My home birth story: Israel, Tzur Hadassah, apartment, bedroom.

In the months leading up to labor and childbirth, I think we all spend significant time organizing our expectations, fears and hopes.

For this birth, my expectation was it would be at least slightly easier than last time, my fear was that it could become complicated due to complications from last time, and my hope – that I would deliver my baby at home.

I’m still in shock that this birth went so smoothly… That my expectations turned out to be low, my fears unrealized and my hopes – reality.

Dealing with stigma

There’s a lot of stigma around home birth. That’s actually an understatement, of course. Which is why for almost the entire nine months, I told not a soul that we were planning it, save for a friend who did it herself and recommended her midwife to me last time (when I contemplated a home birth).

Since my first birth, it was something I wanted to do. I didn’t want my time spent arguing about it, defending my choices or getting annoyed by people who would object. I totally understand that it’s not to everyone’s taste, and something not everyone agrees about – and I would never judge someone for not doing it themselves. But there was no way I was going an entire pregnancy having to hear from other people. So I kept it hush (which I recommend to anyone who thinks they’d be in the same position).

There are tons of articles and blog posts dedicated to explaining how home birth is as safe – if not safer – for healthy women with normal pregnancies. So I don’t have to go into all that here. We fit the criteria for home birth – and yes, there are criteria. Proximity to Ein Kerem hospital (20 minutes), weight of the baby (over 2.5 kilo), health of the mother (no diabetes, etc), week of pregnancy (over 37), etc. And then there is a list of events that could happen at the start of a home birth that are an automatic transfer to the hospital. Trust in your midwife – and her confidence – are key to feeling good about it from the start.

Why home birth?

It pretty much comes down to two reasons: flexibility and after care.

For my first birth, I labored at home as long as I could before transferring to the hospital. It slowed things down. Being in the hospital seriously limited my freedom, though I will say I was grateful to have access to a strong shower for my pain management. When it came to the last period of labor and pushing, being stuck on my back (and monitored) was a major factor in the physical damage done, which is unfortunate as I was not in a high risk situation. It also ranged from disconcerting to frightening to be surrounded by so many people in such a small space. There were a lot of directions given and voices heard and it’s a time when you need to hear your gut clearer than anyone else’s.

The aftercare at the hospital was disappointing for me. No one checked me thoroughly before I left, and I was in for a shock for the next two weeks as to how to heal. Most of the time there was spent making me nervous and insane over my baby eating every 2 hours. It was a frazzled experience on top of the natural hecticness a first birth provides. The time I was alone was depressing and scary. Feeling like a sick patient was also depressing and scary.

Hadassah Ein Kerem tries really hard to promote as natural and positive a birth as possible – it wasn’t all bad. There were warm nurses and cold ones. Friendly midwives and serious ones. Look, it’s an institution and it has to run on efficiency. I definitely get it. But if I don’t have to get it, why make myself?

So this time, I was determined to be in as much control as I could. I spent the months leading up to this birth arming myself with confidence, an amazing midwife, and the drive to make it happen. And of course, a tiny bit of cautious expectation that it may not happen in the end.

How it went down

If this had been my first birth, the story would have gone very differently. Perhaps it would even be told over a sleepless 36 hours… The fact is, my active labor this time was relatively quick, partly due to ‘laboring’ in advance for a few weeks with a couple false starts. I’ll take 10 hours over 36 any day.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect – it started on Friday morning when I woke up after 6, and baby girl was born at 16:38, about two hours before Shabbat. Those two hours meant we could quickly contact my family overseas, while not having enough time to let people in Israel know – which meant we spent most of that Shabbat in a tight little family cocoon in our own home, the four of us, getting to know each other in our new family structure.

Now, to get down to the ‘dirty’ details. I’m not going to get into anything spiritual or enlightening about mother earth and the spirit of the birthing room and planting placentas. It’s not who I am. But I will say: the major difference between doing this in the hospital and doing it at home is mother’s comfort, security and flexibility to sit, stand, move, groan, do whatever she needs to do to get baby out in the smoothest, quickest, most natural way possible.

And that’s exactly what I did. And the truth is, I employed the same two tactics I used at the hospital – mostly standing and leaning on the bed during contractions or letting hot water numb my lower back in the shower when it got bad.

The hardest parts went by quickly; another thing that made it smoother was that I was able to move along without interruptions – no bumpy, windy, drive to the hospital. No wait at the reception for transfer to a room. No sitting around waiting for the IV to finish. No tap on the shoulder to get back on the bed for fetal monitoring. No ‘requesting’ that I stay on it just another 20 minutes. Just another half hour. No walking in to check on dilation and note the time and how long it’s been.

