Nitsah's Birth Story, or How to Get Your Way When Dealing with Israelis

First, a promise: I won't talk about mucus plugs, dilation, or enemas in this post.

Ok, maybe a little bit about dilation. But I'll really try to spare you what my husband calls the "gory details." (Though, for the record, the enema was AWESOME.)

I actually want to tell parts of my birth story on this blog to make a bigger point... how you can get Israelis to do exactly what you want. I'd heard so many birth stories from olim that centered around frustration with the hospital telling them what to do, like this horrific story about breastfeeding twins in an Israeli hospital from the amazing blog A Mother in Israel. I'd heard of people spending their birth on gurneys in hospital hallways, being yelled at by midwives, or having their babies disappear after birth for hours at a time.

But I got pretty much the natural birth and recovery I wanted, and I think this was partly due to good luck, but also partly thanks to my well-honed Israeli Wrangling Techniques. Yes, I freely admit that behind my big, innocent, I'm-an-olah-chadasha eyes lies a canny manipulator of sabras. (I have a bad feeling that this won't help me deal with my own little baby Israeli... I think she's already on to me.) Seriously, my Israeli-born husband lets me do the talking when we need to negotiate with someone or deal with particularly tough bureaucracy.

Israeli Wrangling Technique (IWT) #1: Don't ask "sheelot kitbag." Every oleh should be familiar with the concept of a kitbag question. The origin of the phrase goes like this: a group of tzahal soldiers are sold to run ten kilometers. One of them asks if they should carry their bags of gear with them as they run. Cue groans from all his fellow soldiers. If you ask, the answer is always yes! In dealing with Israelis, pick and choose the information that you share and the questions that you ask. Do ask questions about alternatives that Israelis might not bring up themselves.

When I arrived at Rambam hospital at 4 AM on Friday morning, we were told that a) I wasn't dilated at all, b) that they were very full and had no bed for me, and c) that I wasn't allowed to go home because my water had already broken. Rather than spend the next 24 hours in the Rambam hallway, I asked if I could go to a different hospital... and (here's the don't-ask-she'elot-kitbag part) didn't ask if I needed to get to that other hospital right away. They found that there were open beds in Carmel hospital, and let me go. I thought about going home anyway, but instead we went out for breakfast, walked around the block a few times, and finally checked in at Carmel about three hours later. I think I might have scared the cafe owner when I slumped over on his counter in the middle of a contraction, but it was all good. We also never asked if we were allowed to leave the birthing ward during all 20 hours of my labor in Carmel hospital... we just snuck out through a side door to walk the stairs. It is very, very often better not to ask. It is also very, very confusing to random janitors when they encounter massively pregnant women in the middle of contractions walking DOWN the stairs away from the birthing ward, but they deal with it.
En route to Carmel... very slowly.

IWT #2: Be persistent, and don't stop at "no." My husband might call this personal trait of mine "stubbornness" or perhaps "bull-headedness," but I prefer to think of myself as sweetly persistent. Rather like a kindly pit bull. So when the midwife at Carmel told me it was against their policy to let me stay in my own clothes during labor, I didn't rush to change into the hospital gown she offered. Instead, I explained that I was a lot more comfortable in my own dress, and yes, I knew it could get ruined, and was there any way I could do so? Nobody ever bothered me about what I was wearing again. In my experience, a "no" doesn't usually turn into a "yes"... it just fades away if you ignore it. Though wearing a gorgeous open-backed hospital gown might have made those stairway trips a little more interesting...

IWT #3: Smile and nod... then get a second opinion. This one I actually learned from my husband, and it's the best way to deal with Israelis who insist on giving you unwanted advice. This piece of advice also basically sums up the way I survived my pregnancy (and very literally, how Nitsah survived the pregnancy... but that's a story for another day).

Basically any time Nitsah cried when she was in the hospital, a helpful nurse would suggest that I didn't have enough milk... despite the fact that Nitsah was churning out dirty diapers faster than the hisardut.  I spoke to my doula (who doubles as a lactation consultant), read my crazy but crazy-useful La Leche League guide to the "womanly" art of breastfeeding, and kept similac bottles far away from my baby. Three weeks later, Nitsah has depleted our life savings in newborn-size diapers and is rocking serious thunder thighs. We're so proud!

IWT #4: Remember that you control your actions. I think too many Americans will go along with what Israelis tell them to do and try to argue after the fact. But if you've already paid the arnona bill that you think is inaccurate, you're probably not going to get your money back. Instead, remember that very few people can actually force you to do anything.

This was a factor over and over in Nitsah's birth, from when doctors tried to get me to lie still on my back or screw an electrode into Nitsah's scalp while I was pushing so they could monitor me more effectively (no, thank you-- so long as I could see my baby's heartbeat from time to time, I was going to take the position that was most comfortable to me) to when my husband insisted on holding Nitsah as she got her first shots and changing her first diaper, despite the fact that Carmel's official policy is that all family members have to stay at the doorway of the infant ward. Unfortunately, now my husband will never let me forget that he showed me how to change a diaper... a fact that I feel should be outweighed by relative percentages of diaper changes post-hospital. :)

You can't control other people's actions, but you can always try... part way through my stay in Carmel, I was surprised when nurses suddenly switched from barging through my door and flipping on fluorescent lights to tapping gently and waiting for me to answer. Then I realized that my husband had taped this sign to my door:
Translation: Please knock and wait for an answer before entering! Please don't turn on lights. Thank you!

