Friday, December 25, 2015

What is it About Christmas?

Christmas is such a weird time for me. At 32 years old, I've still spent more of my life in the world of American, secular Christmas than I have in accepting that everything's closed and the Jews stick to movies and Chinese food.

When I was in Israel, I lamented the fact that there weren't holiday lights or obnoxious Christmas carols played over loudspeakers everywhere I went. I love Chanukah and its lights, but in the U.S. the experience is isolated and not as public as it appears in Israel. In Israel, you see the lights of Chanukah everywhere you go, and it feels festive and celebratory. In the U.S., every night I was out during Chanukah I looked around at houses and apartments hoping to see a chanukiyah, but no dice. Not even in the "Jewish" areas I drove around.

Now, as it's Christmas day, I'm mourning the loss of the season because come January 1, people will start taking down their decorations, the festive seasonal American secular Christmas machine will shut down, and it will simply be winter again. I love winter, but there's a difference during December. A sense of joy. Come January, it's just grumpy people angry that it's snowing and cold.

Part of me wonders if I'll ever get over my love of the season. I think the things that paint our character and personality happen most aggressively in our childhood. If you experience something as a child, it sticks with you for life. The tastes, scents, emotions all stick with you forever. Things that you absorb in your 20s and 30s don't hit you as hard as they do when you're younger. It's the growing years, the time when your brain and emotional maturity are coming of age.

So, I suppose, the fact that I grew up in American, secular Christmas, never going to church on Christmas or Christmas Eve (save in high school when I went once because a friend was in a Christmas pageant and another time I went to "midnight mass" with another friend) with my family, will always paint my December experience. Luckily, I don't long for a Christmas tree stocked full of presents or a big feast of roladin (an old family dish of expensive, thinly sliced beef with onions and pickles wrapped up inside and cooked in a tomato stew sauce). I'm not sure what it is about it. The lights? The scents ...

Anyhow. Back to Shabbat cooking for me. Next year, thankfully, Christmas and Chanukah fall in sync, with Chanukah beginning on December 24, 2016. I appreciate when the holidays are inline. Do you?

Additional reading: From December 25, 2007, a turning-point event that shaped my conversion experience.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Giving Birth: Israel versus the U.S.

Last week, on December 17, Mr. T and I headed to St. Joseph's for a tour of the Center for Women and Infants. Oddly enough, exactly two years earlier, we visited Hadassah Ein Kerem for the first time because my water had broken and I was in labor with Asher. Two days later, he was born at 5:46 a.m. IST, and, if you recall, the entire labor and delivery and recovery experience was one of the most traumatic of my entire life ...

Part 1: The Labor
Part 2: The Recovery

So, imagine my nervousness and anxiety at visiting St. Joe's for the first time. So far, this pregnancy has been really difficult with endless bouts of nausea and exhaustion. Compare this with Asher, who was as chill as could be in the womb giving me no nausea and not killing my level of energy. I keep telling myself that a rough pregnancy will hopefully prove the opposite in the labor/delivery/recovery realm and I'll have a cakewalk experience. VBAC with no trouble, quick recovery, no drama, no trauma.

When we got to the hospital (and, mind you, my only hospital stay was with Asher and every other extended hospital visit I've ever experienced was visiting a family member or friend), I was blown away at how clean, bright, and warm the space was. At St. Joe's there's a completely separate elevator that takes you straight to the Center for Women and Infants ... to guarantee you go exactly where you need to go quickly.

On the fourth floor of the hospital, everything is done: labor, delivery, recovery, c-sections, you name it. They have separate spaces for any procedure or process involved in the birthing process, so you don't have to be shoved on an elevator and shipped somewhere else (*cough* HEK took me from wing to wing and floor to floor *cough*). The space is open, clean, airy, and the rooms are huge with lots of space, gigantic bathtubs ... you name it. But here, watch this video, it will provide a better explanation than I can:

Now before you go all "oh my gosh people gave birth standing in a wooden shanty for thousands of years, why do you need such a fancy space," let me tell you something ... after experiencing what I can only describe as third world care and attention and a commitment to mother/baby/family at HEK in Israel, I want all the bells and whistles the world has to offer because I think I've earned it. Beyond the nice space (not having to share it with another woman and her gigantic Moroccan family) and the fact that visiting hours are 24/7 so my husband doesn't have to be thrown into some cold, cavernous space without a blanket to sleep overnight, their attention to making sure mom and baby are together as much as possible as quickly as possible sings to me.

