There is no penetrating cry of a newborn, no exclamations of joy from the father and mother and no wishes of mazal tov from the medical staff. At most, the doctors and midwives console the parents that “it’s over.” It’s stillbirth (in Hebrew, “silent birth”) in which a fetus that died in its mother’s womb is delivered.
Although five out of 1,000 births in Israel are stillbirths, the subject has remained almost unmentionable due to the unbearable pain it represents. Friends and relatives don’t know how to console the parents, often saying: “It doesn’t matter. You soon have more children.”
But Einat Keren Mazor, a graphic artist in an advertising company, has broken the silence by writing a Hebrew-language book on the loss – 17 years after it occurred – of her unborn daughter in her eighth month of pregnancy.
Titled Kimat. Vehakol
(Still. Life) , the NIS 74, 197-page soft-cover volume is riveting, free flowing with short chapters and hard to put down. This is not a spoiler, but it is comforting to disclose that Einat and her lawyer husband, Nadav, eventually had healthy twins. Yet the memories of that unborn little girl weighing less than two kilos remain with them forever.
It is a story of loss and overcoming it, of humor and optimism, ranging from the loss of her first pregnancy to the birth of her two healthy children, a boy and a girl.
It is, writes Mazor (which means “help” in Hebrew), her personal way of strengthening and sending a loving embrace to families who are going though what she experienced.
“My breaths shortened and went faster and faster. I had no air. The thought from the morning returned and pecked at my head, again and again. I don’t feel my baby. My baby is not moving. What I did feel was a catastrophe.”
SHE RECALLED that she had gotten pregnant so easily, “almost without intending it, without any treatments.” The double blue lines on the pregnancy tests so amazed her that she did the test twice.
“I cried because I thought the responsibility would be too much. A baby is not something that you can return. It arrives without an exchange slip or a credit certificate. In any case, I thought I myself was a child, and if I had a baby I would lose the legitimatization of being a girl. Am I ready for it?” But then she calmed down, thinking how happy it would make her and her husband and their parents to have a first great-grandchild.
Her younger sister Rotem got pregnant too, and now they would have the same experiences together, she reasoned. Mazor survived the weeks of nausea, bought new clothes to suit her protruding abdomen.
When they went to the baby furniture and equipment store, the saleswoman noted that until she delivered, she could change her mind about colors. And, “if, God forbid, something happens, you can get your money back.” Why, she wondered, was she told that? “Everything is going perfectly.”
The couple went to a hotel for a weekend, where they practiced breathing exercises and learned more about childbirth. But eight months and a week, or her 32nd week into the pregnancy, she felt unwell.
On November 4, 1998 – “four years to the day that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered” – she noticed that she didn’t feel movements. Nadav rushed to the cupboard to find sweet foods that, if she ate them, could induce the fetus to move, but they had no effect.
They rushed to the hospital. After 10 seconds of examination, the doctor said, “Sorry, dear.”
“I didn’t believe it was happening to us. I didn’t believe I don’t have anymore the baby that we waited for so long. Everything seemed unreal... My nightmare.”
She was given two pills to open her cervix and cause contractions but was cautioned that it could take numerous tries. In fact, she took the pills for five infuriating days, some of them spent at home. She demanded a cesarean section but was told that it could cause serious complications in future deliveries and limit the number of children she could bear. The hospital put her in the gynecology ward instead of obstetrics so she wouldn’t be among joyful women seeing their newborn babies.
Finally, serious contractions began. At 9:25 p.m. on a terrible Monday, her dead fetus was delivered.
“Dear Einat, I can’t say mazal tov, but at least you were fortunate that the delivery came so easy. Next year, God willing, we will see you here again with a healthy baby,” the midwife said.
“I was silent. I was in shock. Everything was over, my first delivery. Five days after she died, my baby didn’t agree to part with me. And here, in 20 minutes, it was all over.”
THE COUPLE struggled over the idea of seeing the baby. Nadav looked first and saw she was small but whole and not misshapen. “I looked for the first and last time and saw my baby. Purplish and white, with big eyes and a mouth slightly opened as if to cry.”
