this most holy of days, two deliciously gluttonous holidays merge into one. Yes, even in Israel there are those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving and Chanukah, with the latter being normative and the former being, well, odd considering it's the commemoration of a fake narrative of something that didn't really happen in America. 

But old habits die hard, and my darling English husband is willing to indulge those of us who jones for the classics. However, we are holding off to make our Thanksgivukkah a Shabbat experience, and we're pot-lucking with friends at our place with the turkey and all the fixins (don't worry, our kitchen is still vegetarian, we're getting creative to make this happen). 

On the menu? 

Turkey (a la Rebacks)
Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole (Me)*
Portobella Mushroom Rice (Rebacks)
Gravy (Rebacks)
Cranberry Sauce (Rebacks)
Latkes (Me, maybe ...)
Sufganiyot (store-bought, of course)

Quite the meal, no? And the awesomeness that is Mel will also be joining us with husband in tow providing our paper goods and all that goodness since our dishes are dairy and the meal is (obviously) meaty. 

I anticipate Shabbat lunch being quite the low-key affair (some kind of salmon dish and lots of salads). I also anticipate being comatose most of Saturday and Sunday as a result of the festivities. Baby hasn't left much room for food these days, unfortunately. What's a soon-to-be mama to do? Eat very slowly ... and scarf the leftovers!

Also: Tonight I'm celebrating Thanksgiving the way it was always meant to be celebrated ... with American football! Yes, Israel has its own American football league, called the IFL, and the coach of the illustrious Judean Rebels is none other than the husband (Coach!) of blogger Ruti. So tonight, it's all about the Chanukah Bowl. 

What's on your menu for Thanksgiving and/or Chanukah? Any special or unique traditions that your family absolutely abides by? 

*Green bean casserole has always been a standard in my family, and Thanksgiving simply isn't Thanksgiving without it. However, the days of canned cream of mushroom soup, French's fried onions, and frozen green beans are over for me, as it's all lacking in "gluten free" and non-dairy categories. So I've made my own homemade mushroom gravy, will be attempting some gluten-free "fried" onions (majorly modifying this one), and mixing it all up in the hopes that it comes out tasting like awesome. Stay tuned! 

Book Review: A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel

When I decided to make aliyah (move to Israel) mid-summer 2012, I was happily, dually employed, able to pay my bills and put a bit away at the same time. Life was good. Financially I wasn't perfect, but I was getting there. When the aliyah approval came through, I didn't think I needed to sit down and figure out how much I needed monthly to survive in Israel. If I was getting by in Denver, I could get by in Jerusalem, right?

I tend to read books in moments of "hindsight is 20/20," and that's how things feel after reading Baruch Labinsky's A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel. Oh where was this book before I made aliyah? Although, the truth is, you can take a horse to water, but you can't really teach him to drink. Without the motivation to really think about the financial reality of living in Israel, this book will never grace your coffee table, let alone help guide you.

With cheesy comics that aren't really funny, Labinsky walks the reader through how to use the book (it isn't one of those cover-to-cover reads, unless that's your style), how to understand taxes (which, let's be honest change constantly in Israel, so it's a moving target), how to plan for retirement, how to look at your assets, whether your savings will last, and so on. It's got all of the basics, complete with charts about just how expensive the basics in Israel can be.

Yes, dairy products in this country cost 44 percent more than other OECD countries. On the other hand, veggies here are happily inexpensive.

Although the book would have been a lot more helpful before I came on aliyah and lost both of my cushy jobs (oh why didn't I plan financially?), there are plenty of helpful anecdotes, like how negotiating at the bank is incredibly important. Find an advocate, Labinsky says, which is key to protekzia, or the ability to protect oneself by utilizing contacts and connections! Also, the bits on working for U.S.-based companies while living in Israel and the potential tax concerns is in my wheelhouse these days.

There's a lot of really powerful, conversational advice in the book that I know will guide plenty of potential olim on their financial journey into Israel. When you've got kids and a family or are a retiree, there's a lot to consider when making the big leap across the pond.

Also? The cover on this book is a huge win!

If you know someone considering aliyah, I highly recommend sending them this book. There are a lot more considerations when it comes to picking up and moving to Israel, even if you're willing to give up certain aspects of "comfortable" living for the fulfillment of a religious or personal ideal. If you're not a planner, take a chance with this book anyway. Believe me, you're going to need it!

