Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Inner peace at the Ministry of the Interior

Hello! I gave birth to a baby girl three weeks ago. And today, my husband and I took the baby, T.S., to the Ministry of the Interior to register her and make her all official with the government. All three of us needed to be present for this process, so it took some maneuvering to arrange that.

We asked the woman at the information desk how to register a baby born at home (a separate procedure from registering a hospital-born baby). She gave us a numbered ticket, and we went to sit in the vast and crowded waiting hall until our number would be called. We waited and waited and my husband started to get antsy because he needed to go guide a tour group, and there were still many people waiting ahead us.

Then T.S. made a mess of her diaper and two layers of clothing. I left the waiting hall to change her in a less-crowded place. I found a nearly-empty waiting room and got to work changing the baby. The only other person there was a young woman with an infant a bit older than mine. She immediately engaged me in cheerful banter, commenting on everything T.S. and I were doing.

"What a tiny baby! Look how she holds her head up so well! And she's just looking around the room in a circle . . . I can't believe my baby was ever so small . . . Maybe she's getting cold while you change her? Oh, she dirtied her clothes? She looks about three weeks old, right? Look how fast you change her! So fast! I can tell you already have a lot of other kids, right? Look how cute she is!"

I peeked at the woman's baby in his stroller. She and I exchanged the babies' names (but not our own) and cooed approvingly at each other's choices. Then I wished her a good day and returned to my husband in the waiting area. "Good thing I brought a change of clothes for T.S.," I boasted to my husband. "That's what you have to do when you go out with a baby," he responded.

We waited.

T.S. nursed.

An old Ethiopian man came into the waiting area, accompanied by one of the building's security guards, a young man of Ethiopian descent. The guard spoke to the man in Amharic and seemed to be explaining to him where to go and how to do whatever he was doing at the Ministry today. He accompanied the older man to a customer service booth and interpreted for him. I nursed the baby and watched them. At one point, the old man grabbed the younger man's face and kissed his cheek in gratitude.

It was almost time for my husband to leave for work. At last, our number was called. Nearly an hour had passed. We rushed to the counter and explained that we had a baby born at home. A tired-faced bureaucrat looked at us blankly. "And we want to register her?" I handed the clerk a folder of documents.

"Oh no, you don't do that here," she replied. "You need to go see so-and-so around the corner and down the hall. He deals with home births."

And we made the obligatory display of outrage and railed against the injustice of being inconvenienced so. But there was nothing to be done--the hour was gone and my husband had to leave. We would have to come back and try again another day.

My husband ran off to meet his group. I gathered up T.S. and her diaper supplies and her swaddling blanket and her birth documents and the nursing cover and my purse and my jacket and took the elevator to the lobby. And I sat in the lobby of the Ministry of the Interior and wrapped up T.S. in her blanket and stewed.

I knew, even in my aggravation, that there existed some blissful state of consciousness where I could accept that my husband and I needed to drag our newborn to a government office and wait for an hour and see no results. But I just wasn't there. I was stuck in the earthly reality of the shabby lobby, swaddling T.S. and resenting that woman at the information desk.

* * *

Six years ago, my husband and I were waiting for the results of an IVF cycle. And I woke up the morning of my pregnancy test, and wished to escape from my own life. I didn't want to live through the next several hours until the cycle's success or failure would be revealed. I wanted to take a pill that would let me sleep through that day. I didn't want to feel my heart open in hope and possibility, to feel how small and vulnerable I was. I didn't want to get bad news and be disappointed. I just wanted to skip it all.

And as I was brushing my teeth that morning, I looked in the mirror and realized that wish wasn't the whole picture. Some bits of me wanted to run far away from pain and fear and uncertainty, but there was another part, a stronger part, that didn't want that at all. I deeply desired to live every little part of my life.

When I remember that day, the first day of my life as a parent, my strongest memory isn't of walking out of a subway station and finding a message from the clinic on my phone, or of the nurse's voice when she said, "Congratulations." It's not the memory of leaning against the break room vending machine as I shared the news with my husband.

What I remember the most is standing at my bathroom sink and deciding to live my life fully and consciously, sucky parts included.

* * *

On the scale of suckiness, sometimes the hardest things for me to let go of are mornings like this one at the Ministry of the Interior, where careful planning and trying to get all the information ahead of time doesn't amount to anything. I just couldn't accept that I needed to spend an hour on the wrong line! This all could have been prevented.

I slipped a swaddled T.S. into her carrier and stepped out of the lobby and onto the Jerusalem street. I thought about the old man kissing the guard with such warmth and openness, how I never would have witnessed it if I hadn't been in that waiting area, never would have seen the young man's kindness and patience and the old man's gratitude. I thought about the other mother in the waiting room, how she boosted me up with her friendly chatter and made me feel like a calm and experienced mother, made me rejoice in the gift of my precious little baby.

And of course, I never really know why I have to go through any given experience. I grit my teeth through the painful ones and get complacent during the easy times, and for some reason, little mundane annoyances like this morning test me the most. But I want all of it, I choose all of it. I choose to taste the sweetness blended in with the less-tasty parts and drink it all together.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful story, beautiful writing as always. Glad you're back at the blog! Looking forward to reading more :) Mazal tov to the whole family and many blessings to the sweet new baby!

Chaya's husband said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere, my dear. And for the record, I'm also proud of you for changing and swaddling the baby so well and quickly!

Nancy Cavillones said...

Great story and a good reminder for us all.
~Nancy (friend of Caitlin!)

Espresso Aroch said...

Hi! Mazal Tov! So happy for you and your family and also for us, your loyal readers =)

You seem to be very well on the Right Track to really living your life and not just having it sort of pass by, but if you're looking for additional encouragement and guidance (for dealing positively with situations like the Ministry of Interior), anything by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin is great, especially Gateway to Happiness.

"Horef Bari" a healthy winter full of simcha and nachas to you and all of yours.

Pamela said...

Great reporting Chaya. I especially appreciated the moment, caught in time forever, of the old man kissing the young guard. Some times we never know when we are in a place of grace. That is why it is so important to be awake and allow our eyes to see.

SophieB said...

So inspiring for the week ahead. Thank you! (I got to your blog through jewishmom.com.

Aliana said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

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