Friday, December 12, 2003

Birth of Calanit Dora Epstein

Congratulations to Daniel Sharvit-the winner of the Epstein Baby Pool Fundraiser!

With thanks to G-d, we welcome Calanit Dora (pronounced Kah-Lah-Neet). She’s a big eater (like her dad) and all should be returning home Friday morning.

In this email:

1. An explanation of the meaning of the name and the ideas behind it
2. An overview of the day’s events and Jeremy’s reactions to them
3. Key statistics (and how well our winner did)

The Meaning of the Name and the Ideas Behind It
Calanit is a Hebrew word for a species of poppy flower that grows in Israel. It is bright red with black in the middle. Here’s a link for a picture if you can’t see the one in this email

Dora is a Hebrew word that literally means “her generation,” and in the name of our daughter serves part of a double entendre.

The festival of Channukah falls during the Jewish month of Kislev (usually late November and December (and the story of the festival centers in part around the outnumbered Maccabees who defeat the superior numbers of Greek/Syrian forces. The Greeks/Syrians were determined in their efforts to compel Jewish assimilation into the larger non-Jewish culture.

A Channukah legend relates that wherever a drop of Maccabee blood spilled during a conflict with the opposition, a bright Calanit bloomed forth in remembrance and glorification of what they represented and of the sacrifices that they made.

We have named Calanit Dora with two people in mind.

One of them is her paternal great-great-grandfather, Charles David (Jeremy’s mother’s mother’s father) with whom she also shares common initials. Charles came to the US when he was about 10 years old. He built a family and a business that beautified the homes of many by selling wallpaper and paint. Through his years of sacrifice, he enabled his offspring to prosper in America. His life was marked by his commitment to family, to Judaism in general, and to the Synagogue Center in Baltimore in particular through his daily attendance at the morning prayer service. Through his devotion and investment in the community, he lived the example of the Maccabees by working to ensure the survival and flourishing of the Jewish community. He was a man of integrity, of character, of honesty, among many other fine qualities and it is our sincere hope that our daughter will seek to emulate the example of her great great grandfather. Calanit represents the first of Charles’s descendants to be born since his death in the late 1970’s/ Jeremy was fortunate to know him for the first 6 years of his life.

Calanit is also named for her maternal great grandmother (Tamar’s mother’s mother), Doris Goldsmith, whose Hebrew name was Raizel (Rose in Yiddish) Dina. Our beloved ‘Savta’ passed away less than a month before her 24th great grandchild’s birth. A woman of immeasurable virtue, she emerged from the Holocaust years having lost her parents and youngest siblings, but summoned the strength and faith to defy those who would attempt to decimate her people by building a family of four daughters, 23 grandchildren, and an ever-expanding number of great grandchildren, all committed to the preservation of Jewish life and tradition. In naming Calanit after this extraordinary woman, we hope to transform our overwhelming feeling of loss and follow Savta’s legacy. Tamar’s sister, Michal, spoke of Savta and lamented the loss by saying, “they just don’t make them like her anymore.” We pray that Calanit Dora will aspire and achieve at least a portion of the virtues of her namesake-that she be cognizant of her place as Dora (in Hebrew-her generation) one of Savta’s dorot (in Hebrew-generations), Savta’s descendants, perhaps the only aspect of Savta’s life regarding which she allowed herself to exhibit pride.

May she be blessed with the merit of her ancestors and may we, as her parents, stay true to the legacies of all those beloved to us, and thereby merit God’s continued blessings.

An Overview of the Day’s Events
I am shocked by how much I have cried in the past 24 hours. I just keep staring and staring at this little girl, this little piece of me, that is in my arms, in Tamar’s arms, in my grandparents’ arms or just sleeping in her little tray thing and I just lose it.

The thoughts are overwhelming. I see a wedding. I see her having children of her own. The fears of all of the evil in the world that could happen to her and from which I want to protect her; The thought of some horny teenage boy who wants to take her out on a date (takes one to know one) and my desire to beat the crap out of him. There are just so many emotions that flow through me right now. I hear Tamar singing to her and I break down. I have never felt tears of joy like these before. It’s intense, well I guess that’s an understatement.

Yesterday morning at 6am when Tamar woke me up to say “my water broke” and I replied “that’s great,” and went back to sleep, seems like another plane of reality. It didn’t dawn on me that it was REALLY happening. In fact, Tamar said “my doctor says I should go to the hospital now,” soon thereafter and I said, “ok, let me do 20 minutes on the Nordic Track first.”