Note: I received this book for review purposes, but my reviews remain honest, unbiased, and from the heart!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mr. T and Me: A Year Later

The man who changed it all. 

One year ago (on the Jewish calendar, that is), I met Mr. T at the top of Ben Yehuda for our very first date. It was the first night of Chanukah, a Saturday night. I lit my chanukiyah, made sure I looked awesome, and set off to meet a complete stranger with whom I'd only had a few email chats.

We schlepped around Ben Yehuda, Agrippas, and through Nachlaot in the chilly Jerusalem air, the both of us sniffling along the way. We talked about our past marriages, in a no-nonsense "this is what I can put up with, and this is what I need" way. We discussed how we got to where we are, our own unique paths that led us to being "religious" Jews. We talked about our travels, our talents, music, and everything else that came up organically, naturally throughout the night. It was a marathon date, the kind that lasts for hours.

It was incredibly late (or early) when we said our goodbyes. He had to work in a few hours, and I had, well, sleep to tackle.

What happened next was a whirlwind. Roughly 10 days later we worked out a chance for me to meet his son, iBoy. It was my requirement -- no "yes" to a proposal until I meet your son, which didn't stop Mr. T from proposing after our first date, our second date, and every date thereafter. He knew I'd say yes, I knew I'd say yes, but when you're bringing a child from the first marriage into the mix, it's a necessary formality.

Just a few days after our first date, I sent a picture of Mr. T to a friend, saying,
... he's perfectly imperfect and I think he's amazing.
I'd spent my whole life being chased by suitors. I was a tough one to wrangle, always independent and career-driven and destined for big things in New York City. I was pretty sure I was going to be single -- or at least unmarried -- for the rest of my life. Kids were not even a conversation. After getting married the first time around because it was time (I was 27 after all) and having one of the most confusing, depressing, and out-of-body experiences of my life, I was convinced the dream of singledom and a carefree baby-less life was back on, but this time in Denver. When I decided to make aliyah, I was open to the option of marriage, children ... happiness ... again. But I wasn't expecting a magical, miracle pill. 

I wasn't expecting this, I was definitely not expecting Mr. T. One date. Proposal. Ten Days later, engaged. Two months later, married. One month later, pregnant. 

After everything that has happened over the past month -- the ups, the downs, the twists and turns -- I can't say I would have wanted any other way. The financial and emotional challenges we've faced since meeting and getting married have, if anything, helped us figure out who we are as a couple, as a zivug. If my zivug sheni was granted from my merits, then boy oh boy I must have done something amazing so far to deserve such a life as this. 

I can't believe it's been a year since we first met. Looking back at everything that has happened baffles me, amazes me, makes me smile. No matter how bad things have gotten, the battle has always been worth fighting with Mr. T. And it all started with the longest date ever surrounded by the lights of the chanukiyah

Next up? Mr. T + C = Little Z

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Niddah and Childbirth

Something I've been thinking about over the expanse of this pregnancy is what happens after the pregnancy. Yes, there will be a baby and chaos and madness and a lack of sleep and insanity, but what happens between husband and wife?

Now, I'm not about to get personal on you here, but this is a topic that a lot of women in the religious Jewish community have to deal with, and I think it would be nice to have a quick, concise understanding of what happens once baby arrives. Also, I never thought I'd like being able to canoodle with my husband 24/7 without those monthly disturbances, but after being married one month and getting pregnant, I've been spoiled on the ability to always get a hug when I need it.

What is niddah

When a woman isn't pregnant or breastfeeding and her menstrual cycle is functioning as normal as one does, she goes through the ebb and flow of being a niddah. Contrary to popular belief, niddah doesn't mean "unclean" or "dirty," but rather "separate" or "moved" according to ritual impurity. Yes, the term impure is a pretty loaded term, but there are plenty of ways for men to become impure as well.

A woman is considered niddah after her menstrual cycle ends and she experiences seven clean days without bleeding and when the total of bleeding + clean days adds up to at least 12 days. Yes, that means most women will spend half the month and year in niddah, unable to do a variety of things like having sex with her spouse. There are differing opinions on the 12 days rule among different groups of Jews, and goes into some of those here.

Once the clean days have finished, a woman goes to mikvah (the ritual bath as its known) and dunks, and is once again back to normal life with her husband.

So what does this have to do with being pregnant and giving birth?

