Who Will Live and Who Will Die?

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23 Aug 2018

I received the call at about 11:00 pm. One of our daughters-in-law, Dina*, was in labor. Could I come and babysit for their two daughters who were asleep? I got dressed rapid fire and traveled to their town about a half an hour drive from our home. It was Dina’s due date. She would be the second of the three females in our family, who were pregnant at the same time, to give birth.

When I arrived at their home, a neighbor of theirs was in the apartment. The neighbor had been summoned in case the ambulance arrived before I did. Moshe thanked the neighbor who was free to return home. I found my daughter-in-law sitting on a plastic chair in the tiny kitchen and moaning.  It seemed to me that Dina was in the throes of labor—in transition.  But, since I had not witnessed her in labor before perhaps she was just in the middle of labor. I didn’t know what her pain threshold was.

Since they do not own a car, our son, Moshe*, had called the ambulance service before I had arrived, but to his and Dina’s dismay, there was no sign of the ambulance. Our patient and soft-mannered son called again, “What’s taking you so long? A person could die while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.”

Finally we heard footsteps in the stairwell. A frum female paramedic and frum female driver appeared at the door of the third-floor walk-up apartment (in Israel it is the second floor). The paramedic assessed the situation with some questions, and Dina and Moshe were rushed out of their apartment to the ambulance.

I went to sleep in the extra bedroom, but I did not sleep well. I was waiting for the call about a new healthy grandchild. My mobile phone rang at about 6:00 am. I answered it with great expectation. Moshe was on the other end. He said, “Dina did not need stitches” I thought, “This is very strange information to relate when your wife has just given birth.” I didn’t understand why he was telling this to me.

I asked him, “And what else?’

I was not ready for the bomb that he dropped. “There’s nothing else, Ima,” he said with a despondent tone.

“What do you mean,” I inquired.

“The baby was a stillborn,” he told me.

I felt my knees bucking and I was about to start screaming. Moshe immediately said to me, “Ima, the girls are about to awaken. You have to put yourself together. You need to act like nothing is amiss. I will tell them when I come home.”

I asked for some details as if they could plug up the holes in my heart. Moshe related how the ambulance had sped away to the closest Jerusalem hospital and not the one for which they had registered. There hadn’t even been time for Dina to put on a hospital gown. The midwife put a monitor on Dina’s bulging belly in order to listen to the baby’s heartbeat, but before they knew it the baby was born. She was whisked away to the warming station, which seemed very strange to Moshe. Why didn’t the nurse allow the baby to spend some time on her mother’s body? After a while, Moshe and Dina were informed that the infant had died sometime during the last few days before the birth.

I asked Moshe what time this had happened. It turned out that it had happened hours before, but he did not want to wake me up in the middle of the night with the nightmarish news. He had spent the time alone in a room with his dead baby. Hearing this made me want to cry more, but as Moshe had already told me, I needed to be strong for the girls. I called my husband and informed him. We were all crushed.

I put on a happy face for the girls who I needed to bring to their nursery/kindergarten. They inquired if their mother had given birth. I told them that their mother had not yet given birth. I had to repeat this to the nursery teacher and kindergarten teacher.

My granddaughter became a statistic. A stillbirth happens to about 1,000 couples per year in Israel. After extensive testing, no medical reason was found for why the baby had died. Just two days before the stillbirth, Dina had undergone an ultrasound, and everything had been fine.

Our son told me that Dina had so much emuna in the way in which she was taking the potentially devastating news. It turns out that this was not the case. She was in shock. When the shock wore off a bit, someone had to be found upon which to express all of her emotions. Unfortunately the victim was me.

Dina had never gotten along well with anyone in the family except for Moshe. When he had brought her home to meet us, we were disappointed and felt that she was not suitable for him. Our son Moshe is such a gentle soul, and we felt that he deserved someone who was a diamond like him.

After the wedding, Dina started expressing anger in many situations. We felt like we were treading carefully on eggshells any time that we were around her. Each of us had to carefully weigh what we were about to say to Dina, so as not to open her wells of wrath. My husband and I thought that perhaps she had a mental illness, because she would flipflop between being nice, to suddenly venting her anger upon us.

Chazal teaches that anger is like worshipping idols. What is the connection between the two? A person who gets angry feels that his sense of control has been compromised. But does he control the world or does HaShem? A person will not get angry if he internalizes the fact that HaShem is in control and that He runs the world.

There was a time when I even thought that perhaps I was partially responsible for Dina’s angry outbursts. I did a reality check and was told that I am a wonderful mother and mother-in-law. That was good to hear, because I was having my doubts.

When I would talk to Moshe, he would tell me that Dina has many good qualities, but the quality that seemed to protrude like a thorn was her anger. Moshe also told me that Chazal discuss the relationship that mothers-in-law have with their daughters-in-law. He said that it is expected that they will have conflicts between them. I did not agree with this. I have a wonderful relationship with our other daughters-in-law. (One of our daughters-in-law even came to our home straight from the hospital after the first two births.)

I didn’t know what to do about this emotionally painful situation. I decided to recommend to Moshe that his wife go for counseling, and eventually she did.  But still, I couldn’t imagine that the chasm between us would ever be lessened and that we would ever have a close and loving relationship.

I listen to many Torah shiurim. In one of them, the rabbi spoke about how all of the people in one’s life were in one’s previous life, and that HaShem has selected each person, who is in one’s life, very meticulously for one’s tikkun. I contemplated this idea and wondered what role Dina had had in my previous life and what was the necessary tikkun that we each needed to do in order to overcome this impasse.

Although it was really difficult, I called Dina often in order to offer her emotional support. I would send her SMSes and sign them “love, Mom” even when my feelings toward her were from away from love.

When they came for the Pesach seder, it was really unpleasant. Finally at one point, when Dina looked like she was going to cry, I took her upstairs to my bedroom. She unleashed a torrent of tears. I hugged her and tried to soothe her. Amidst the tears we talked. That seemed to change the tide. Still, she was sometimes a tough cookie.

One of the major facts that I had learned in social work school is that in order for a person to change, he must really want to change. It seemed that Dina was working on herself by going for counseling, I was working on myself not to take her anger personally, and I was davening that our relationship would improve.

Following the stillborn ordeal, Dina had two miscarriages, but she told me not to even tell my husband.  But finally, they welcomed a son into their home. This was probably the best therapy for their family, and it brought more peace into our lives.

It took sweat and tears to pave the way for a blossoming and positive relationship with Dina. She no longer has angry outbursts and she expresses her appreciation for my help in babysitting, for buying clothes for the children, etc. I really never imagined that she and I would have a positive relationship.

Now I don’t have to walk on eggshells around Dina and we have become close, but I can’t say this about the relationship between Dina and the rest of the family members. Many of them are still wary of her. I hope that with time, the rest of the family, especially our daughters, will forge a better relationship with her.

I never imagined that anything good could come from such a devastating event, but my granddaughter helped bring peace and love between her Savta and Ima.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.