Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

We are a holy nation of holy people. With every breath we take and every action we do, we can express our spiritual greatness. Birth, especially, is a very elevating experience, and is, in many ways, a lot like Pesach (Passover). Both involve a great deal of physical activity (hard work, to put it plainly, from whence "labor" takes its name) in preparation for the great event, and for both, the real meaning would be missed if we stopped there.

Think of someone spending weeks and months cleaning, shopping and cooking for the seder, and then, when the great moment finally arrives and everyone is sitting at the table, rushing to get through it, acting as if it was just another regular meal. This is, unfortunately, the attitude of many women (and their caretakers) toward childbirth. As one young woman put it: "We don't wash our clothes by hand like they used to; everyone has a washing machine and most of us have a dryer - so why shouldn't we want to use all the modern medical techniques available to help us get through birth faster?"

Our answer is: If you feel that giving birth is just like washing the laundry, then of course your approach to the experience will be one of, "Let's get this over with!" But if we think for a moment, we can perhaps come to a deeper understanding of the birth process and how it can develop us spiritually.

Our Sages tell us that there are three keys that until this day remain solely in Hashem's (G-d) hands: the key to rain, the key to revival of the dead and the key to birth (Taanis 2a). Bringing a new human being into the world, actualizing the potential for life, is something only Hashem can do. Birth is a peak moment for every Jewish woman, and this experience has remained unchanged from the time of Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. While so much of human life has changed drastically over the millennia, the basic way we give birth has remained the same, giving us the same opportunity to experience closeness to Hashem.

No matter how simple, straightforward and yes, even easy, a birth may be, each woman feels that she is being swept along by forces - physical, emotional and spiritual - more powerful than she. Before the actual event, every woman hopes and prays that the baby born to her will be healthy, that she will live through the experience and as an extra favor, that giving birth will be as painless and easy as possible for her.

No matter what our approach - whether we busy ourselves with making sure that the doctor will "just put me to sleep until it's over", or take herbs and practice breathing until we're breathless - we all have a sense of facing a fateful moment.

And we're right: When a woman gives birth, her record is reviewed in the Heavenly Court - it is a time of judgement like Yom Kippur. We can take these moments (and the months of anticipation leading up to them) and turn them into a spiritual springboard.

Every expectant mother wants to know what she can do to have an easier birth. Of all the contributing factors, there is none more significant than attitude. If you are hearing this for the first time, the thought may seem surprising, but observation proves conclusively that a woman's attitude toward the birth - both before and during the experience -  is the most powerful human influence on the birth outcome.

Once we know that childbirth is basically a spiritual experience, we approach it in an entirely different way than the medical-mechanical view often prevalent nowadays. After all, who delivered the Jewish babies during the Egyptian exile? None other that Shifra and Pua, who were actually Yocheved and Miriam, great Jewish women on the highest spiritual level. They represent our ideal of who should assist a woman giving birth and embodied the important qualities this person should have. We can only imagine the sanctity they brought with them and the atmosphere they helped create during the birth.

When we leave our homes to give birth in a hospital, we want to bring this sanctity with us. Everything we do should be in harmony with this uplifting sense of spiritual mission. During pregnancy and birth we are full partners with Hashem, fulfilling His will completely. He has chosen us to bring new life into the world, so no matter how this is actually accomplished, we fulfill our task. In giving birth, we reexperience the miracle of Creation.

Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Intervention)    

Part of our essential attitude toward the birth experience is remembering that just as everyone is different, so too, every birth is different and each woman will get the birth meant for her. There are no mix-ups. Hashem, in His infinite loving-kindness, gives each woman the best birth for her. We will not get, by mistake, the birth meant for our neighbor or our sister-in-law.

Sometimes, the moment we reach the hospital we become so caught up with procedures and machines that we forget about Hashgacha Pratis. All the minor irritations - having to wait endlessly to be admitted, forgetting to bring along something to drink, being given an uncomfortable bed - are part of the whole picture. As are more major events. We don't have to spend time wondering "Why me?" and "Why this?" All we have to do is remember that we have a loving Father Who is watching us every moment and giving us the best care. Knowing this will relax us more than any modern technique.

The first step in childbirth preparation is prayer. Certainly we all know the power of prayer and how beneficial it is always, but perhaps not everyone is aware of the power of prayer before the birth itself and how specific our prayers can be.

When I heard in class that I could daven (pray) for even little things, I didn't have to think too hard to know what I wanted to ask for NO stitches. That was the one thing that bothered me about the whole idea of having a baby, because alot of my friends had trouble with their stitches and they said getting sewn up after the birth was the worst part of it. I had read a few books about how to avoid having hem make a cut, but I heard that at the hospital I was going to it was a policy for all first births, as was mine.  

Every time I davened, I would ask Hashem to please let me get by with no stitches. Everyone told me thee was no way it was going to happen because it was hospital policy.

I told my midwife that my husband and I really wanted her not to cut if she didn't have to and she said she'd seee.

When the time came, she said she would have to cut. She reached over to pick up the scissors and right then, I felt the baby move down. I called out, "The baby's coming!" and she didn't even have time to pick up the scissors because she had to deliver the baby.

I didn't need any stitches later either. My husband and I couldn't get over the Hashgacha Pratis.

Try adding some special, specific prayers to your everyday davening. You have nothing to lose...and everything to gain.

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