In the final stages of labor, a woman becomes a yoledet, which puts her in the same category as niddah. There are a ton of different aspects of the birthing process that complicate or intensify things like whether it's a natural birth or C-section, whether she's having a boy or a girl, and so on. But basically a woman becomes a yoledet and the rules of niddah take over. For a woman in the midst of birth, I can imagine, this can be a pretty emotionally rotten time for her husband to be completely hands off.

I'm struggling a little bit with this concept, especially because (in my mind) after you give birth or in those final moments you want your partner's hand to squeeze and a kiss after going through the crazy ordeal of bringing a miniature human into the world, but it's all hand's off because of niddah.

There are even many rabbis who have ruled that a husband shouldn't even be in the birthing room at the time of labor because of the laws of yoledet/niddah, which prohibit the husband from seeing his wife naked, let alone any other graphic things that go on in the birthing room. Luckily, Rav Moshe Feinstein has said that it's okay for the husband to be in the birthing room supporting his wife, but there's still a hands-off approach (Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:75).

This might be one of the reasons that doulas are a popular addition to the Jewish birthing process, me thinks. Giving birth is such an all-sensory experience, I find it hard to imagine not sharing the physical side with Mr. T. No kiss? No hug? No job well done?

And, since you become a yoledet/niddah in labor, you have to go through the normal cycle as you would any other time. Once the bleeding after birth stops, you have to count seven clean days and visit the mikvah. Then you're back to that pre-baby pregnancy bliss of being able to canoodle your spouse whenever you like. Heck, squish that baby between your faces and smooch away!

At least that's how it works for some women. Your period can return anywhere between 11 weeks and 24 months after you give birth, depending on oodles of different factors. Some women start menstruating right away and can get pregnant immediately, others opt for birth control to regulate things and put off a baby a bit further. As all things with a woman's body go, it's a complete crapshoot.

It will be interesting post-birth to see how this all impacts me. I've never been a super touchy-feely person when it comes to significant others, but I've grown to enjoy the comfort of knowing there's a kiss or hug around the corner when I need it. Knowing that birth can do all sorts of wackadoodle things to your hormones has me in a bit of a stomach knot, because observing the laws of taharat ha'mishpacha means that you live within the confines of Torah and it doesn't bend to your will or want -- even when you think you need it.

On the other hand, it might be nice to get back into the mikvah-going mindset. Once-a-month getaways with some silence and relaxation to reconnect to myself, my body, and HaShem? Sounds divine. It really is a toss-up, and I only wish I could see the future.

What has been your experience with giving birth and being a yoledet? Was it difficult? How did you cope with being physically "alone" during such an intense time? 

Monday, November 25, 2013

What's the Deal with Chesed?

One of the things I've never understood about the Jewish concept of chesed or "loving kindness" as it's often translated is that in modern Judaism we treat the act of doing chesed as notches on a belt or ticks on our wall of proper, ethical living. 

Bar and bat mitzvah kids usually have to do a chesed project leading up to their big day, and many do great things like fundraising for wildfire victims or those suffering from the damages caused by hurricanes and flooding the world over. The concept of chesed is great, it's beautiful, and we learn from Pirkei Avot -- the Ethics of the Fathers -- that it is one of the three things that the world stands on.
Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness. (Pirkei Avot 1:2)
What we learn from this is that beyond the obvious necessity of living a Torah life, there are two things we need: service of G-d and chesed, which relates to our fellow man. This is what separated Judaism from other Near Eastern Religions. Judaism was the first "religion to focus on ethical monotheism -- the monotheistic part related to G-d and the ethical part related to man. 

So what's my beef? My gripe is that the way we connect with HaShem matters, but it only matters between us and HaShem. The way we connect with fellow man works the same way. We shouldn't do things publicly or keep lists so everyone knows how awesomely kind and giving we are. Yes, we live in a world where billionaires throw money around at causes and get lots of mad props for it, but is it right? Is that what chesed looks like?

I've been reading, weekly, a little book that Mr. T nabbed for me at Pomeranz booksellers called A Portion of Kindness by Rosally Saltsman, which has weekly mini-assessments of verses from the parshah (portion) and how we can connect it to chesed. I really like her quick and witty take on the weekly portion, and she offers a lot of great tips on how to do chesed. This past week, for Va'yeshev, Saltsman commented on how there were so many good intentions in the parsha, but that most of the time the good intentions didn't really come to fruition (like the brothers who wanted to come back, rescue Yosef and return him to his father). She discussed how there's a concept in Judaism where if the intention is there and the follow-through falls through, the intention is what counts. So often we do something with the proper intention, and it doesn't always go according to plan (at least not our plan), and that's fine. HaShem knows where our intention is. 

