An adorable young couple moved into our building. The newlyweds were slim and attractive, he dark, she fair, both with sweet smiles and lots of chein. We extended an invitation to join us for a Shabbos meal, and they said they would let us know. Minutes later, the husband knocked and asked to borrow our sifter. I was slightly embarrassed and apologetic that I had uncharacteristically put it away without wiping off every last vestige of flour, but I handed over our Bnei Brak sifter nevertheless. Almost immediately, they eagerly accepted our Shabbos invitation. Apparently, we had passed their makeshift ‘test’ by having the most stringent possible sifter, floury or not. The netting on it was so fine that not only was it impossible for insects to get through; it always seemed that neither could the flour!
Despite our age difference and the fact that they were newly married and we were expecting our fourth child, the newcomers and us hit it off well. However, we only remained neighbors for a short while before my husband decided that we should move to a new neighborhood near the yeshiva where he taught. We said our good-byes and wished each other well, then went our separate ways.
Fast-forward a year and a half.
I had gone into labor with my fifth child, and my husband drove me to the hospital in Yerushalayim. As he was letting me off at the maternity entrance, we noticed another couple approaching. Immediately, we recognized our former neighbors, although she had put on some weight in front and walked with the same distinct waddle as I. We had an enthusiastic albeit brief reunion, and then the young husband insisted on carrying in my hospital bag while my husband parked the car. The three of us were quite a sight to behold: two very pregnant women and one dazed husband carrying two bags!
Eventually the nurses sorted it out and assigned us each to a labor room. Alas, the hospital staff did not seem too anxious to deliver babies that night. They ultimately sent both of us packing, along with another woman in the early stages of labor, admitting only one out of four women to the delivery room. Again, we said our farewells and shared sincere brachos before parting.
I have to admit that I was mortified. Here I was, forty weeks pregnant, about to deliver my fifth child, thinking myself a veritable expert regarding labor and delivery. How could I have had a false alarm? I decided to wait until I was 100% sure that I was in active labor before daring to show my face at the hospital again.
My contractions petered out and only resumed in earnest a couple of weeks later. When they were quite intense and coming just minutes apart, I decided to risk going to the hospital to deliver. By the time we arrived, I was practically at the transition stage already. I was assigned a bed in the labor room. By now, it was morning, and the doctors and interns were making their daily rounds. A fair-sized group surrounded my bed and inquired about my status. When they asked which week of pregnancy I was in, I responded truthfully that according to my doctor’s calculations I was currently in my 43rd week. That raised some eyebrows to be sure, and the consensus was that after they had completed their morning rounds, they would return and take me to have an ultrasound.
After their departure, I summoned the nurse and informed her that I felt ready to deliver. She examined me and was shocked to discover that I was correct. Because of my advanced stage, she gave me the option of delivering the baby right in the labor room instead of transferring me to the delivery room. I gratefully agreed, and within moments, b”H, delivered a healthy 7 pound 11 ounce baby girl. The nurse felt that the delivery room was not warm enough for the newborn, so with my permission, she bundled her up and whisked her off, until we would both be transferred to the maternity floor.
As I was lying in my bed in the labor room, recovering from the trauma and excitement of the birth, who should show up but the same contingent of doctors and interns, fresh from their rounds? They cheerfully informed me that they had indeed returned to take me for an ultrasound. Although I hated to burst their bubble, I explained to them that the labor had progressed so quickly since their initial visit that I had delivered right in the labor room, and no longer required an ultrasound. They were somewhat surprised, but not as visibly disappointed as my husband. He kept chastising me for spilling the beans, picturing the perplexed looks on the faces of the doctors had I played along and had the ultrasound post-delivery.
That was the first time in ten births that I arrived at the hospital prematurely. But, unfortunately, it was not the last. When I was pregnant with my seventh child and living in Canada, I had a remarkably similar experience. Again, the labor failed to progress, and again I was sent back home.
This time, however, I did not have to wait over two more weeks for the intense contractions to kick in. The day after I returned from the hospital, I engaged in some fairly strenuous activity, including raking all the leaves in our expansive backyard. Soon, my contractions were coming fast and furious.
My husband had left the house at 5:30 a.m., as usual, to learn with his chavrusah before davening. Likewise, as usual, he did not return home during the day, instead going straight to his full-day job as the Judaic principal of the local Jewish high school. Those were the days before the ubiquitous cellphone was standard-equipment; so keeping in touch was somewhat of a challenge. My husband called from work and I apprised him of the situation, mentioning as well that if the contractions continued at their present rate or intensified, I would try to find a friend or neighbor to pick the kids up from school for me.