FIRST BIRTH -- The Twins

Aharon and Sarah Toybe- 31 Oct. 86

28 Tishre Tashmaz

We were living in Geula when I became pregnant the first time- about six weeks after the wedding, and that took me completely by surprise. The credit could probably go to all those who gave us blessings during those first difficult weeks of adjustment to a new life.

It's funny, but from the beginning I had a distinct feeling that there were multiple presences about me. The idea came into my head that I had twins, though I had no foundation for this suspicion. The hormone onslought was drastic, but that should not surprise a person who is pregnant for her first time in her twenty seventh year. When we emerged from our first ultrasound at five months I was laughing merrily with self vindication. Yes, there were two foetuses in there.

Actually, at first I thought I had the flu. The symptoms hit just when the Rapoport's finally held the bris for Chanoch. I'd been dropping by their house on Rchov Malachi on my way to work almost every day for news since the bris was delayed. Then I felt distinctly ill and took sick leave and missed the occasion. If I'd known I was "only" pregnant, I'd have attended happily!

At that time I was helping to care for Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller's mother, Mrs. Sarah Krassner, who was recovering from a stroke. I think I got more out of that work than she did, because I did not rate myself the most helpful or patient companion. Soon, the burden of carrying two embryos reduced my energy level so much that I had to crash out for an hour every morning. So we both rested- that worked well with the schedule. A couple of months further on I decided I must quit that job for the sake of safety. Sometimes Mrs. Krassner would lose her balance when I took her out for walks. I couldn't catch her because I might endanger the babies but I couldn't very well just let her fall. Some strong lass must take my place.

Rebbetzin Heller was understanding and marvelously helpful. I was tired, sensitive and irritable most of the time and there were some tensions between us. Still, she found me a job working for the Ben Chanan's at Aluma, which mainly involved just sitting there in the pleasant surrounds of the health restaurant and checking lettuce and grains for bugs. Here I could sit in the sunshine and use my modest amount of entomological knowledge. I could happily and conscientiously discover and remove every thrip, grub and weevil which threatened the food while trying to keep a straight face. Usually the cause for mirth was the converstations at adjoining tables, impossible not to overhear all the time. Sarah Ben Chanan was the owner, a sensitive, soft spoken Californian and effective business woman. Her daughters, Chava and Chana were delightful girls, filled with pleasantness and energy.

Chava Ben Chanan would come and give my back a good massage every now and again, but as time went on and I became heavier and heavier, sitting and checking veggies became unendurable. My energy level was also limited. The heat didn't bother me- it was a pleasure to walk from Geula to Rchov Yaavetz every morning and I often had leftovers of delicious kishes and kugels to take home. However, approaching the seventh month mark I was crashing out at work, feeling so exhausted that the Ben Chanan's were getting concerned. I'd curl up like a foetus myself and seize an hour or so of sleep, then go on. I had to quit- it wasn't fair to the Ben Chanans to take that time off my work, though they granted it generously. My back could no longer endure the strain of sitting leaning over grains for long periods. I think that last two month period before the birth was the last vacation I had! It was certainly welcome and sweet.

I grew heavier and heavier, but remained quite active, taking regular walks around Geula on any pretext. Housework was kept to a minimum because of my weariness. Laundry became an event to be recorded in my diary! In that apartment our water pressure was so low that only water faucet would function at a time and the toilet had to be flushed with a bucket. To do a wash I had to drag the machine to its post outside the bathroom, attach the inflow pipe to the bathroom tap and the outflow pipe would be placed in the bathtub. After the laundry all pipes had to be shaken dry and the machine pushed back into its regular position between the two bedroom doors. It was covered with a tablecloth and used as a side table.

We were taking Lamaze classes by Ruth Symonds in Bukarim. I liked Ruth's approach- refreshing and intelligent. She advised me to ask my doc what exercises I could do. Dr. Rachmani simply said "bedrest" and I almost laughed in his face, but I'm much too polite. I just maintained my usual regimen of walking and rest and was certainly the stronger for that. Especially those stairs!

For well over half the pregnancy I was tremendously nauseous, not in the mornings according to tradition but in the evenings. Starting at about 5 p.m. my sense of taste and smell would utterly change. Food became a nightmare, especially Shabbos food. Meat, fish and techina became sources of major disgust and suffering, falafel places were given a very wide berth and merely thinking about tuna and mayonnaise was hazardous to the stomach. We listened to a lot of regesh music in those days, and to this day I can't listen to any of the earlier hits without a sensory memory of that nausea. The waves of it would wash over me with increasing intensity as the night grew darker till I finally escaped into sleep.

It didn't occur to me to seek medication against the nausea. Generally, if I can survive and function without medication I prefer to stay clear. Why risk the side effects, to me or to the babies? Later I learned better how to listen to my body, to create a balanced diet of the foods I could eat at any particular time. By the time I was eight months pregnant the nausea had mostly gone, and I could actually enjoy chicken over Rosh Hashana and Succos but by then I had a much bigger worry!

The babies were breach and transverse. My doctor, who resembled a rather wooden count dracula, agreed that a Caeserian was likely. Akiva went to the Rebbe of Toldos Aharon, at that time Rav Avraham Yitzhak Roth, and received a blessing- a simple "they'll turn". The due date drew closer and another ultra sound was taken. The positions were no better - both breach I think at that time- already into the ninth month. Akiva went to the Rebbe again. Should we do some kind of segula? I couldn't help doubting the assurance of the Rebbe, and I was not counting on it. I was psyched for a Caeserian. The Rebbe said that segulas were not necessary and that the babies would turn. I was extremely sceptical. Actually I hadn't put on a lot of weight considering the fact I was bearing twins. There was no water retention and just 10 kilo extra- all of it in the belly. The ultrasounds showed that growth was good and all indications healthy- I already longed to see them!