Although I like her approach to taking away a lesson on chesed from the weekly portion, I have to gripe that Saltsman lays out a plan to keep a chesed chart, so you can keep tabs on all of the awesomely wonderful things you've done for your fellow man. It goes back to my issue with anonymity and doing something for the sake of it being good and kind rather than for the attention and spotlight on what a great person you are. There's no weekly or monthly or yearly accounting in synagogue of all of the various chesed you've done, is there? So why keep track of it? Feel good about doing it, and move on with your life. It isn't a competition. (For a conversation about the difference between tzedakah or charity and chesed, see this article, which discusses how chesed is "higher" than tzedakah.)

What do you think about chesed? If you're not Jewish, I'm curious if there is a similar ethical responsibility that is encouraged in Christianity or Islam or Buddhism and whether keeping tabs is encouraged or if it's about doing good, feeling good, and being good. 

Note: The book reviews I'm doing for Pomeranz are honest, as all of my product and book reviews are, but the books are being given to me at no cost for review.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Understanding Parshat Ha'Man

EDIT: Okay, so after more days of digging through this portion I noticed something else that sort of throws a wrench in my "food specific" issue. At the beginning of the portion HaShem says he'll provide basar in the evening and lechem in the morning. It's only when the people actually receive the food that we read that the basar was specifically quail (shlav). This raises two questions for me:
  1. Quail is considered fowl, but here it is specifically called basar or meat. So why is there such a gripe with chicken and other fowl being considered meat when it comes to the separation of meat and milk? 
  2. Is it possible that the Israelites were valid in their request to understand what lechem exactly they were getting, since HaShem went from broad to specific with their evening course (i.e., basar to shlav and lechem to ....?)

I've been reading with astonishing regularity Parshat Ha'man -- the portion of the Torah in Exodus in which HaShem hears the people kvetching and gives them manna to keep them fed during the 40 years in the desert. The idea behind reading the portion every day is that it's a segula for parnassah. 

Okay, that's a lot of words you might be unfamiliar with. In Judaism there are many different types of segulas or things that Jews do to try and change the course or the way things are. It can be a procedure of activities or simply a prayer, but the idea is that it will create a change or provide some type of new "luck."

In this case, the segula for parnassah (or livelihood) is to say Parshat Ha'man every day for forty days (except on Shabbat). It's not magic, but some people find it kind of hokey. Other people have different segulas for getting pregnant (go to the mikvah after a woman who has several children) or for meeting a spouse.

So I've been reading the portion about manna, and with every day I read new questions arise. It's not an incredibly long portion, so the small things slowly start to create questions without answers.

The basic summary of the portion is that the people are kvetching about their situation in the wilderness, so HaShem says he'll provide them with quail in the evening and bread (lechem) in the morning to eat. As it goes, there are specific instructions about when to go out and collect the bread, and every person is to gather only according to their needs and the needs of their house. The people went out to collect it, and marveled at the miracle said, "man hu?" meaning "what is it?" and henceforth called it man instead of lechem. On the sixth day, the people are told to take a double portion for the Sabbath. Some people disobeyed and HaShem lamented the people disobeying the command. For the next 40 years the people ate the man and then entered the land.

My biggest beef with the portion so far has been in understanding the food -- there's quail, there's lechem (bread), and there's the man. In reality, the man and lechem are the same thing, with the main difference being that HaShem, Aharon, and Moshe insist on calling it lechem and the people seem to be averse to the term, marveling and calling it man.

Moshe even seems irritated at the people, reiterating that it's lechem. It seems to me that he's saying "Seriously, people, it's bread, that's what it is, and you know what bread is!"

So here's my question: Why do the people insist on not knowing what it is? Why do they insist on calling it man instead of lechem? Is it emblematic of the rest of the portion, of the people being resistant and stubborn, blind to what is before their eyes? 

Jewish Motherhood: Building Her Own "Brady Bunch"

In this installment of The Jewish Motherhood Project, we hear from veteran mom Elisheva. At 43 years old, she is mother to eight (kein ayin hara)! Her first child arrived when she was 26 and living in Jerusalem.

If you want to participate in The Jewish Motherhood Project, the Q&A are at your fingertips! Also, I'm looking for more words of advice from first-time (and seasoned) fathers.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not? 
Yes. Growing up I was obsessed with "The Brady Bunch," and I always admired families with a lot of kids. I love babies!

