Two elections and a baby

Within minutes, I had people on the Internet and at the Likud election-night event jump into action to save the hungry pregnant lady.

THE WRITER with her husband and their bundle of joy. (photo credit: YAEL ORBACH)
THE WRITER with her husband and their bundle of joy.
(photo credit: YAEL ORBACH)
Last autumn, a lot of dramatic things happened, one after the other.
First, I asked to change jobs, and left an editorial position at The Jerusalem Post. Then I found out I was pregnant with my second child, and three days later embarked on a US college campus speaking tour. When I came back to Israel and back to reporting from the Knesset, then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman quit, and the country started moving toward elections.
The personal and the political are somewhat intertwined for me at any time, since my career is in writing about politics, and in some ways I mark time by political events. My daughter’s birth was, of course, an event in and of itself, but it was also the night before US President Donald Trump’s inauguration. I laughed when I realized that the outfit I packed for her in my hospital bag included a hot-pink hat with cat ears, weeks before I had even heard of the Women’s March (and certainly long before I knew the march was systemically antisemitic).
But I was not prepared for the level at which politics and my son’s gestation and birth became enmeshed for me in the past year. There I was, nibbling on saltines due to morning sickness while on the bus to the Knesset, informing my bosses and colleagues that I was pregnant, and boom, we had an election on our hands.
While the Knesset’s factions deliberated what would be the best date for an election, I did my own calculations. The earlier the better, I thought, so I wouldn’t be schlepping to political events around the country with too much added weight.
When April 17 was chosen, I worked out the math. I’d be 31 weeks pregnant, and coalition talks last six weeks, plus there’s around a week before the negotiations start. That means, chances are, I’d be able to work until there’s a new government and things wouldn’t be too crazy for the Post when I went on leave.
Oh, how naive that sounds now.
I went about covering an election while pregnant. On the plus side, people let me sit in situations like press conferences, where I would have normally had to push through throngs of people to get a spot – standing or seated – where I could see or hear what’s going on. On the downside, I really needed the seat; I was tired and achy. If I had to go to a campaign event in the evening, I would take a nap in the afternoon, before having to pick my daughter up from preschool.
Election night was dramatic as always. I wore my most business-appropriate maternity dress, because I had agreed to provide commentary for various BBC programs. I was extra busy, writing news and analysis and color for the next day’s Jerusalem Post and for the website at any given moment.
But then, at 1 a.m., I finished the last of the food I had packed for the night, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman said he hadn’t left Jerusalem yet to give a victory speech in Tel Aviv. So, as I often do, I tweeted about it. Considering how Israelis generally respond to pregnant women, I should have realized what kind of reactions I would get, but I didn’t really think about it.
Within minutes, I had people on the Internet and in the arena where the Likud was holding its election-night event jump into action to save the hungry pregnant lady. Ruth Eglash of The Washington Post, and formerly of The Jerusalem Post, offered me a tuna sandwich, but being very pregnant, its smell made me nauseous. Rachael Risby-Raz, former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s chief of staff at the time, created a hashtag, #snacksforLahav, and had a stroke of genius. Risby-Raz tweeted to Ronit “HaBibistit” Lev, arguably Netanyahu’s biggest fan on Twitter. Lev sent me a phone number of someone she knew was at the event, whom I texted to ask for food.
Our Twitter audience watched raptly and commented on every development for over an hour, until the Likud’s English-language spokeswoman Rachel Broyde noticed what was going on and saved the day with an egg salad sandwich. Risby-Raz wrote a lovely tweet about how she knows Israelis will be united despite an ugly election, if she, a Blue and White voter and longtime Olmert aide, and “Ronit HaBibistit” could work together to help me.
At the end of the night, I couldn’t get a taxi because there was so much traffic in the area of the event, but some journalist friends helped me find a ride with a photographer who was driving in my direction. She used the excuse of “pregnant woman on board” when shouting at other drivers to clear a path and let them through, implying that I was in danger of going into labor. I was feeling fine, it must be said.
I have to say that despite swollen ankles and hunger, it was an exciting night that I mostly enjoyed. And that’s what I told the many people who said I should just go home or that I shouldn’t be working. I love my job, and I was still capable of doing it.
After the April election, I thought it would be smooth sailing with coalition talks until I gave birth. But, as we all know now, it was nothing of the sort. The talks stalled and went nowhere. The last day for negotiations before Netanyahu was supposed to tell President Reuven Rivlin that he failed to form a government was also my last day at work, with a scheduled C-section planned for five days later. It wasn’t just coalition negotiations – my pregnancy had also gone less smoothly than expected, because the baby was breech.
In any case, I and most other political reporters were fairly certain that those coalition talks would end up with a government at the last minute. Instead, the Knesset dissolved itself in my last hours of work before I would be off for several months.
I apologized to my colleagues, and as the Post started shifting reporters around to cover for me, I gave birth to a healthy boy. I spent the three months of maternity leave caring for my new bundle of joy and my adorable toddler, with plenty of help from my husband, mother and mother-in-law, for whom I’m grateful.
I also spent those three months following every little news story about the election, which made the leave somewhat less relaxed than my first. Then again, having two kids instead of one made it less relaxed as well.
But when I returned only two weeks before the second election of 2019, I was prepared. My husband was spending that time at home with our son, and I was off to listen to panels and attend press conferences. When I returned to the Likud on election night, I brought plenty of snacks, and didn’t need them all.
Now, my son is four months old and with me, as I mostly work from home during coalition talks. He’s lying on a play mat next to me as I type these words, doing his latest trick, which is holding a toy and bringing it to his mouth.
I’ve registered him to start daycare in the coming weeks, in anticipation of there being a government and my having to once again be in the Knesset on a regular basis. Because, let’s face it, two elections and one baby were dramatic enough for one year. I wouldn’t wish a third election in a year on anyone – pregnant or not.