The sign stayed up until the next morning, when a hospital worker felt it interfered with her serious task of taking my lunch order, but it had a nice run.

IWT #5: Don't take it personally. When an Israeli yells at you, he's probably not even angry... he's just being emphatic. Smile, stay cool, and respond as if the Israeli had just called you "motek" or "chamudah" instead... which he probably will do in his next sentence. And ok, sometimes the Israeli IS mad at you, as when the doctor who tried to convince us to do internal monitoring stormed out of the room as my baby was crowning, but that's ok... he ended up leaving me in the care of an awesome midwife, so it was win-win.

Most important of all... IWT #6: Don't be confrontational. This is the biggest way in which I think Americans misread their interactions with Israelis. Americans tend to get very frustrated and aggressive when they think Israelis aren't behaving properly. But dealing with Israelis is Judo, not Karate-- you don't get what you want by striking your opponent straight on but by using his weight against him. So instead of being confrontational, agree with the person you're talking to as much as possible. Smile sadly. Thank them up and down for their help, and explain that you understand why this is so difficult for them. Then, use the magic words that the Israeli cantor at my parents' synagogue taught me before I made aliyah: "az ma anachnu yecholim la'asot?" So, what can we do? By "we," you mean yourself and the Israeli you're dealing with-- you've redefined your enemy as whatever-is-keeping-you-from-getting-what-you-want. By this point, you have confused the Israeli so much that he thinks he was on your side to begin with, and he'll help you work your way through the bureaucracy until you get your way and probably grant you special protectzia for the rest of your time together and invite you to his mother's house for Rosh HaShana.

Typically, you spend 48 hours in Israeli hospitals after giving birth. But Nitsah was born in the middle of the night on Saturday, and after we spent almost two full days in the hospital recovery ward, my husband, Nitsah and I were DONE-- we didn't want to wait until morning on Tuesday to go home. My husband asked whether we could go home early, but a nurse told him no.  I went back and asked the nurse to explain the situation, as if that I didn't really understand what my husband had told me. I thanked her up and down for asking the doctor (even though I suspected she hadn't), explaining (apologetically, not angrily) that we were really tired and had been there almost 48 hours already, and I just thought I would sleep much better in my own bed. I thanked her again for trying so hard to help us, and asked her what we could do now? Is there anything I could do to help her convince the doctor to let us go early? She didn't give me an answer on the spot, but ten minutes later a nurse arrived at my room saying that the doctor could do a check-up on Nitsah to release her now. A few hours later my husband and baby were crashed together on the couch at home. :)

Before anyone asks, no, we don't fall asleep with her like this. But it's pretty darn cute when she falls asleep on her daddy's chest.
 What strategies do you find useful when it comes to Israeli-wrangling? What are your Israeli birth stories?


  1. Bring your newborn baby around feeding time to all bureaucratic places and when she cries, look helpless and confused. You will breeze through all line ups. It's awesome!!!

  2. You rock! It sounds as though you were as confident with your first birth as most of us hope to be at their third - wow!
    For the record, I'm a big fan of the agreeing method :)
    Enjoy your sweet family!

  3. Anonymous, so true... it even works when the baby isn't crying! Non-parents might want to invest in a stroller and several baby-sized melons.... ;)

  4. Great story, very inspiring. And you carried so cute.

  5. Maya, welcome back. I'll add one trick I discovered when my good friend was in the hospital here in Tzfat. There's a nurse who's mamash famous for being all you mentioned and more - even scares the real agressive, Moroccan, bossy friends of mine by yelling things like, "Why are you making so much noise when you PUSH?! What's wrong with you? Don't you know how to push!" Ich. Anyway, I went with my friend specifically to daven that she be spared this witch. It worked - they gave her a c-section, hahhaa, i guess. But before that, the woman came and was mythically horrible. I winked and my friend saying, "Watch this, hasn't failed me yet" And turned to the 60ish yr old woman saying in front of EVERYONE, "Wow, I just have to ask - what do you put on your skin?!?! It's amazing?" The witch just MELTED!!!!! Then she gave everyone in attendence a chance to hear her beauty secrets and good genes, then treated my friend like a queen calling her "mami." I wonder if she's just jealous of all the attention the birthing woman gets?

  6. Oh wow, you're a much better Israeli than I am, and I was born here! Well done, Maya. You could teach me quite a few.


  7. PS: i didn't mean to imply I knew all the stuff Maya said - news to me, except that I find when i act like an israeli, they just get madder. I think I got really lucky - maybe the tehillim gave me ruach haKodesh?