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling?
Greatest fear: miscarriage. Greatest anticipation: holding the baby.

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Happily, Baruch HaShem.

What was your pregnancy like? 
The first time around, I only suffered sciatica during the pregnancy, but the birth was via cesarean because he was breech. I did have an ectopic pregnancy between babies #3 and #4 and two miscarriages before #8.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
We waited until the first trimester was over before we told people. For the first four, we didn't find out the gender, but after that we did and we didn't tell :) The children's names were decided on together by me and my husband.

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
They didn't, B"H.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
EXCITEMENT! I love giving birth.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
Reb Neustadt has two very inspiring shiurim (courses/lessons) on childbirth that I listen to every time I am pregnant. (Link #1, Link #2, or Link #3, and this mom suggests "Growth Through Childbirth" and "Balancing Bitachon & Hishtadlus in Pregnancy")

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier?
I have had seven successful V-backs B"H. I also accidentally gave birth at home once, which was surprisingly (for me) an amazing experience. As I get older, pregnancy is definitely harder.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother?
  1. Trust your instincts.
  2. Birth imagery is very important for an easy birth.
  3. Colicky newborns do stop crying. 
Is there anything else you want to add?
The actual act of giving birth is the most amazing experience in the world. The best thing a woman can do for herself is to make sure she is accurately educated and has a support team that she trusts to help insure a smooth delivery.

Chavi's commentary: I'm a big believer in trusting your instincts, too, and I think it's one thing that new moms are the most scared of. Also? I have to wonder about being excited about giving birth. The physical act, that is. All I can think is "Oh my gosh it's going to hurt and be horrible and miserable and traumatic and painful and ouch ouch ouch." I pray that it won't feel that way, that it will be an amazing and emotional experience, but everything I've ever seen on TV tells me otherwise. TV, by the way, has largely ruined my view of everything having to do with giving birth. Argh!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: What Have We Done?

After an ever-so-brief hiatus, The Jewish Motherhood Project continues with a 27-year-old expectant mother who finished her degree before getting married and, after 3.5 years of marriage and aliyah (moving to Israel), decided to try for a baby. Here's wishing her a b'sha'ah tovah (it's what you say to a pregnant Jewish woman)!

If you want to participate, just hop over to the Q&A and get started. If you have a husband who has advice, please let me know, too. We need more fatherly takes on the first-time around!

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not? 
Yes and no. I definitely did not want to be a young mum. I'm the oldest child of five, and my parents are divorced. I felt a lot of responsibility to my siblings growing up and wanted my own freedom for a bit. I only wanted to have a child when I was ready.

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling?
Greatest fear: What have we done?? Are we ready? Can we afford a baby? We just made aliya, is this the right time? Will I be a good mother? Will I have enough patience?

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Everyone was very excited! As the first grandchild on both sides, the baby was very much anticipated.

What was your pregnancy like? 
So far, thank G-d, going well. Pretty textbook. I felt sick in the first trimester, but nothing unusual.

Our biggest "test" was that my husband has/had commitment phobia and didn't want to try for a baby for a long long time. It is only recently that he felt ready, which was very stressful for me as I was probably ready 1.5 years ago and was waiting for him. I used to get very upset when our friends were pregnant and had babies. Looking back, everything happens in the right time. However, it did place a strain on our relationship.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
We told our parents at six weeks and everyone else at 12 weeks. We have found out the gender, but we're not announcing it. We're also still deciding on a name ... a difficult process!

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
Pregnancy has definitely affected my work. I'm so tired so its hard to keep up. I work as a freelancer so obviously worried about taking off too much time for maternity leave and worried about juggling new baby and work as I will have to go back as we need the money...

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
Not quite there yet; I'm only 24 weeks. However I am feeling anxious about the birth. I feel torn between wanting to shop like crazy for the baby versus not buying anything because its ayin hara.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
I've been reading blogs and books. I am not so spiritual in general, but I feel very blessed to have the miracle of a baby growing inside of me.

Any advice from dad to other dads?
Can other dads please give advice to new dads? I feel like my husband has NO idea what is going to hit him when the baby is born even though I have been trying to get him to read books, talk about it, etc.

Chavi's commentary: I'm really glad this expectant mum decided to participate! I think that she and I are in the same boat as far as work, major fears, and energy levels, although having to cope with a partner who isn't necessarily ready to conceive must have been quite difficult. In my first marriage children weren't even a conversation (B"H), and in this marriage we were pregnant before we could even think about it. It is a hard balance trying to work amid the exhaustion, especially knowing that after the baby comes you'll have to hit the bricks and get back to work quickly to help support the family. Israel is definitely not a single-family-income kind of place to live by any means.

