When I learned my husband’s company was relocating us from New Jersey to London during my energy-filled second trimester, I was elated. We made a bucket list and travelled nearly every weekend to dramatic places like Venice. I was due in December so once mid-October hit I promised everyone I would slow down after one last trip to Disneyland Paris.
I imagined a stress free delivery—my consolation prize for the agony of my first child’s birth, when I’d drudged through 14 hours of labor before needing an emergency C-section. This time around, once the planned Caesarian was performed in between Hanukkah and Christmas, I could resume travel in the New Year with our new baby boy in tow.
My only real fear was the impending circumcision. I’m Italian-Catholic, so I believed that the procedure should be performed in the hospital, if at all. My husband is Jewish, and he insisted we find a mohel. The thought of having my precious baby’s foreskin cut in my living room was macabre, especially since I hadn’t agreed to raise him Jewish. We fought daily over which religion our children should identify with and it caused turmoil in our family.
I had the first contraction a few days before Halloween, while we were Skyping with my in-laws recounting the fun our family had in Disney. I fell to the floor immediately amidst our unpacked boxes.
“Mommy, have a boo-boo?” my then 2-year-old daughter asked as I doubled in pain.
A tightness welled in my chest as I feared the worst knowing that it was all my fault. I’d traipsed around Europe like a selfish jet-setter ignoring my pregnancy. Even though the doctors cleared me to travel, deep inside I knew I should’ve taken it easier.
My husband deliberately packed me a hospital bag, guessing I had a bad case of false Braxton-Hicks contractions. But I knew better and as the pain grew stronger, we hopped into a black cab with my daughter while I yelled profanities unfit for a mother.
Once we were at the hospital, my daughter looked on, so Jeff found the number of a mom who I had recently met at her London nursery. The mom came and whisked my toddler away before I was able to give her kisses.
“Get her to theaters…now,” the doctor said wasting no time. Instead of an operating room I had visions of myself splayed on a stage with a spotlight pointed at me.
The labor had progressed too far and I needed to deliver vaginally, more preferred for a preemie. The nurse administered me steroid shots to help mature the baby’s lungs.
“Is he healthy?” I begged to know as the staff swarmed around me like worker bees. No answers.
The moment Jared’s scrawny blue body emerged, I reached out to hold him and feel his breath. I never got the chance because he was whisked away to be hooked up to a breathing machine.
When we entered the NICU, I wasn’t prepared for the sight of Jared in the incubator. He looked like a human power strip in a microwave, with tubes instead of wires, jutting out from his nose. Tube fed. I looked to the doctor setting up an intimidating machine near him.
“Brain scan. Don’t worry, it’s routine,” he said.
My breathing became shallow as tears and panic exploded. Though the physicians finally assured me Jared was healthy, I was afraid something could be wrong in the future.
Since I felt I had caused my child to be born prematurely, I figured I’d bargain with God. I had a hunch that the religion we chose for our children didn’t matter to him as long as they had a path. I held Jared in my arms and cried, promising My Maker that I would raise my kids Jewish in return for Jared’s healthy life and some peace in my family.
At first I couldn’t believe I’d made such a life-changing promise. My husband was relieved and happy, but he didn’t think I’d go through with it. I wouldn’t go back on my word, so instead I figured out how to forge ahead. During our four years abroad I hosted other expats for Passover seders and spoke at my daughter’s nursery about the story of Hanukkah.
“You might as well convert,” my husband said and jokingly called me The Living London JCC.
It felt awkward in the beginning. But, after a while, traditions fell into place and sometimes even worked out in my favor. Like the circumcision. In order to preserve Jared’s health, we couldn’t have it in our living room. We were required to wait until he was a few weeks older and had it performed in a doctor’s office. I considered this a win for me.
Eight years have passed and although I’ve gotten over blaming myself for the premature birth of my son, I sometimes wonder what life would’ve been like if he went full term. Would we have serenity in our family? Would our kids have a religion?
Jared is healthy and a big boy for his age. Nobody ever believes he was born two months before his due date, but every time I drop him at Hebrew School, I remember.