When I was in Israel, everywhere we were -- from hospital to the baby hotel -- nurses and caretakers treated me like I was insane because I wanted to have my baby in my room with me. They kept trying to take Ash away to put him in the nursery full of screaming babies, and I was flabbergasted. Telling this to our tour guide at St. Joe's, I was met with a response that they encourage and provide rooming in for baby as much as the mother wants. In the laboring suite, they even have the measuring equipment and all the initial testing stuff built into the room so that your baby doesn't have to leave the immediate vicinity. Also, in the laboring suite I was in at HEK, I had to walk down he hall to go to the bathroom ... no toilet in the room. Terrible.

Sigh of relief. And the food? It comes from the local kosher deli (where my husband works, where they know me, where they know how to produce gluten-free food that tastes good).

After being rolled into a general recovery area full of people vomiting and coughing in Israel and not getting to see my baby for the first six hours of his life, color me stoked at the chance to have this baby nearby immediately -- even in the case of a c-section, they do skin-to-skin contact immediately, and so much more.

I know I've only been on a tour, and what happens when I give birth will definitely provide a better compare/contrast situation when it comes to what I experienced in Israel versus what I'll experience in the U.S., but after meeting with the tour guide and seeing the facilities, I have no doubt in my mind which experience will be more mother/baby-centered and where the attention to family and wellness are emphasized.

As someone pointed out to me, in Israel, the process is routine, in America people want "fan fare." I don't want fan fare, I just want to see my baby immediately, be in a clean facility with privacy and the ability to bond with my child with my husband and other child at our side, with the ability to use my own bathroom and take a shower in private. This hospital saw 4,400 births last year. I'd say that they've got routine down pretty well.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining, but I can't begin to describe how anxiety-inducing the memories of being at HEK and giving birth were ... I spent months recovering from the c-section, months where doctors should have done things differently to move the healing process of my c-section scar along more efficiently, but the Israeli healthcare system, as good as it is, doesn't always do routine as well as it does trauma and life-threatening crises care. (In my humble opinion.)

So we'll see what happens. My little trauma-inducing baby is now two years old, and as beautiful as can be. He's lively, has an attitude only a mother can love, and he's creative beyond his years. He's obsessed with dinosaurs, loves cooking in his play kitchen (he frequently makes cake and challah), and he loves drawing and creating art. I love him more than words, and I can't wait for another little person to join the family. I just hope this time around, I feel like I'm a vital part of the experience, too.

Have you given birth in the U.S. + another country? What was the experience like?

Have a question? Just ask:

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Saddest Way to End 2015

The most devastating way to end 2015? It's officially the first year since 2008 that I haven't spent at least 10 days in Israel. I'm just. Torn and sad and really unhappy about it.

2008 = StandWithUs Birthright Trip
2009 = Trip with the ex
2010 = Trip with the ex
2011 = ROI Community
2012 = Aliyah
2013 = Citizen of Israel
2014 = Citizen of Israel (left for U.S. in 04/15)
2015 = *sigh*

Yes, we are planning on moving back (after all, iBoy is there and it's our home). The question is how and when and where, and with the ramped up terror in Israel, especially in our preferred area of residence, it's hard to drop everything, hop back into a financial hole, and run back. 

Recently, the rabbi gave a moving talk on Shabbat about the balance of life in Israel, burying a teenager murdered by Islamic extremists/terrorists and celebrating a wedding (of a woman whose father and brother were also murdered by terrorists). After living through a season of rocket attacks in Israel, I felt I could handle anything. I survived the terror. But this terror? Stabbings and car rammings is a totally different ballgame. It isn't even blowing up buses, so you can say "avoid the buses." It's random, it's everywhere, it's terrifying. 

Having a child has made it even more so. My child needs me, I need him, survival is not an option. 

At the same time, mass shootings in the U.S. have risen this year, with practically one mass shooting for every day of the year. Some random, some motivated by Islamic extremism and terror. I live in a big city, with a proud and potent Jewish population. We haven't directly struggled, but what if we do? What if we could? 

I miss my home, but my heart is confused. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Announcement!

I'm pretty sure this stuff isn't kosher, but I can guarantee that what I'm cooking up definitely is. Here's hoping we didn't use all the cute juice on Asher, right?