Birth and Fear: Bringing God In

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February 4, 2010

I knew something was wrong when my daughter and son-in-law didn’t call. Sandra, my wife, had said that it most likely would be within the hour, and now it was 3 hours later.

All I knew was that my daughter was in the birthing room, more than 2 weeks overdue, and was receiving a stimulant. I was home with the other kids.

The phone finally rang and San sounded exhausted and rushed. “You have a baby granddaughter. Ma’ayan gave birth half an hour ago but I couldn’t call. Too much was going on. The baby came out face up, drinking the amniotic fluid. She wasn’t breathing. The midwife slapped her a few times on her feet and rubbed her chest and then the baby started to scream. Meanwhile, Ma’ayan started to bleed so much that the midwife told me to press the emergency button. Within seconds the room was full of doctors and nurses, everyone busy. They took the baby away and now we’re waiting. I’ll call you back later.”

My heart and spirits began to sink. I couldn’t jump with joy. It was awkward even to tell the kids what was going on.

Another phone call “Ma’yan is recovering but the baby’s sugar is low. They’re putting her on a drip to make sure it goes up.”

I had no idea what this meant, so I turned to the internet to check out what it means when a newborn baby has low blood sugar. That probably wasn’t a wise thing to do. What came up? Potential irreversible brain damage.

I am the worrying type. I would say that I am a world-class worrier. My mother is from Vienna. During the Holocaust, only a child, she fled with her mother. I grew up in a worrying home. Not just over what happens, but what might happen. Even on a sunny day, they would say: “Maybe it will rain, maybe it will get cold, and maybe you’ll catch pneumonia. Better put on a coat now. Take a coat with you, just in case.”

And so I began my campaign of worrying, all of my fears coming up.

We went to see the baby that night, still hooked up to the infusion. Hard to fake the joy. And another day and another day.

I knew that I had to inform relatives and friends, so I began to write to everyone. What do I write? Do I write “mazel tov”? I wrote “mazel” - and then paused. Was this mazel tov – or mazel ra, good fortune or bad?

And then I paused again. I paused for a long time, dwelling on this. What was I concerned about? What were my fears? For the baby – whatever would happen would happen. If the baby is disabled, will she see herself as unfortunate? Will she be depressed? Will she have low self-esteem? Will she feel sorry for herself? Perhaps. But then, would she be any different from my middle class neighbors, friends, and students? These are not particularly happy times.

When I look back now, I realize that not only was I afraid, but that I had made myself afraid. I had created and escalated my fears.

The popular song of Rebbe Nachman “The whole world is a narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be afraid” has another, more authentic ending, “… the most important thing is not to make yourself afraid.” Rav Kook goes even farther and writes “Anxiety and weak-heartedness are repulsive qualities. They preclude love and happiness.”

I let these words into my heart.

Ribono shel Olam – Master of the Universe – You let us bring a new neshama, a new soul, into this world. How astounding is that? I can understand how we human beings can take wood and make a chair, or take wheat and make bread. But how can we as flesh and blood beings bring a soul into this world? My worries did not allow me to see the ineffable wonder of the moment.

Birth, any birth, is a miraculous gift. Thank you, Creator of All, for this gift of life.

A week later, the baby has a name – Hallel Hadas—and is off the I.V. She looks quite cute. We hope that she will live a long, healthy, prosperous, and meaningful life, and that we will be able to nourish her with love and affection. And that You will give us the strength to keep ourselves from letting our anxieties and fears blind us from experiencing Your awe-inspiring gifts. Amen.

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