Yom Kippur approached and Akiva went to see Rav Brandsdorfer about fasting. He said that I should first find out my physiological needs from the doc. Count dracula believed that drinking was necessary but eating was not. I was due two weeks after Yom Kippur. Rav Brandsdorfer advised us in the timing and amount of water to drink so that I would not drink a revi'it in less than about ten minute period, and that I should lie down all day and daven in bed.

There are many poskim who say a pregnant woman should fast on yom kippur, and many pregnant women who fast without asking a shaila, assuming that the answer will be "of course fast" or that somehow it's wrong to try to get out of it. This latter is a grave mistake, in my opinion. There are special circumstances, such as twins, where considerations of pikuach nefesh override the mitzva to fast. A baby's lungs mature in the last month. Twins tend to be more immature in development at the same stage of pregnancy. When the body is low in fluid, early labour can be induced any time in the last month or so - this is the reason that many babies are born motzi yom kippur- some more or less on time, some a week or more early. I fasted during Shira and Moshe's pregnancies without a problem, thank G-d, but twins is another matter.

During those last few weeks I longed to see those babies. I cried to see those babies. My shape became distorted to a huge front heavy pair, which Akiva insisted on comparing to a penguin. My calculated date came and went and I walked up and down Malchei Israel at every excuse. The thursday night before the birth I went to visit the Baiers who then lived across Bar Ilan, just for the walk, and there told Sarah I felt something was happening and should I go in? No painful contractions but just sensations of the body getting ready. Next thing I remember I was at Shaarei Tzedek and a few midwives had me on a monitor. "You're having contractions every four minutes!" "Really?" "They're running around inside like the sons of Rivka." Seemed a had a couple of quite acrobatic babies in there. The nurses then went on to discuss amongst themselves which kind of pains were the worst while I reclined and felt quite glad I was in no pain at all. They suggested I sleep overnight. In the morning a rather brusque doctor determined that I was barely dilated and suggested I go home. Erev Shabbos. What a dimwit. If I'd have known more I'd have walked up and down the hospital stairs for the next couple of hours, but back then we thought, well, it could take days.

Akiva had come by then, and a rather disgruntled mother-to-be boarded the bus for home. The bus. I still had to daven shacharis, and I was just up to "shomea tefilla" somewhere on sderot Hertzl when BLAM I was in powerful pain. Akiva was sitting on the other side of the aisle and I remember trying to peer around the legs of the crowd trying to attract his attention and tell him that things were finally moving. We got off at Kikar Davidka and took a short cut to Yitzhak Nafcha. I had to stop every couple of minutes for contractions- really significant ones- while Akiva was talking about buying challas for Shabbos. At home I took a nice hot shower and a rest while Akiva hopped out and bought challas, a furry penguin and then dropped by the Rapoports to ask Tzippi's advice. She sent him very swiftly home, the Sheinbergers downstairs ordered a taxi and we sped back to Shaarei Tzedek as soon as I was able to get back down the stairs. Now there was a traffic jam on Sderot Hertzl and the poor driver was getting increasingly nervous. The sound of my anguished groans every two minutes was enough to make him sweat, but the news that twins were expected nearly gave him a heart attack.

Finally we arrived. I had hard back labour and didn't want ANYONE to touch me, on pain of grievous bodily harm. I could barely get out of the taxi-don't know how we got to the labour rooms. A midwife told me I was hyperventilating and should relax, (probably true) and that I was fully dilated and ready to go. Hop hop, up from the prep room to the labour room. "Any chance of an epidural?" "She needs an epidural" "No time! She's at the end!" When my waters exploded and splattered most of the room Akiva was shooed out - after placing a copy of "Noam Elimelech" under the pillow. Suri Birnbaum had told me to say "Shiviti Hashem cenegdi tamid" which fit in with my breathing at that time, so that's what I said, or squeaked or screamed through gritted teeth for a little while longer. Then they told me to push. "What, I can push!?" I was overjoyed. No caeserian- at least one baby was ready and head down.

Then I couldn't sense the contractions properly, it was all so overwhelming. They'd put something in my I.V. to which I made some feeble belated protest, (they just said "it'll help" and I suppressed a curse. I did NOT want drug intervention. I think I caught the word "pitocin", but if so, I should certainly be feeling something. I was just numb. The monitor told me when a contraction was happening, otherwise I wouldn't know. So I pushed. From the first baby to the seventh I have not yet managed the emergence bit very well. The entire ward hears a couple of shrill screams but I'm very much in a state of denial. It takes all my courage to actually let the baby out, not that such things can be fought.

Dr. Malach was on hand with the salad spoons and after an episiotomy and accompanying shriek, Aharon was eased into the world. For a first ever baby, did he have to have such an unusually wide cranium? That was a later question. The first reaction was - Pidyon Haben! Great! Perfect! I felt very grateful for that but. I wasn't finished yet.

Sarah was born soon after with a little vacuum action. To Dr. Malach's credit, there was not the slightest sign of the forceps or the suction of either of my precious babies' heads. The nurses held little Sarah over me and I fell in love with her and just lay there saying "I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" I said exactly the same thing after Dovidl, Elisheva, Shira, Moshe and Avremi.

Someone handed me the phone. It was Leora Resnikof, the special friend who had made our shiduch. I mumbled something relevant to the situation, said "excuse me", threw up over the side of the bed, somehow finished the conversation and was then whisked off to my room where Shabbos candles were already burning.

Now, 13 years later, Aharon has layned his Breishis maftir perfectly and our beautiful twins have reached a new epoch of their development- in terms of their relationship with the world and their relationship with G-d. Hard to imagine that those two bundles tended by two exhausted parents have become the fine teenagers they are today.

Copyright © 1999 Gila Atwood

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