At home, it just kept going. It was a train that wasn’t stopping. And that wasn’t scary. It was going fast but it wasn’t bumpy. I was the force moving my baby into the world. There were no hills. When the midwife felt it was necessary, she checked the baby’s heart with a Doppler device for a quick few seconds. Maybe it was a total of four times in the three hours of active labor and birth.

Another thing about the home birth atmosphere: there were just three people in the room – my midwife, my husband, and myself. It was quiet and I trusted every person there; no one was a stranger. No cold hands. No foreign voices.

In the hospital, I was attended by a midwife, her student, and at times, an OB-GYN employed to scare me into moving faster. That, along with my midwife-doula and husband. Try navigating a complicated physiological process for the first time with that many people watching you and barking commands.

It affects the effectiveness of what I call ‘animal mode.’ There was a point for me, both times, where it’s just me and my body. My mind had submitted, save for the little bit left to process what people around me were doing and saying. But other than that, mind caves to body’s physical power and innate knowledge of what to do. In the hospital, when I went into animal mode, I was a scared animal – frightened by threats, intimated by people standing over me. At home, I was a strong animal. Aware amongst the quiet. Able to hear myself be. Able to process what directions the midwife confidently passed to me. There was no confusion. There was only a leads to b leads to c. That’s the kind of natural spirit we are born with to make this happen. And it’s that natural spirit that gets squashed in so many life situations.

And that’s what made it amazing. By choosing to do this at home, me and my partner gave my mind and my body the confidence and the power to do it the way I was born to do it.

Post birth

It all happened so much faster than any of us – me, husband or midwife – had imagined. The doula didn’t even have enough time to get there before baby was born. So when baby was out, on my chest, all we could really think about it was: Whoa. This happened?!

But reality actually set in pretty fast; the adrenaline-riddled shock of newborn on your chest wears off quickly the second time. I held her there and a million thoughts went through my mind, ranging from amazement to stitching to Shabbat to family back in the States.

Meanwhile, the midwife worked on the rest of birth that we tend to forget about: last contractions, placenta, uterus, stitching, blood, clean up – you know, the stuff left out of the fantasies. Midwives are meant to stick around for another couple hours to take care of mom, check out baby, make sure baby feeds, clean up the room and fill out the paperwork.

And a celebratory Coke, in our case.

Myths dispelled

There are a lot of myths surrounding home birth. I’m not going to go into dispelling all of them, but there are two that stand out for me.

The first is that if you’re the type of person to contemplate a home birth, you must be some sort of crazy hippie earth mother. I can tell you, I am not that. And somewhere deep in me, I wondered: who am I? Why am I into this?

And the reason is – because this has nothing to do with hippie earth. This has to do with you and your baby. Your needs and desires and concerns and cares. Where you – a human ready to birth their offspring – feel is best to bring your child out. It’s not about lighting candles and singing koombaya songs. There is childbirth, and there are accessories to birth. And this home birth, for me, in its entirety, was about childbirth.

The second myth is a bit simpler: messiness. Before doing this myself, I was constantly trying to visualize what the birthing room (which was our bedroom) would end up looking like. Blood all over the walls? Plastic sheets over the bed? Wet rags soaking in pots of hot water? Everything in black and white, like we’re watching the 1800s on TV?

But honestly – home birth wasn’t messy at all. A couple of small mats on the bed, supplies spread out on counter tops, and otherwise – your un-ironed shirts hanging from the closet door or the same old dirty laundry in the corner of your room if that’s how you usually play.

Part of the midwife’s role post birth is to make sure that everything is cleaned up. I don’t even remember her doing it but I can say a couple hours after my baby joined the outside world, you’d have never of known that my bedroom had been used to deliver a baby. It looked, smelled and felt the same it had when I woke up with contractions that morning.

The team

Who makes up the home birth team? Here’s how it went for me:

  • Midwife: In Israel, only one midwife is required for a home birth (in England and Australia, it’s a team of two). I used Joyce Butler, a known name from her decades at Hadassah Ein Kerem and doing home births in Israel. She’s from Matta, which is about 20 minutes from Jerusalem and 10 from Tzur Hadassah. She was also my doula with  my first birth at Ein Kerem (where she is recognized by much of the staff). I highly recommend her, whether as doula or midwife or prenatal caregiver – her practical attitude, her confidence and her experience are at exactly the right balance. One of the best things about her is the way she got on terrifically with my husband. Joyce’s phone number is 02-5337637; feel free to contact me if you want more of a recommendation.
  • OB-GYN: This may seem obvious, but it’s important to keep up with your regular OB-GYN doctor and all the necessary tests. Only the doctor can give you the referrals and prescriptions you need for tests and vitamins; a midwife cannot. And while many would agree that not all the scans and ultrasounds are necessary, there is a standard that should be held to. It helps if your doctor is midwife and home birth-friendly, of course. Mine wasn’t unfriendly; from the start we learned that he ran his own birthing clinic for 30 or so years in the United States before moving to Israel. His clinic was actually managed by midwives. We still didn’t mention home birth to him until very late in the pregnancy, however. But after running it by him, his all-systems go (and my normal pregnancy) made us all the more confident.
  • Doula: To be honest, I really felt that I didn’t need a doula this time. Knowing myself in labor, and how I do with pain, I felt what I needed was another pair of hands at most. But also knowing that we have a child to think about – which was really my husband’s job – having a doula on hand wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s also something that the midwife will require. Joyce recommended a doula-in-training from Ein Kerem who we met with twice before the birth. We totally jived – her laid-back nature and calm energy appealed to me. Unfortunately, on the day of the birth, things went so quickly she couldn’t get to my home in time to attend the laboring, but she was around right after the birth to help with aftercare.
  • Pediatrician: I prepared to have a visiting family doctor come to the house within 24 hours of the birth. We used Dr. Leora Uriel, who has a clinic in Shaarei Tzedek and works at the Maccabi clinic in Beitar Illit. She does house calls for home birthed babies privately. The cost is from 400-500 NIS and usually includes the first visit within 24 hours, and a follow up within the week.
  • Partner: We wouldn’t be in these messes without our partners, right? My husband is my support, and even though this time he couldn’t be as hands-on as last time – after all, we had another child to take care of this time – he was there when it mattered and once again, we did great work together.

Supplies you need for home birth

There isn’t much you need at home to do a home birth. The official home birth supplies check list might vary depending on your midwife, but at the core of it, it’s essentially:

  • hot water at the ready (urn or kettle)
  • a small bucket or big bowl
  • space heater or some heating source in the delivery room
  • disposable mats
  • flannel receiving blankets
  • Vitamin K drops for baby
  • newborn diapers
  • sanitary pads

The midwife brings all other equipment – from disposable utensils to emergency kits.

Other things I recommend:

  • Have coffee, tea and easy to eat snacks ready for the team.
  • Plenty of water bottles/liquids in the room for after birth, when mother needs tons of fluids. Keep a cup with a straw; easier to drink from when mom is lying down with baby on her.
  • Have your hospital bag packed and ready. You never know, and you won’t have time if you need to transfer.
  • And of course, have your camera on hand for those first new family moments created in your own home!

Telling home birth stories

When looking for home birth stories from other women in Israel, I didn’t really find much on the internet. Actually, most of the stories I did find came from the U.K. For other women who are exploring the option or want support, I think it’s important to share our experiences. Please feel free to leave your story (or a link to it) in the comments!

30 thoughts on “My home birth story: Israel, Tzur Hadassah, apartment, bedroom.

  1. Mazal tov! It’s a beautiful story. I actually know several people who have had homebirths (both in Israel and the US). It was never really in the cards for me, but I definitely recognize what you say as true–being able to labor in your own space, according to your wishes and desires, and eat and drink (for crying out loud) is something that would make the process smoother for an overwhelming number of women. I think, anyway.

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    • Hey Chava… we emailed privately… but for the sake of sharing: I didn’t mention to him anything about it until week 37 because I just didn’t think it was necessary. I mentioned it in the context of the GBS test results being negative (I was positive the first time) and he wanted to double check the protocol so I’d know if I have to buy antibiotics. So he didn’t argue with us about it b’gadol.

      It’ll be interesting when we go for the 6 week check up and it all spills out how it went… Then I’ll have a clearer picture of whether he’s not anti, just tolerant, or if I read him wrong.

  4. Liz,

    A huge mazal tov to you and your beautiful family. What a wonderful piece you wrote about your home birth experience and I am so glad you had such a meaningful and joyous birth experience. I am currently training with Rachelle to be a childbirth educator and I am just loving it. I would never have dreamed that my career would take a turn in this direction, but as you well know, having children changes your life in more ways than you could possibly ever imagine.
    We’d love to come and see your beautiful new addition when the time is good for you guys, so please let me know!
    Your Lamaze buddy Tanya (and Doron, Liev & Amalia)

  5. Amazing! Thanks so much for sharing, such a well written story too.

    In my first pregnancy I kept the home birth plan secret for a while, but after getting sick of being asked “which hospital will you give birth at?” I started to tell everyone. I would say the response was 85% negative. It just made me cross my fingers and hope I would get to birth at home just to show everyone it wasn’t a bad idea!

    Now here in the UK, yes we get 2 midwives at a homebirth and lucky us – free on the NHS. Such is the good reputation of the community midwives the homebirth rate for the area is 10%! (3% for the rest of the UK i think).

    Thanks again!

    • Wow, that stat is amazing. Seriously, anything I found helpful on the internet when researching it came from the UK… I guess you guys really have it together over there.

