Rue Amelot

Silent Delivery, How My Stillborn Twins Made Me A Better Mother

"If only the world's shattered people carried a sign, a small mark of Cain so that we could be gentler with them, maybe smile a bit more – not to pity them, but to console ..."

Silent Delivery, How My Stillborn Twins Made Me A Better Mother
Einat Nathan

TEL AVIV â€" One of the doctors walked into the delivery room taking the last bite of his sandwich. During my 18 hours in room six, many people came and went, but most of them kept quiet. That’s what it’s like with a stillbirth. Even the doctors are silent meeting death where they expect to find life.

The doctor with the sandwich apologized politely. He was on a long shift and it was the first chance he had to grab something to eat. I thought how lucky he was to have the taste of food still lingering in his mouth, how lucky his life hadn’t collapsed in the blink of an eye and he was able to feel hunger. And then I thought of that sandwich, and how I identified with it â€" lying there in room number six with the epidural drip and being chewed on by life.

Are you here by yourself?

Five out of every one thousand births is a stillbirth. The common term in Hebrew, translated “silent birth,” suggests what’s missing: the cry of a healthy baby. When something happens to the fetus before week 22, the fetus is aborted, but after week 22, you have to give birth. It’s a birth in every sense: induction, contractions, delivery room. Sometimes the fetus dies in utero because of a defect or an umbilical cord obstruction, but in the majority of cases, as it was in ours, the cause remains unknown.

A few hours earlier, we were on our way to the hospital, an excited, loving couple, 39 weeks pregnant with twin boys. In a few more hours, we would become a family. During the past few months we had done everything we were supposed to. We ordered a layette, moved from a one room apartment above a sandwich shop swarming with singles, to a quiet, more upscale neighborhood filled with people pushing strollers. We were ready.

My husband, Yuval dropped me at the entrance of the ER, and went to park the car. I went on my own to the maternity ward for the fetal monitor. With twins it’s always hard to locate the heartbeat at first, but I knew where each of the boys nestled inside me; the three of us had already spent a long time together. The right one was a real-action hero, his brother on the left was more easygoing, but no less present. I instructed the midwife where to search for them, and suggested that she start with the one on the left. “His heartbeat is always located first, he’s just more cooperative,” I joked. “His brother is a different story.”

I remember her fumbling there for long minutes while I speculated that it must be her first shift straight out of nursing school. “Are you here by yourself or is someone with you?” she asked and stepped into the hall to call Yuval, knowing that these were our final seconds before our universe collapsed.

Yuval came in with a worried look. My love, always the worrier. Right behind him was the midwife and a doctor, both of them explaining, very cautiously, that we would need an ultra-sound to locate the heartbeats. Yuval held my hand as he had through every ultrasound. The doctor stared at the screen, put down the probe, and told us that the life within me had ended.

What kind of a mother doesn’t want to see her babies?

It was my second pregnancy. The first one ended after 22 weeks. At the time we felt unlucky and grief-stricken, feeling the full blow of parting with our fantasy.

Four months after we said goodbye to our first daughter, when the gynecologist identified two heartbeats, I thought this was God’s compensation. There was poetic justice in these two who had come to console my womb: I would have two children â€" one for that loss, and the other for a brother. Apparently there was some grand scheme to this world after all. What a privilege to be able to get pregnant so easily.

The pregnancy itself, wasn’t easy. But after we passed the amniocentesis â€" surpassing the point when the last pregnancy ended, and with no signs of any scary genetic defects â€" we felt we had beaten the system.

At some point I was instructed to stay in bed, simply because my small frame couldn’t handle the weight. I would stretch my arms all the way out in front of me, and feel my belly end at the tips of my fingers. I spent my time mostly obsessing over the chances I had of going back to my pre-pregnancy jeans after this alien experience. But my main concern was to reach week 36 like the doctor ordered, to steer clear of the dangers of a premature delivery. And truly, I watched over the pregnancy grandly, and it watched over me. Until someone up there fell asleep on his watch.

How do you come to terms with such a thing? The truth is, you don’t. For an hour and a half I screamed at the heavens and wailed in a voice I didn’t know I had. When my eyelids felt swollen beyond recognition, I finally understood the meaning of the phrase “my tears have all dried up.” Then I realized the hardest was still to come: I had to give birth. And before that, we had to convey the news to our family â€" to call my concerned and loving dad, and Yuval’s parents who had been on “twin alert” for days and tell them that their dream of grandchildren had been shattered. My father was in the delivery room within half an hour. I’d seen him cry only a few times in my life, but this was the hardest time of all.

There are no special wards or delivery rooms for stillbirths. We went into a regular delivery room and our parents waited outside in the company of jubilant grandparents reporting on their cellphones about full dilation and congratulations, and what a perfect grandchild, what a brave mother. When my father hugged me, all I could say was, “I’m so sorry Dad, I’m so sorry.” I was sorry for the disappointment I caused them, for their pain and sadness. For not being able to fulfill that one simple expectation of giving them grandkids.

