This week's portion: departure
Reflecting on study of the Baal Shem Tov

Test run

The late-night drive to the hospital sometime before one's child is born is a rite of passage. Almost every pair of expectant parents I know has done it. Maybe there's a preterm labor scare, or the mother starts having contractions which seem to be trending longer, stronger, and closer together and the parents-to-be dash to the hospital to see if this is "really it," bringing their already-packed labor suitcase and strange new carseat along for the ride just in case. In our case it was some blood pressure readings which led us to call the Mother-Baby Unit late at night; their instructions were to come in immediately, so we did, and we wound up staying for a while.

There's no cause for alarm; baby and I are fine, though the staff there kept us for observation (and to work on titration of blood pressure medication) for a few days. The first night at the hospital I dozed a scant few hours of sleep, interrupted by the sounds of laboring women down the hall and the sudden startling (and startled) cries of newborns. The second night, although nurses woke me every few hours to check my BP, I was so exhausted from that first night that I actually slept in between the checks. Being able to get reasonably satisfying sleep in short snatches seems like good preparation for the early weeks of parenthood.

There were things about this adventure which reminded me of my stroke hospitalization a few years ago. This is the same hospital where I was a patient then. (Indeed: the stroke center is right down the hall from the wing where laboring mothers and their babies stay.) And there are elements of the hospital experience which feel the same no matter what one's in for -- the sounds and scents, the beeping of monitors, the tactile experience of getting an IV port or feeling an automatic blood pressure cuff inflate. Since I just recorded a podcast of a stroke poem for Qarrtsiluni's upcoming health issue, it's been surreal to revisit those memories.

Of course, in other ways this experience is entirely different from that one. Where the strokes came out of the blue, these late-term pregnancy complications are not a big surprise. (My history of hypertension all but guaranteed that this, or something like it, would arise.) And there's the awareness that at the end of this journey, God willing, we'll come home with a tiny person: that changes everything.

It was fascinating, going in to the hospital a few nights ago not knowing whether the doctors' response was going to be, "this is dangerous for you / for the baby; we need to get him out right now." As we drove the twelve minutes to BMC I think we were both wondering whether we might be on our way to the birth of our son. That wasn't what happened; we got the situation under control and both of us seem to be fine, so we have a new plan. Our best guess is that we will bring the baby into the world between one and two weeks from now. But it's still possible that things could change and we might wind up inducing sooner. This experience really brought that home for me.

So what now? Both of us are doing our best to clear the decks of outstanding obligations. For me, this means working on final papers for three of my classes, and accepting that the fourth class (an independent study in feminist exegesis) may not be wholly completed in time. I was supposed to lead services on the Shabbat of Thanksgiving week, but have stepped back from that responsibility, since either I'll be in labor or we'll have a newborn by then. I'm checking and rechecking the pre-baby to-do list, trying to make sure we have everything we've been reliably informed we're going to need.

And, of course, we're doing our best to enjoy these last few weeks of being a family of two. Ethan and I have been married for eleven and a half years, and we dated for five years before that, so we have a long history of two-person togetherness. There's much about our existing life together which is about to change, so this feels like a good time to enjoy the status quo before it transmutes into something new. It's amazing and humbling to recognize that we're going to become somebody's parents together.

Anyway: my deep thanks are due to the staff at Berkshire Medical Center, who have taken fantastic care of me this week. I look forward to seeing all of them again in (hopefully) two weeks as we embark on the next phase of this journey! (Well, actually, I'll be seeing them every few days for check-ups and nonstress tests, but I'm hoping that our next overnight stay is two weeks away.) And to all of you, I offer thanks for the good wishes and the support. I trust that you'll bear with me as I transition into a phase of reading fewer blogs and leaving fewer comments for a while.

One of the ways I occupied myself at the hospital this time was working on version 7.0 of the Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach. (I've been wanting to release a new version in 2010, featuring a few corrections and a number of added readings; making those changes to my master file was a great way to keep myself busy and entertained.)

If anyone out there is a visual artist who feels up to donating a simple black-and-white illustration of a three-legged stool, or an illustration of the word "Haggadah" to adorn the new cover (to make it clearer that this is a new version, different from the one which has been floating around the internet the last few years), let me know?