  6. Mazal tov!! and thank you for sharing! My husband and I (in Brooklyn) are planning a home birth and we’ve gotten a very positive response from almost everyone. The few people that have something (usually ignorant) to say we are able to respond knowledgeably with all of the research we have done and always offer to share medical and peer-reviewed articles :)
    B”H our experience at home bringing our first child into this world will be a peaceful, healthy, and fully successful one!

  7. Mazal Tov, Liz. What a fabulous story. I’m so glad that you listened to your gut and that it worked out so well. I’m actually seeing more and more women in my Lamaze childbirth classes who are planning to have homebirths. I worked with Joyce for many years at Misgav Ladach and she is, truly, wonderful with excellent instincts. By the way, you don’t have to have people who feel that homebirth isn’t safe look any further than the Cochrane Collaboration – the most highly respected database of medical research on the internet. Cochrane says that, for women with normal pregnancies, homebirth is as safe as hospital birth and will result in much fewer interventions. The crucial factor, however, is that women should do what they instinctively feel is best for them – whether hospital or home – and not go by someone else’s influence. It’s all about hormones and the woman has to feel confident with her choice for her hormones to work effectively.

    Good for you. You will cherish this memory for the rest of your life.

    Warm regards,
    Rachelle.

    • Thanks Rachelle! It means so much to hear it from you… As I’ve said before and I will definitely say again, I highly recommend your Jerusalem childbirth/Lamaze class to first timers (and beyond, apparently).

  8. Thanks for the comments and support! I’m hoping this can become a resource for others… seems like it is starting to…

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  10. Mazal Tov! Your birth experience, and the way you told it, was inspiring and touching. You have influenced me to see home birth in a new light, and I thank you.

  11. Mazel Tov! I guess your baby is over 3 months old now. Thanks for sharing your story! I’ve had 3 hospital births in the states and I haven’t been crazy about anything I’ve heard from hospitals here in Israel. We live about 4-5 minutes from a top NICU and so far everything is normal, accept for my usual low blood pressure, so I think all systems are go for a home birth. I’m also not so spiritual, but the separation of mom and baby and other hospital stuff seems so unnatural and illogical. I believe in my bodies ability to give birth and I’m happy to know I have a legal option besides being strapped to a hospital bed. Did you consider water birth or did you use your own bath during labor? My husband is actually okay with the expense because it’s nothing compared to the US WITH insurance, but I’m annoyed that the kupa won’t pay a certified midwife even a fraction of what they give the hopsital. I added you to my google reader and I’m going to check out your post-natal-posts now. Stop by my blog sometime! http://www.nonrecipe.com

    • Wow, living about 5 minutes from a NICU is great. My midwife had a whole checklist, but as long as you’re not having twins and don’t have diabetes or any other high risk factors, it should be fine.

      I personally didn’t consider water birth, a. because I’m not interested and b. because we thought it wouldn’t be a good idea considering past experience with delivery. I used my shower for pain relief (hot pressure).

      The midwives are fighting for the right to get paid like hospitals, but it’s been a long road apparently. They got their insurance taken away… It’s very unfortunate.

      Good luck with it all, and keep in touch!

      • Right now I’m waiting for Barbara Ben Ami to e-mail me back. She’s also in the Jlem area. I wish there was someone closer. Even if it’s covered, I don’t like the idea of her having to shlep out here for my prenatal check-ups. Did you meet other midwives before you chose? I checked w/ the kupa and on Clalit Platinum I can get a 2,500 back from the expense of the midwife. (75% of everything up to 2500 NIS.)

        • Joyce came so highly recommended to me, and she was the first I met and we clicked, so I didn’t bother looking for anyone else…

          Interesting about Clalit – good for them.

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  13. Hi Liz,
    Nice to meet you on digital world :)
    You see, 1 year after the last comment on this post and still my reaction here to tell you thank you for posting!
    I’m only 11 weeks pregnant from the first, but already now informing. I’m French and I lived the last 17 years in Holland, only in Israel for 2,5 years, so you will understand that I am quite lost here… All the info is most of the time in Hebrew and the instant Internet translation not always that easy to read. So your story helped me a lot to navigate further and to also prepare my husband to what is gonna be challenging as in his family they all did a “regular” hospital birth with epidural, thing I want to avoid and I think the best is to keep it for us as long as possible, as you did.

    I feel so much better with the idea of listening to my body, working with it and with mother nature. As I said to my husband, we never saw an elephant with 4 legs on top to give birth and no one put an epidural into the tree when its fruits are ready to fall…

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Audrey! Welcome :)
      I’m glad that the post was a help – I was frustrated when I couldn’t find anything in English (or barely in Hebrew) too… I hope it works out for you – get in touch if you have any questions!

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