  8. Awesome story! I used your exact technique when I informed the dr. who was signing off on my pitocin that I wasn't taking an epidural. She informed that there's nothing special about being in pain. I said of course not, but i still wanted to try. She signed off on an epidural for me anyway. I didn't argue with her or get annoyed i just kept focusing on managing my pain. Thanks for explaining how if you focus on your goals and not on taking things personally, you'll most likely get what you want.

  9. I've used the "no-means-try-harder" method many times, mostly with success. It was actually my Israeli cousin who told me about that one. I should have used #6 today when the attendant in a J-m parking lot insisted I hadn't paid for parking when I had. We locked horns, I (rightfully) won, but it probably would have been more nah-im had I said, "What can WE do to fix this problem?" rather than shouting, "Are you calling me a liar?"....

  10. "...despite the fact that Nitsah was churning out dirty diapers faster than the hisardut." Clever how you worked in a subtle political comment. ;-)

    "...dealing with Israelis is Judo, not Karate-- you don't get what you want by striking your opponent straight on but by using his weight against him." Genius!

  11. Absolutely brilliant. Please continue to teach us your ways.

  12. Sweet stuff, but I wish you hadn't revealed to the Palestinians how to talk the Israeli government out of whatever we have left here...

  13. Ruth Alfasi, that skin cream tip is hilarious!! I definitely have to try that some time!!

    Satiricohen, good point... unfortunately I think the Palestinians are definitely on to the idea that "no" doesn't mean no...

  14. Rutimizrachi, I guess my hisardut comment could be interpreted as saying that my baby is malnourished and has constipation, but I couldn't resist... :)

  15. I just wanted to add another IWT: Rosh katan...ps: i just blogged about this, too.

  16. this was one of the best essays on birth in Israel and succesful klita I have read - and in one essay! Well done. And well-done Mama on an empowering birth! Mazal tov on your daughter's birth and becoming and Ima!

  17. Mazel Tov! you have a gorgeous daughter. I am happy to see you return to blogging.

  18. MAZEL TOV!! Glad you are back to posting, I was worried about you!

  19. Wonderful post! Your daughter should be so lucky to inherit your sense of chutzpah and I'm sure she will! Mazal tov!

  20. Hi! First of all, mazel tov on your new baby!!!

    I'm the mom, btw, who wrote about the experience with my twins at Mother in Israel.

    I think you have some great tips here, and it should be shared with all moms before they give birth in an Israeli hospital.

    I would love to see some tips on what to do, however, in a situation like I had... where I could not get up (in my case, due to blood pressure problems) and had babies hooked up to monitors in the nurseries. Even better, someone with two different babies to defend. I'd like to see these tips from a mom who has actually had these issues, and not just guessed at how she would handle it.

    I've heard many times since sharing my story that, "Every is ok until it's not ok." It sounds like your birth was ok from beginning to end, which is awesome, of course! I want to hear an empowering story like yours from someone whose birth or baby was not "ok" and still managed to get their way. Maybe you can track someone down to share on your blog, as a guest?

    Mazel tov again!

    ~ Rachel

  21. Rachel, I completely understand that I was lucky, and I obviously can't say how I would have handled these situations. I do think I managed to avoid some more minor situations that some of my friends have experienced (such as forceps extractions and very rough baths given by the nurses after the baby was born), but really, I WAS very lucky. It sounds like you did absolutely as well as you could have in your situation, so I hope your post on A Mother in Israel helps others deal with situations like that!

  22. Maya, mazel tov on the birth of your daughter!!!
    I must tell you that I am thrilled you have restarted your blog! I am an olah (1 yr!) and love reading your blog...you def provide some great tips and i love the humor that goes along with it.
    Keep them coming and all the best!

  23. Mazel Tov, Maya! I just had to comment on those 7 words I've NEVER seen anyone write..."for the record, the enema was AWESOME".

    Made me laugh out loud :-)

  24. Even though I'm not pregnant (I'm male!) nor expecting a child (I'm single), it was great reading this article in regards to dealing with Israeli character. I was on an already crowded bus when more people attempted to get on. I got angry and confrontational to the point of name calling (an elderly woman no doubt!). No one batted an eyelid and once I calmed down and more people were sandwiched together onboard it felt as if everyones goldfish attention spam had them focused on other things (such as the hazardous driving abilities of the bus driver)!

  25. Wonderful post. If I had read this sooner I might not have been so scared of going to the hospital. But Thank G-d the castor oil worked the second time, my water broke clear, and I got to have my planned home birth.

  26. I'm going to need to remember these, for birth and otherwise. Thank you for teaching me, Master.

  27. Rachel - just so you know I passed your story/comment on to the management at HEK when you posted it a while ago on the other blog. It was read and dealt with, for whatever that's worth. In terms of this article - although I'm Anglo, I am one of the "Israeli nurses" you speak of, I suppose. And your number 6 is really the most effective technique you mentioned. I am definitely more likely to help someone (and by help I mean go beyond the call of duty) who is nice to me than someone who is nasty. Or as we say in English "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar". Mazal tov and glad you had a fairly good experience.


Related Posts with Thumbnails