Eighteen hours later I pushed and my firstborn was out. I was sure that the right one would be first: He had the characteristics of a firstborn. He probably cut his brother some slack, I thought. A few minutes later and he joined his older brother.

Photo: Phalinn Ooi

The medical team insists that I hold them, say goodbye, kiss them a first and final time. One of the midwives tells me how beautiful they are, my dead babies, and how important it is for the grieving process to say goodbye. But I know that seeing them will make me lose my mind. Deep inside I know that the little life I still have left in me will be gone if I hug my dead children. “What kind of a mother doesn’t want to see her babies?” I think as I’m being stitched up. Everything is a painful blur, but the certainty that I must save myself is as sharp as a needle. Just like Lot’s wife, I know that I mustn’t look back. That if I look back I will turn into a pillar of salt. So in order to survive I choose to be the mother who leaves behind her dead children. On March 7, 1999, in delivery room Number 6, I choose life.

Silence and children don’t go together

In 1999, a connection was established between the medication commonly used for preventing lactation and a higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes. The drug was banned, and so I found myself standing in my shower at home, my body wounded, my stitches painful, milk dripping from my breasts. It was a horrific shower. How I had longed to shower in the comfort of my own home! But no one had warned me about this cruel moment when my milk would come and remind me I had no one to feed with it. I sat on the floor of the shower, the water running, tears and milk washing over me. The birth was behind me, but the rest of my life lay ahead.

“Mazel tov!” cheered the grocer, the barber, the sweet neighbor next door, and the other kind people who had no idea of our misfortune. Mostly, I squirmed knowing how uncomfortable my reply to their most natural greeting was going to make them. I stared at myself in the mirror and stepped into the street, completely whole on the outside but shattered and broken on the inside. Staring at the passersby, I wondered which of them was as crushed as I was. It was obviously a lie: this whole camouflage of clothes, a smile, make-up, a stroll. If only the world's shattered people carried a sign, a small mark of Cain so that we could be gentler with them, maybe smile a bit more â€" not to pity them, but to console. So that we could identify one another, meet each other’s internal devastation and know that under the external shell there are bleeding wounds of loss.

After two weeks back at home, it all becomes clear. Life is short, so we choose joy. We love each other and we hang on to that love because it’s the only life-preserver provided to us. We fly to New York because it’s far from here and from the pitying looks of kind people. Maybe there, we’ll be able to not feel sorry for ourselves and remember the most important thing: that we are stronger than this, that our union can bring us great happiness, that great happiness is a choice and that we choose it every day anew. In the sadness that engulfed us, we were hungry for joy.

For three weeks we walked a strange country, spending money and love. The joy came back to my body, and it chose to do with it what it knows to do best: get pregnant. On March 9, one year later, in a different hospital, I gave birth to Eyal, 7 pounds and 3 ounces of life. When I held him for the first time in my arms, squirming and whining, I held them too. I greeted Eyal and said goodbye to my twins. I cried for the joy of this meeting, I cried for that separation, I cried because I won and I cried for what I had lost, and mostly I cried because Eyal was crying, and what a joy it is to hear a baby’s cries in the delivery room.

The term “silent birth” is misleading. The silence in the absence of a crying baby is deafening. Inside the soul of a mother who is grieving for a dead dream, for her vacant arms, for a meeting that will never transpire, there are many things, but not silence. I don’t know why it happened to me, but I know what happened to me because it happened to me. I know that my marriage forged a new alliance of which a new love was born, a love that withstood some of the worst pain life has to offer a couple who is just 28 years old. A couple who lost a dream at the end of a full-term pregnancy, lost the names agreed-upon in late-night debates and which had already taken hold in their imaginations, lost the belly strokes which will not be repeated in later pregnancies, a couple who lost its innocence.

Today I know that we gained life, that we gained perspective, faith and will, and that the disaster which struck us then, made us the parents we are today. I know that the two babies who perished in my womb turned me into a different kind of mother to my five children. I know that because of them, when I face the daily difficulties of motherhood, I am grateful for every “regular problem” life throws my way. I know I have been blessed with the privilege to appreciate a crying baby, because I have been where babies don’t cry.

That experience has gone to dwell in another place within me, a place of honor, which reminds me to be contented with my lot, a faraway painful place, homesick for the babies I never met â€" but accepting and whole. And sometimes, when I see a mother pushing a stroller with twins, I remember the broken dream and smile to myself. And when I get home, I dance in the kitchen with my kids, joyful dancing, to the sound of very loud music. Because silence and children don’t go together.


Einat Nathan is an Israeli parenting coach, lecturer and media personality. She writes a bi-weekly column in Mako magazine, is a frequent guest on national television, and a radio host. Her book, Mother Tongue will be published in fall 2017.

This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris we call home. Send ideas and suggestions at info@worldcrunch.com.

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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