When I congratulated "Julie" at her son's bris, I couldn't believe that she looked better than I did at my wedding. Like most of the other women attending the ritual circumcision, we were amazed that anyone could be so put together eight days after giving birth. Trim and graceful with manicured nails and perfect make-up, Julie went out of her way to insist that I sample the blintz soufflé on the elaborate buffet table, making me highly doubtful that this could be the same woman who had just shared her horror story describing 30 hours of excruciating labor -- and four of them were spent pushing!
Women like Julie shouldn't shock me anymore but somehow they still do. As the wife of a mohel, I have seen them all. From moms who fit into their pre-pregnancy Size-6 suits to others who still generously fill their maternity clothes that make me wonder if they already had the baby, meeting new mothers is routine as grocery shopping.
Rachel Bamberger Chalkovsky doesn't need statistics to know about poverty in Israel.
Affectionately known as "Bambi," the retired head midwife of Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Hospital can tell heart-wrenching tales of women who gave birth wearing tattered undergarments and shoes, and young women in their prime who are missing several teeth for lack of dental health care and an adequate diet. From reading the postnatal hemoglobin counts of mothers she knows that 20 percent of the 900 birthing mothers coming to the hospital each month are subsisting on food such as bread and margarine.
"Six months after giving birth, and I'm still impure," says Anat Zuria, director of the controversial Israeli documentary, "Purity," as she glumly strides to the mikvah (ritual bath) on a cold, Jerusalem night.
When Susan First married five years ago at 35, she badly wanted children. With her "biological clock" ticking, she and her husband wasted little time trying to expand their new family.