From the moment you get pregnant in Israel, everyone asks you whether you are going to stay in a melonit, or the baby hotel. Melonit is a full-on hospital that functions as a high-end hotel, replete with nursery and staff, as well cappuccino maker and fresh pastries. When confronted with the question of whether to stay there, I never had an answer because there wasn’t an option in the US between public and private post-delivery care; on the surface, a baby hotel seemed superfluous at best.
As my due date got closer, the question became more frequent and I was beginning to think this baby hotel may be too much of an indulgence for me. However, in the hours after I gave birth, I was certain that I would be heading there as soon as they released me.
We welcomed our son, Yuval, to the world at 11:36 p.m. on a Saturday night, and spent the better part of the next two hours with him lying on my chest, nursing, and staring at him. It was 3 a.m. by the time we were settled in the recovery room, and we were beyond exhausted, having labored for more than 18 hours and going on a full day without sleep. It took me a moment to realize that I was not alone in my room, but rather that I was sharing it with two other women, and that sharing unequivocally meant that neither my husband nor my baby would be sleeping in the room with me.
As this was my first child born in Israel, I had no idea of the protocol after labor. I had done the hospital tour, seen the delivery room, and clearly forgotten to ask the important questions. With me lying in bed, the nurse turned to my husband and gave him his options: go home or sit in a chair in the waiting room until 7 a.m.
It should have been immediately clear that these options were in place because this was a public hospital doing its best to house all of Israel’s newest mothers, and that not every woman wants random men around as she recovers from labor, but this logic only revealed itself after overreacting, sleep, and coffee.
The doctor arrived at 6 a.m. to take my blood pressure and essentially wake me from the very little sleep that was afforded me. I brushed and washed and waddled my way down to the nursery to find my baby and take him back to my room. By the time I had him in my arms in the bed, a nurse walked through the ward, yelling, “Breakfast, ladies. Get up and eat!”
Unlike my experiences in the US, there was no menu, and no delivery of food or hot beverages. If you wanted to eat, you had to get your sore, tired body out of bed, without the help of a nurse or partner, roll your baby in his plastic bed, and make your way to the common dining space for whatever food they provided for that meal.
While this felt excruciating in practice, in retrospect it was fascinating to be surrounded by a dozen other new mothers, their babies, and their extended family and friends. The ward smelled of homemade food and the sounds of new babies reverberated from every corner. Grandparents cooed and welcomed their grandchildren to the world in mixtures of Hebrew, Russian, French, and English. If I had been sequestered in my own room, as I was in the United States, I wouldn’t have been privy to this microcosm of the larger Israeli society.
By 2 in the afternoon, my husband arrived after a short sleep, two daycare drop-offs, and a trip to the market—with some homemade food of our own. After checking the baby at the nursery one last time, we made our way down two long hallways and essentially crossed over from what felt like my first night at summer camp to a five star resort.
In place of tile floors and cold water bathrooms, the baby hotel was decked out in luxury: gourmet food, individual rooms, a lactation consultant, and endless classes for new parents. From the moment we entered the baby hotel, we were indulged with the best service we have ever experienced in Israel. The reception was swift and professional, the food was healthy and delicious, and the room was clean and outfitted with everything a new mom needs including a changing table, baby bath, refrigerator, microwave, tea kettle, shower (even a bidet!), and free goodies ranging from a Carter’s onesie to lotions and diapers.
Once I arrived, I didn’t think twice about my decision to stay there. Despite the high price tag, the melonit is so highly utilized in Israel that you are lucky to reserve a spot and not permanently remain on the waiting list. It seems that like many other Israeli women, I prefer some privacy and my own shower over sharing the first days of motherhood with strangers.
Not only did I get two whole days of comfortable rest, but I had focused time away from my home (read: laundry) and my two bigger kids, to bond with Yuval and recover from the labor. More than that, I am aware that both the public and private options afforded me excellent healthcare despite the differences in comfort, and for that I am beyond grateful.