“I see his head! He has a lot of dark hair!” I exclaimed to our younger daughter Devorah Elianna, who was birthing her first child.
“Push,” coaxed the midwife.
“You are doing a great job, Devorah Elianna,” I rooted as I aided the midwife with her tasks.
Devorah Elianna was very close to her Saba, my father. Perhaps it was because of the year that my father had babysat for her in his home one day a week when she was one-year-old. My mother was at her volunteer job, and so my father had Devorah Elianna all to himself.
A few years after my mother passed away, my father started having some major health challenges. Several times my father was hospitalized in Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem. To our joy he pulled through each time.
When Devorah Elianna got pregnant, an oft-requested prayer on her lips was that her Saba merit to see her firstborn. My father was hospitalized again. When Devorah Elianna would visit him, she would remind him that she would soon be giving birth and that she would bring her baby to see him in the hospital. Alas, my dear father succumbed after six weeks of hospitalization. He passed away at 6:30 pm on the last day of Av which was also Rosh Chodesh Elul. He was buried the next day, Rosh Chodesh Elul, in the historic Gush Etzion Regional Cemetery next to my dear mother, who had passed away four years prior.
That night, at 3:00 am the phone awakened me from a fitful sleep. Half-asleep, I fumbled for the phone receiver. I answered and heard a male voice say something which I didn’t catch.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“It’s Netanel.” (Devorah Elianna’s husband) “Devorah’s waters broke and we are going to Shaarei Tzedek Hospital.”
I asked him a few questions, and then told him that I would join them at the hospital. My role was that of my baby girl’s doula. (Days before my father’s passing, I had called our rabbi from the hospital room and asked, in a choked voice, if it turned out that my father would pass away before the birth, would I be allowed, according to Jewish law, to be her doula instead of sitting shiva. The rabbi’s answer was in the affirmative.)
So I found myself spending the first day of shiva with our younger daughter as she birthed a firstborn son. He entered the world exactly two days after my father’s passing.
Being my daughter’s birthing coach was an extraordinary experience. Birthing one’s own babies is very different from having a front row seat! I felt buoyed from the depths of extreme sadness by a Divine hand that had allowed me to experience the process of an emerging life with all of the happiness, thankfulness and awe that accompanies such a major life event. I have no doubt that my father watched this new soul enter the world.
One week later, at his brit milah, the baby received his name – Eliya Aharon. He was the first of five babies to receive the name Aharon. One of the five babies to carry my father’s name is a baby in the Philippines whose Catholic mother, Irene, took care of my father with great devotion.
I couldn’t wait until Devorah Elianna’s next birth so that I could be her doula again! Her next baby was due right after Pesach of this year. As the coronavirus pandemic’s claws latched onto more and more countries, and the Israeli government began clamping down on our lives in hopes to lessen the devastating effects of the coronavirus, I realized that the horizon was bleak regarding my role as a doula for my daughter.
The government established that only one person could accompany a woman to the hospital in order for her to give birth. That meant that it was either me or her husband Netanel. If I went to the hospital, I would not be able to return to my home for an unknown length of time. My dear husband, who was diagnosed with fourth-stage lung cancer, who is almost 64 and who has Type I diabetes, is in the highest-risk group. My heart was literally split with what to do. Devorah Elianna decided for me. She was too worried about her father being exposed to the coronavirus, and she told me, “Next time you can be my doula.”
Towards the end of her pregnancy, Devorah Elianna’s main worry had been what to do with their 2 ½ year-old when they had to leave for the hospital from their community of Eli which is about 1 ½ hours away from us. If they needed to go to the hospital on Shabbat or during Yom Tov, they planned to have Netanel rush their son over to our son Naftali Yehuda and his wife Ora, who live about a 20-minute walk away from them, and then call an ambulance. If they would go to the hospital on a weekday, then they would drop off their son at our older daughter Tzivia’s home in Rosh Tzurim which is a minute walk from our home.
Plan A was shelved when my daughter-in-law Ora had to be quarantined. Devorah Elianna decided to move into her sister’s apartment before her due date. They moved in during Pesach.
Apparently, the baby hadn’t been informed that his entry date was the day before his mother’s 26th Hebrew birthday. One day, another day and almost a week passed. His mom ran around by herself between the healthcare clinic and the hospital to be monitored, to have ultrasounds executed and to be evaluated by the doctors. Due to the baby’s large size, consideration was given to having a C-section performed. Devorah Elianna’s big concern was being away from her toddler for five days.
Moreover, there was suspicion that she had undetected gestational diabetes. Although three blood readings were taken by our son-in-law Tzvi, who is also a medic, and showed that her blood sugars were fine, she went to be officially tested for gestational diabetes. Thank God, the result was negative.
So while his mother ran around, the baby stayed inside. Why should he want to leave his warm, watery and relatively quiet home to enter a world of coronavirus lurking almost everywhere? Finally, after several medical interventions, he was coaxed out. He weighed in at 9 ¼ pounds with a full head of dark hair (his father’s Moroccan genes).
I, of course, stayed up while my daughter was in labor. At 12:50 a.m. I received a photo of our daughter holding a gorgeous, plump baby. I gasped. Devorah Elianna was sporting a face mask. With my claustrophobic tendencies, I could never have labored with a mask on!
Planning a brit milah during such times has a flavor of its own. Devorah Elianna told me about a friend of hers who had given birth to a son. Only three people had been allowed to attend their son’s brit milah: her friend, her friend’s husband and the mohel. For our grandson’s brit milah, ten people were permitted to attend.
In the end, the attendance inside Tzivia and Tzvi’s ground floor apartment was comprised of our two daughters, their families and the mohel—exactly ten, plus the Zoom audience which included the other set of grandparents, some of the siblings and their families, other relatives, and friends. My husband, our two single sons and I looked on from outside as one more Jew entered into the Covenant of Avraham Aveinu.
The infant was given the name Or Dovid, “the light of David”. His parents explained that Dovid was the name of the infant’s two paternal great-grandfathers. Moreover, Netanel is very connected to Sefer Tehillim, many of which were penned by Dovid HaMelech – a figure that Netanel holds in high regard. Our daughter chose the name Or because to her it represents the light at the end of the tunnel of this challenging time. I feel that the name is a harbinger of the light which will shine when Hashem sends us Mashiach ben Dovid.