On Mothering in Israel

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me how it is to raise a baby in Israel. This question, along with some reading I've been doing on ethnopediatrics* got me thinking about how my mothering experiencing has been unique based on my location.

Here's a few things I've noticed:

  1. Sharing the News

    I first noticed a cultural difference in how Israelis approach pregnancy differently than Americans when it came to sharing the news. Most of my American friends paused for a second, sometimes asking personal questions (if the pregnancy was planned or if we were excited) before they expressed their excitement. Israelis, on the other hand, expressed instantaneous joy, almost as if the child in my womb was one of their own.

    Maybe this is because in the Judaic tradition, having children is considered to be a mitzvah or good deed, according to the Genesis 1:28 command to "Be Fruitful and Multiply." This is one of the most important mitzvot because without children in the earth, who would fulfill the law? No matter what was going on in our personal lives, having a baby was still celebrated as a good thing!

  2. Prenatal Appointments

    My OB/GYN, a Jewish immigrant from France, never took my weight and I never knew how effaced or dilated I was before I delivered. Sometimes I didn't feel quite as informed as some of my States-side friends who were expecting at the same time, but I think this helped me "live in denial" about when my labor was starting, as my Doula suggested, keeping all anxiety (positive or negative) low in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. Whether this lack of technical info is an Israeli thing, or a French thing, I don't know. In a nation of immigrants, maybe its one in the same!

  3. Out and About

    In Israel, babies are everywhere! With a birth rate of 19.7 per every 1000 people as compared to America's 13.8, there literally are more babies over here. Even so, when I first moved here I was surprised to see very small babies, like 2 weeks old, around town. Since this was the norm in Jerusalem, and I had family in town, I was out and about soon after giving birth, too. You might remember seeing photos from this trip to the North when Aviel was two weeks old.

    Although seeing so many small babies around town was a point of culture shock for me in the beginning, it didn't occur to me that going out so soon after giving birth was a bit unusual until some of my American friends commented on staying in for months and hibernating with their newborns. Whether to stay in, or go out, and when to receive guests after a baby varies from culture to culture. Just recently a Korean friend shared with me that they don't receive guest, leave the house, or shower (traditionally) for three weeks!

    I don't know how I'll do baby number two. Being out so much presented some challenges when learning to nurse, but it was fun to be the mom on the streets with the tiny baby that everyone was admiring.

  4. Babywearing

    We live in an urban environment, on the third floor of a building that does not have an elevator. Babywearing is the most efficient means of travel and something I thoroughly enjoy. If I was in the States where the most common method of travel is by car, I don't know that I would have had the opportunity to embrace this as a mothering style the way I have in Israel! I've blogged about it here and here, so no need to reiterate things I've already said about the glorious benefits of carrying my baby!

  5. Nursing isn't Taboo

    The orthodox community is very modest, but its accepted that breastfeeding is best. Aviel has eaten in parks, malls, restaurants, buses, airports, under waterfalls, in deserts.... all over. And because Jerusalem has a very international population, I've noticed that my friends from other places are not opposed to nursing beyond the first year, practicing child led weaning. I don't know how long we'll go, but from the things I've learned from my international group of friends, it does have me thinking that going beyond Aviel's first birthday might not be such a bad idea.

  6. Its Hot!

    No HVAC here. This actually means a lot for how I care for the baby, whether its giving baths during the afternoon, or not dressing him in as many layers as babies who have different interior climate conditions. The area where its affected how I care for Aviel the most is in feedings. I nurse around the clock. I don't want him to get dehydrated, so he gets his milk whenever he wants it. On some hot days, that's about every 45 minutes. I'm all for cue-based feedings (aka feeding on demand) because I've seen the best results in Aviel's weight gain, keeping milk supply up, and building a strong attachment between the two of us when I'm responsive to his cues rather than feeding by the clock. Living with more of a direct awareness of Israel's climate has only increased my convictions about this. Aviel knows if he's thirsty in the summer heat, so I trust his indications!

  7. Less Baby Stuff

    We don't have a Target. We don't have a Walmart. We don't have a huge selection of baby gear. What we do have is usually pretty expensive, because its likely imported and has a VAT along with regular sales tax added to the price. Most of the baby gear we have around the house is borrowed from friends who have had toys and products shipped in from the US. The nice thing about this is that we get to test out products to decide whether or not its a worth while purchase. For example, several months ago we borrowed a Graco pack'n'play, which we loved, so we decided to buy one. We couldn't find a Graco anywhere around town, so be bought an Infanti version.

    Another benefit of not having as much "stuff" is that it keeps us close. We don't have Aviel off in a corner entertaining himself in an exersaucer (not that I think there's anything wrong with such toys... especially if Mama wants to take a shower!). He's usually with us, in our arms, in a wrap, or playing at our feet. As architect Mies van der Rohe said, "Less is more." Our lifestyle of play with Aviel is more simplistic and organic; and I like that.

There's so much more to share about doctor visits, and biblical sites! Check back in later as the list continues!


*Ethnopediatics is the study of how different cultures approach pregnancy, childbirth, and raising babies.

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