Also: I haven't had many people respond with advice from dad to other dads, so I might have to sit Mr. T down and get his tips, as he has a 10 year old and is seriously amazing with children. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Review: Getting Kvetchy at Hanukkah

I am what you might call a bibliophile. I love books, I love collecting them, I lament having to part with them (which I did with so many during my divorce and aliyah to Israel), and when I look at our bookshelves at home there are a lot of seforim, but those belong to my dear husband Mr. T. I'm not about to start hoarding books again just to have a fine balance between his and hers, but it is nice getting new books, reviewing books, and finding new authors to kvell over.

Recently Mr. T was in Jerusalem with a friend of his looking for benschers (the little books that Jews use before and after meals and on Shabbat that have songs and the prayers over food and drink) at M. Pomeranz Bookseller, a staple store owned by a couple that made aliyah to Israel more than 20 years ago. 

While there, Mr. T spotted a book: The KvetchiT: A Hanukkah Tale by Larry Butchins. He absolutely had to have it for me because I am, after all, the Kvetching Editor. Surprise surprise he brought it home and I sat reading it last night.

The KvetchiT: A Hanukkah Tale

The premise is cute, and it makes me wonder who comes up with these things (but in a good, not judgey way, of course). The story is narrated by a grandfather figure named Samuel who starts with the historic dilemma of the people at the rededication of the temple. The people are kvetching and kvetching that they don't have any oil, and although the common miracle we hear of is the oil lasting for eight nights, the miracle we don't hear of is the creation of the the KvetchiT -- a fuzzy, little three-eyed creature who feeds on kvetches. But once the kvetching over the oil stops, the KvetchiT is at a loss because he needs the kvetches to survive. He hides away in a cave and falls fast asleep.

The story zips ahead hundreds of years when a boy named Samuel finds him (does the name ring a bell?) and hears the story and agrees to help record the 20 greatest kvetches for the KvetchiT to live on. The story brings us back to the present where one of Samuel's grandchildren receives a unique gift of family tradition (and kvetching).

It definitely takes kvetching to a unique, new level of cuteness, and the illustrations are very traditional in the style of "religious" Jewish books, but not aggressively so (don't worry, you won't find the mom in a full-body coverup). I'm just bummed that the 20 greatest kvetches collected in the story are only available on cassette. Who has a cassette player?! Not this chick. I eagerly await their release in MP3 or CD format.

You can buy the book from Pomeranz for pennies, folks, and this would make a very cute gift for a child or a particularly kvetchy adult.

Do you have a favorite children's Chanukah book? A particularly excellent kvetch that you think the kvetch could live FOREVER on? With a wee one on the way, I'm eager to start collecting gobs of children's books!

Note: The book reviews I'm doing for Pomeranz are honest, as all of my product and book reviews are, but the books are being given to me at no cost for review. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Baby Update!

Well, we've entered week 35, which means I'm only a few weeks away from this baby deciding to show up whenever he/she wants. Yes, we know what we're having, but it's going to be a gigantic surprise for all of you out there in TV land! (Er ... internet land?)

Infinite Chavivas in the mirror! 

I've hit hard times in the physical department, with the Braxton-Hicks contractions doing a serious number on me. I'm sleeping worse than I was before because my body is constantly in some kind of bizarre stiff pain. Theoretically I'm due on December 11, which means I could have one long month of pain, discomfort, and frustrating gastrointestinal pain. But it's all worth it, right? It means my body is doing what it needs to and that my body is in preparation mode.

At this point, the nice thing to know is: The end is nigh! There is an end in sight.

I've hit a point where I'm starting to really love these baby movements and the waves of my belly. I love shoving the baby's bum out of the way when it's making me uncomfortable or how the baby gets really active in the early evening hours. (As I write this, baby is moving about. Is it because of the tapping on the keys? Criminal Minds playing in the background? Or maybe it's the construction going on next door.) I'm starting to wonder how I'm going to cope with missing this cutie in utero once baby arrives. Do women who love the kicks and nudges and movements easily get over missing those movements?
Pre-Shabbat, it's Redefining Rebbetzin's Melissa and I
sporting our baby bumps! These kids'll be friends for life. 

