The Torah reports about the Hebrew women in Egypt, “For they are like midwives, before the midwife comes to them, they have given birth” (Exodus 1:19). Although this might be true occasionally for some women even today, it is also written, “I will greatly increase your suffering and your pregnancy, in pain shall you bear children” (Genesis 3:16). According to Jewish mysticism as explained by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg, the rectification for the sin, which caused pain in childbirth, is JOY, wherein the women will be like “beasts of the field who give birth without assistance” (Rashi on Genesis 3:16).
“After I gave birth the joy was immense. Empowered with Hashem’s help, I found that I was able to accomplish what I thought was the hardest task,” reported Tamar Helfen, a Chabad Shulcha in Northampton, Massachusetts.
How can women today provide themselves with an atmosphere during birth that will lend itself to increased joy? A return to the ways of Shifra and Pua, the supportive, comforting touch and instinctual calming demeanor of trained labor support professionals (a doula), allow women to find their own inner strength during birth.
A mother of five living in LA described that she “definitely found inner strength during to labor, which made me truly happy, and I felt that having the support of a doula helped me find that joy.”
In accessing their inner strength to complete a challenge as great and awesome as childbirth, women increase personal joy. The scope of professional labor support to Jewish women addresses their unique needs. Every woman in labor is deserving of the valuable and precious support of a doula, enabling them to fulfill God’s will with Joy.
Tamar Helfen, who has given birth in a variety of settings, including home, hospital and birthing center, said, “Having a doula gave me security and support on all levels, mentally, physically and spiritually. She helped me to gain confidence. The doula was an agent to provide me with the tools I needed and helped me to access those tools during birth when I was feeling vulnerable.”
Most labor-support professionals help to educate women about their birthing choices. They help devise a birth plan, advocate with and for them during their labor and provide loving support, both emotionally and physically.
Another Rebbitzen, Mrs. Zehava Gotttlieb, noted, “My doula was a wonderful woman who I could trust and freed me from dealing with anything outside of laboring. She dealt with the nurses and doctors and if I needed anything she was right there for me.”
The purpose of labor support to Jewish women encompasses the above, as well as the spiritual and ritual aspects of birth, protecting modesty and assisting in the relationship of husband and wife. Implementing all of these supportive measures helps ensure that each woman will be as relaxed and comfortable as possible so she may have a blessed and joyous birth experience. The exuberance of a woman who has given birth to a healthy baby with joy is invaluable! Mrs. Levenberg further shared, “Having prepared and gotten to know my doula ahead of time made me feel comfortable in the space of birth; I never got overwhelmed and scared by the pain. Her calm, steady and reassuring presence that was constantly there for me made me feel safe and secure.”
Labor assistants are trained to support women through all aspects of their journey through childbirth. They can assess each stage of labor a woman is experiencing, guiding her through each transition. They are educated in all processes of labor and delivery, medical procedures and interventions. Their knowledge, coupled with their objective opinion can be invaluable during stressful times of indecision during the labor process. Their skills encompass a wide range of training: massage, acupressure, breathing, relaxation and visualization techniques, hydrotherapy, optimal positioning, breastfeeding initiation and smooth postpartum transitions.
“I loved the breathing technique my doula taught me,” remembered Mrs. Gottlieb. “During my third birth I used acupuncture to augment a slow labor. I probably would not have tried it unless my doula had suggested it. It turned out to have worked and I did not have to be medically induced.”
Mrs. Helfen fondly remembered that “Homeopathic remedies, physical support, visual contact and hand holding were all techniques that my doula used. She was also a pillar of strength, enabling me to release the tension of birth through her.”
Labor assistants act as advocates and protectors for women in labor. At times this advocacy is with the hospital staff, where their experience is of valuable assistance. At other times she helps in communicating with family members. She also protects both the wishes and modesty of the Orthodox woman during this special time.
Mrs. Gottlieb was relieved to know there was someone advocating for her.
“The nurses came in to do their admissions paper work as I was in heavy labor, my doula took control and did not allow the bureaucracy of all the questions shake my concentration. She protected me from having to answer, answering those questions that she could and then by letting them know that I was not able to answer,” she recalled.
The verse “The beauty of the King’s daughter is within” (Psalms: 54), translates into the purposes and aim of modesty. A labor assistant helps maintain a level of modesty during birth as well as create a safe space for uninhibited birthing, which by nature is not modest. Women who have their modesty and honor protected do not feel violated by or vulnerable about the birth experience. Mrs. Helfen was grateful for her doula and relayed that, “Having a woman present who had knowledge of my religious customs and laws was incredible. It helped me feel more comfortable expressing who I am without having to explain or apologize.”
Labor assistants help create an atmosphere conducive to labor and birth, protecting the environment for the newborn soul. The Lubavitcher Rebbe instructed women to bring the Shir Lama’alos with them to the hospital to ensure protection of both mother and baby, bringing an awareness of God’s divine hand in every birth.
Mrs. Helfen also was grateful for the spiritual focus her birth had. “My doula added to the holiness of my birth by affirming my faith with understanding, acceptance and facilitation. She knew that it was important to me to keep my hair covered and helped me to do so, as well as my body. She helped me to wash my baby’s hands after birth and facilitated a special time for us to sing Shema with him, it was beautiful.”
How valuable is a professional labor assistant? What is her purpose? It is written in the Torah that every baby born brings the Redemption closer. With each child, a Jewish mother lights one more candle for the Sabbath. Judaism teaches that each individual is vested with great power, able to reach beyond the boundaries of the natural world and self-limitations to ensure that goodness and truth reign throughout the world. Each baby born is another light in the world, another soul with boundless possibilities. The labor assistant is a link in the Divine plan to help women become partners in creation, help them fulfill their Godly mission with purpose and joy. The more beautiful and safe a woman’s birth experience can be, the more honored and joyous she will be to participate in this vital task of bringing beautiful babies, holy souls into the world.Chana Luba Ertel
About the Author: Chana Luba Ertel is a Midwife, Doula and Childbirth Educator, and Doula Trainer. She has been supporting women for over a decade and has trained more than 350 women to be doulas. She has attended hundreds of births as a doula and Midwife. She is a proud member of CAPPA, a nationally certifying organization and mother of five. She runs an annual Jewish Doula training in NY specifically geared for Jewish women. She can be contacted at email@example.com or by phone at 413-221-6224. Her website is www.maternalwisdom.org
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