Thanks to the State of Israel’s generous maternity leave policy, I was able to spend the last three months taking care of my baby. Israel grants every mother 15 weeks of paid maternity leave from the National Insurance Institute.
I had grand plans for this paid vacation to which I was entitled. I was going to improve my guitar skills, look for, and get hired for, a better job, reconnect with old friends, tend to my garden, read a whole bunch of books, take a computer class, and write articles.
Before I gave birth, my husband and I took a prenatal course. While we loved the course and the teacher, we both agreed that it was pretty theoretical for people who have never been parents before. After all, dressing a doll made of plastic isn’t at all like trying to find the corresponding buttons of the onesies on a tiny, fragile, squirming baby. And no one tells you that most babies come out looking like a cross between a chicken and a squirrel. In fact, my baby’s features really reminded me of the squirrels running around Minnesotan backyards. My baby’s name is Emunah Tohar, which means pure faith. But as a nickname, I called her Squirrels. The nickname stuck.
There’s a lot that is taught in prenatal courses and I think that every woman and/or couple should participate in these educational classes. When we arrived to the hospital, for example, the doctor wanted to induce the labor because I was screaming in pain. But inductions can potentially lead to complications in the baby, which can result in needing to perform a Cesarean Section. Labor hurts but it’s a natural process. Because of the course which we took, we had the knowledge to refuse. Other information in these courses include the stages of labor, nursing vs. formula, and how to give a baby a bath.
Growing up, my mom would always say “the work will show you how to do it.” While most professions must include prior educational, theoretical training, I think that many skills are simply acquired through practice.
Prenatal classes provide essential information. But If I were asked to add anything to the curriculum, I’d include the following practical information:
- An epidural may be a great painkiller, but there is probably no anti-pain medication in the world that will dull the pain you feel when your child is in pain.
- When a child is born, so is a mother. Just as Child goes through a learning process, so does Mom. It isn’t fair to expect either to be born perfect.
- No health professional should ever tell you that your opinion about the child with whom you spent nine months, and spend 24/7 caring for, “doesn’t matter.”
- A mother reserves the right to refuse suggestions from well-meaning relatives.
- If your child loses weight, it isn’t a reflection of your devotion as a mother. Don’t let others make you feel that way.
- Don’t beat yourself up if all you accomplished all day was keeping your baby happy, fed, and alive. You’re the only one who can do that.
- You’ll probably never sleep well again. Ever.
- You will drop your prejudices against various sects of humanity when you need help getting your child, shopping bags, and yourself safely up the stairs.
- You’ll feel vulnerable in asking for such help, and you’ll be brought to tears on various occasions when you realize how kind are some people.
- You’ll lash out at your partner for no reason other than the fact that the welfare authorities will show up if you take out all that frustration out on your baby.
- Don’t take for granted a career which doesn’t sparkle, yet allows you to be present for your kid. Your job as a parent is the most important profession.
- You can feed a baby too much, let it be outside for too long, or maybe allow it to sleep too much. But there is no such thing as loving a baby too much. A child needs both physical and emotional sustenance to grow.
- Your baby will make you feel like a hero when you’re feeling down on yourself. When others question your competence, remember that there’s a tiny little human whose whole life depends on you.
- You will wonder how you’ll possibly hand over your baby to a caregiver, worrying that the 1 million percent which you gave of yourself will be undone in an hour by another woman.
- You may have said you loved your spouse, your mother, or pizza. But you’ll never love any of those things like you love your child. You’ll wonder if what you feel comes close to the love that you have known thus far.
- And when they hand you that minuscule, naked, puffy-eyed thing that doesn’t look at all like the fat, cherubic, smooth babies in all those baby ads that tried to convince you that if you didn’t purchase X contraption your child won’t develop properly, you may not have words for the feeling you have. But, after all the pain you recently underwent, after all those months of nausea, check-ups, worrying, avoiding sushi and Jacuzzis, you’ll hold that being close to you and you may be surprised when you find yourself declaring: “I’d do it over, and over, and over again.”
No, I never got to my ambitious to-do list. But my baby is happy. She’s gaining weight, albeit slowly. She sleeps, she doesn’t cry unless she needs something, and she’s the best little companion ever. I am grateful for the time that I had to develop myself as a person and I know that I will continue to do so when the time is right. For now, I am doing my best to be a Mom and I know that that’s no small feat.
My mother was right. It’s the work that shows you how to do it. While I still recommend taking a prenatal course, I think that there’s a lot which you learn on the job. And, if its your voice, your touch, your hug which relaxes your baby, know that you must be doing something right.