As the due date sits just a month away, I've started wondering if we have everything we need for a new baby. Yes, we've got the carseat and a changing pad and a mini pack-and-play style bed for the bedroom. We've got some outfits to get us started and a swaddler/sleeper for baby to sleep in. I'm still on the fence about whether to start out with cloth diapers or start out with disposables until we get to the U.S. in February (parents have to meet the baby sometime), so we're diaperless. Do I need babywipes for when the baby comes home? What about bottles? I don't have a breast pump for those "just in case" moments when maybe dad wants to feed baby, either.

I know they say babies don't need much, and we don't have any money sitting around to prepare for baby, so how is a girl supposed to nest!? The bedroom is a mess, serving as storage, and although the baby won't be sleeping there right away, it kind of kills me that there isn't a space for baby setup and waiting. I always dreamed of having a baby room complete with crib and dresser/changing table set, walls properly painted, clothing nicely folded and put away, a glider chair in the corner for nursing and reading baby books. I know I shouldn't feel like I'm a neglectful mother, but I can't help feeling that this isn't how I planned it.

But what can you do? As long as the baby is healthy, the baby will be happy. Now, on to happier, brighter, better topics.

There have been many of you who've asked for a baby shower or something similar, a virtual celebration of baby, but it's not exactly what Orthodox Jews do (and boy do Orthodox Jews have opinions about this). That being said, my family isn't Jewish, I have a lot of non-Orthodox friends, and creating baby registries is just ... fun. So I've created a few registries in case you're really jonesing to get me something (more will be added after the baby is born and I can get gender-specific).

The shipping address is my mom in Nebraska, but if you want to buy something and send it straight to Israel, that's cool, too (and saves my mom on shipping).


(Note:If you're sending to Israel, find the baby at Baby Gordon-Bennett | Box 323 | Neve Daniel 90909 ISRAEL. But be sure to label the box, or else I might not know who it's coming from! But whatever you do, make sure the package is marked under $50 and "used" or "gift" or else they'll confiscate it and I'll have to battle with the tax authority.)

And now? It's back to giving the baby all the attention in the world and nursing my Braxton-Hicks pain ... should we start a poll on when the baby will show up? 

Also: Did you spot the theme? Monkeys. Don't make gender assumptions. We're just expecting this baby to be a cheeky monkey!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: Starting Earlier Than Expected

It’s Magic No. 3 for The Jewish Motherhood Project, and we’re ringing it in with 32-year-old Yochana, who was 18 years old when she had her first and “barely out of high school.” Sometimes, the scariest revelation can become the greatest gift.

If you're looking for other posts in the project, check the archives. If you want to give your thoughts in the Q&A, click here.

How old were you/what was your situation when you had your first child? 
I was 18 and barely out of high school. It definitely was not what I had intended. I was living with my boyfriend (now husband) and his mom and grandparents at the time. They had previously taken me in from a bad home situation.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not?
I wasn't really sure. I knew that someday I probably would, but at that time, I was actually considering joining the military.

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling? 
I was terrified because I was so young. I had no support system of anyone my age who understood what I was going through. I had a fantastic support system in my husband's family and our friends in general, but no one my age who "got it."

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo? 
My husband freaked out at first, understandably. He didn't handle it well. His family, whatever thoughts they had about it, shared only understanding. We were so anxious, and they were so supportive. I'm very grateful. My mom was supportive, but she was having a lot of her own struggles at the time.

What was your pregnancy like? 
Other than the ridiculous amount of weight I had gained (I threw caution to the wind with my eating; 13 years later I'm still paying for it), it was pretty uneventful.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender? 
We told our immediate family and friends as soon as we found out. Neither of us were religiously observant at the time, so with every milestone, we shared the information. We chose a name I had wanted since childhood. Thankfully, the hubby also really liked the name.

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family? 
I worked part time, so it had little effect. It definitely created a strain on the families because of our ages at the time.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling? 
Anxiety. I was worried about screwing up, royally.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience? 
At that time, I was unobservant, so I didn't. It was a very clinical delivery.

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier? 
My other two children came much later, nine and 10 years after, respectively. So while my husband and I were just as surprised (didn't think I could get pregnant, then thought baby number two was a fluke), we were much more prepared mentally and emotionally. By that time, we had become observant, so there was more to it spiritually.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother? 
  1. You're going to get flooded with advice from everyone. Take it, don't take it, but listen, and consider its value. 
  2. It's okay to ask for help. Don't think you have to do everything yourself. Asking for help could ease the anxiety a bit. 
  3. Take it one day at a time. Don't stress too much about what happens later. 
Any advice from dad to other dads? 
Don't have any expectations, and make sure to remain patient — with everyone.