The couple signed forms agreeing to an autopsy to try to find the reason for the fetus’s death. Einat received a birth allotment and maternity leave as if she had given birth to a live baby.
Everyone she met who heard of her tragedy told her that she and her husband would soon have another child. “It is true we will have more kids, but this girl, my first girl, with all the dreams and imaginings we had about her, about my first pregnancy, I will never have again.
How can people tell me it is not so terrible?” Einav counted every day and week that passed since the tragedy. She went even to a fortune teller, who said she would have to wait for two years to have a baby.
Four months and a day after Einat lost her baby, her sister – seven years younger than her – had a healthy baby girl. Einat worked hard to avoid feeling jealous of her.
In May 1999, Mazor found that she was again pregnant. But sadly, it didn’t last. She miscarried and spent three days in hospital.
Her doctors couldn’t find an explanation for the fertility problems, which occur in one-fifth of all couples. The Mazors began in-vitro fertilization treatments – hormone injections to create viable ova and attempts to create embryos. Several attempts failed.
They decided to switch to another hospital IVF department.
When several embryos were formed, there was another setback. The hospital informed the Mazors that a lab worker had accidentally dropped the test tube with the embryos, and they were lost.
But they decided to try another hospital’s IVF department.
Desperate, Einat went to a “miracle worker,” who heard her story, looked at her and said she had a cyst in her uterus. Another look, and paying NIS 700, and he had “eliminated it.”
They dressed up as Orthodox Jews to see a rabbi who said the problem was that she hadn’t been to a ritual bath, but Einat decided to forgo the idea.
Finally, they said they would stop trying IVF and consider adopting a child from Croatia. Just one more treatment, and that’s it. Then she found that the treatment worked, and she was pregnant. The ultrasound showed that two embryos had been implanted and were growing. She was hospitalized in her 31st week of pregnancy to protect the fetuses.
In her 37th week, the obstetricians decided to perform a cesarean section, and her twins – whom the Mazors named Neta and Noam – were delivered. At first, she wondered how they would take care of them.
But instincts and outside help overcame her fears. “As time passes, the more I love them.”
Besides the book To help other couples in their situation, Mazor set up a Hebrew-language website (https://leidashketa.com) to advise others based on her and others’ experiences.
For example, whether to look at the dead fetus is a debatable question; the answer is not the same for everybody. If the fetus suffers from a visible defect, it probably would not be wise, writes Mazor. If there is no such problem, she advises that one look to attain closure. Some may feel better by holding it, stroking it and even photographing it.
There are also couples that take a sample of the fetus’s hair or make a hand or footprint and have them turned into a piece of gold jewelry, she writes. “It may seem strange, but some parents wash the baby, dress him or her and then take the clothes to remember it by. Some even sing to it or tell it a story. Parents, she suggests, should do what makes them feel better.
Mazor also gives information on how to find midwives at certain hospitals in Israel who have special experience in dealing with stillbirths; support groups; and where stillbirths are buried.
According to Jewish law, no funeral or shiva mourning period need be observed for a fetus that died up to the 22nd week and weighs less than 500 grams; a fetus that dies after the 22nd week and weighs more than 500 grams; and a baby born alive but who dies within 30 days of birth who hasn’t left the hospital for health reasons.
But according to Israeli regulations, if the parents want a funeral and want to observe the mourning period, they may. The burial society usually does not provide information on where the fetus is buried (usually in a mass grave), but due to public pressure, it is easier to get one’s way with the Health Ministry and burial societies, she advises.
Mazor also counsels parents on how to tell one’s children and other relatives and even strangers about the tragedy and how to cope with anxiety. She also goes into the common medical reasons for stillbirth, such as overweight, smoking, alcohol, diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus, viral infections, cardiac problems and genetic disorders.
The website also contains lists of books suitable for children whom you want to tell about your stillbirth and ideas for memorializing the lost baby, including planting a public garden, releasing balloons on the memorial day for the fetus, preparing an album or having a bracelet or ring made in gold or silver from the placenta.