Is there anything else you want to add? 
I would not have planned my life as a mom this way, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. My husband and kids are amazing.

Chavi's commentary: I can't even imagine how different the experiences of pregnancy and birth must have been between your first and second/third. It was probably very similar for iBoy's mom who had him in 2003 and his sister in 2012. And what little miracles they must have been. I have to give you mad props for entering mommydom so early on in life. I don't know how I would have handled a similar situation.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Long Awaited: How to Tie Your Tichel

I've had many requests, so I finally sat down last week and did this. Of course, then I neglected to take the time to edit the video and upload it, but I finally got to it and here we are!

In these two videos you'll see just what "the bump" really is and several different types of scarves I use with the bump and how I tie them.

If there's one thing you should walk away from these videos with, it's that it's not a perfect science and learning to roll and tuck those pesky pieces of scarf away will become a piece of cake.

The Bump: A How-To Guide (Please forgive my misspelling ... I'm under the weather!)

How to Tie Your Tichel 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: Inform Thyself!

Shavua tov and chodesh tov! I got a bit backlogged last week, but we’re starting this week fresh with the second installment of the Jewish Motherhood Project. Our featured mom is 27-year-old Chloe. Check out her answers below and be sure to check out other installments on the blog. If you want to participate, find the Q&A here.

How old were you/what was your situation when you had your first child? 
I was 21 when I got pregnant and 22 when my first child was born. I had been married a few months when I got a positive pregnancy test, and he was born just after our first anniversary! I was in the middle of my second year of a BA in English Literature at Bar Ilan University and conveniently gave birth during the winter break, so I just went back to school a month later. I hired babysitters to take care of him on campus while I was in classes, and I left for the five or so minutes it took to nurse him every once in a while. It was actually pretty easy.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not?
Always? I think I never really considered not having kids, it was just something I assumed I would do one day.

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Excitedly — all smiles. Thank God.

What was your pregnancy like?
My pregnancies were both mostly textbook, as were my labors. I've been quite lucky in that regard.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
I always tell close friends and family early on, because my theory is that if I were to miscarry, those would be the people I'd need for support … so why not tell them? Plus we get to share the excitement. Same with gender. We spoke about names a few times during pregnancy but didn't decide definitively until right before the brit.

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
It makes things harder because it's exhausting, you're always the wrong temperature (i.e., sweating mid-winter and no one will open a window) and always have to pee at inopportune times. In terms of school/work, the only annoying part is having to take off so often for doctors appointments. I missed basically one class a month in one course because I could only get appointments at that time.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
Anticipation, excitement, anxiety.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
Not really. I find the Jewish spiritual take on most things too "fluffy" for my tastes; it feels more real to connect to the life inside of me and then thank God for it.

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier?
Similar pregnancies, but I was prepared the second time, so that was easier. The nausea was harder because I had a 2-year-old to take care of while lying pathetically on the couch, but other than that, not bad. Labor was much shorter and easier in that I knew what to do.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother?

  1. Read. As much as you possibly can. Inform Thyself. You are your own best teacher and advocate.
  2. Hire a doula who will be there for you no matter what choices you make in labor.
  3. When the baby is born, remember: everyone else can bathe, change, and diaper the baby, wash the dishes, make the food, sweep the floor, do the laundry. Only YOU can nurse the baby. Do so however often and for as long as you damn well please, no one else needs to feed the baby to bond with him/her. They can hold the baby while you shower, if you want. But it is YOUR baby! Remember that.

Any advice from dad to other dads?
Husband likes to say "Remember: Everything is normal." How's that for a foreshadowing of doom? :)

Chavi's commentary: This Jewish mom's experience was so different than the first, I can only imagine how many different shades of motherhood I'm going to see during the span of this project. I have to give a nod to the doula comment, just because I initially thought "no doula, no nothing" because that's my personality (I can do it all!). But living in Israel and realizing how much the language barrier would probably make for a very intense birthing experience, I found a doula and I couldn't be happier. Also? I'm going to have a serious challenge with the helping out with the baby. I have this sinking feeling I'm going to be one of those possessive first-time moms. Why? Not sure. Probably that same A-personality rearing its domineering head. But like all things, you never know until you get there!