It wasn’t that I was being selfish (well maybe a little bit), but it just didn’t seem real. I knew we had been waiting, but to think that the moment was finally here - well, that seemed a bit too much. Besides, her due date was the 17th, so this 10th thing was probably a false alarm.

When we got to the hospital, things were kind of slow. Contractions were sporadic and the nurse told us that we were at least 10 hours away from a baby. It was 8am. Tamar was so confident that nothing was going to happen that she suggested I get in my car and drive to a planned meeting in Baltimore and get back at noon.

That seemed a bit crazy to me. I mean, having your first child is a once in a lifetime event and if today was going to be the day, well I wanted to be here for all of it, even the slow parts. I did go home for a bit and pick up my laptop and then using my portable Ethernet cable managed to piggyback the Holy Cross Hospital network in order to have email and web access direct from Labor and Delivery room 12. Not bad, eh? I’ve got a pretty understanding wife, that’s for sure.

Tamar had written out a birthing plan and given me responsibility to make sure of a few things.
1. Avoid C-section at all costs
2. Avoid epidural
3. Avoid other narcotics.

By 1 pm, she was still only 1 cm dilated (she needed to be 10) and with a safety window after the water breaking requiring the baby to be born by 4am on Thursday, we had some decisions to make.

The doctors advocated Pitocin, a naturally occurring drug which would enhance the labor process. Tamar initially demurred, but realizing the overall slow progress could raise the risk of C-section, eventually relented.

By 3pm, she was in unbearable pain. I was just watching and I was suffering unimaginably. I couldn’t even guess what she was feeling. However, I had taken an oath to respect her “no epidural wishes.”

Clearly she was hurting, but it’s a classic situation of how do you balance the wishes of someone before vs. during an event (like say an end of care situation)? I was the executor of the birthing plan, if you will. So, I set the bar quite high. Tamar is not known for cursing. Perhaps 1-2 times/year max and then only in highly unusual circumstances. I wish I could be that clean.

“Tamar,” I said, “if I hear you start cursing,” I’m going to give them the OK for the epidural. The code word is “Give me the fucking epidural.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” she said.
“Well, as your fiduciary agent then, I have to respect your stated wishes from your birthing plan.”

The next few contractions intensified and we got a series of “Oh my God! Oh my God!” It was really tremendous

I was crying just watching her in writhing pain. The nurse (Armelle) and the Dr. (Norman) were incredulous. “She’s gone longer than most women even try.” They measured her at 4.30pm. She was only 3 cm dilated. It was getting to crunch time.

At about the same time, the next massive contraction occurred. (There was a monitor that recorded each one so I had the unique ability to make color commentary on each one’s appearance, such as-“whoa, that looked like a big one!” or “come on, this one isn’t nearly as big as the last one. Let’s suck it up!”). Tamar was looking like a boxer after a 15 round fight. She leaned over to the side of the bed, her eyes full of that glazed over, dazed appearance like she hadn’t slept in 48 hours and just sort of whispered…”give me the fucking epidural.”

I turned to the doctor and said, “OK, let’s do it.”

Can you say NIGHT and DAY? 20 minutes after the epidural, it was sunshine time again even on the agenda of possibilities. All along, and during the course of the whole day, the steady 130 some odd beats per minute of the unborn baby were coming through the speakers of the fetal monitor as a kind of constant musical backdrop to our unfolding drama.

At 7.30pm, the doctor returned and checked for dilation. “10 centimeters,” he said, “she’s ready to start pushing.”

I excused my parents from the room and 28 minutes later, we had a baby.

Well, that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Those 28 minutes were transformative.

From the time in the early morning when Tamar said, “it’s time to go to the hospital,” until the doctor said “she’s fully dilated,” I knew intellectually that there was a baby, but somehow, it just didn’t seem real. I mean, I had been having pushing contests in utero with the child, but it just wasn’t there.

The doctor said “oh yeah, you can see the head now.” He opened Tamar open ever so slightly and sure enough, the top of a head was there. I held one of Tamar’s legs up as she pushed like a champ and then a full head popped through. I’ve got a great picture of just the head and for that moment, you know there’s a baby, you just don’t know what gender the baby is.

It’s interesting. All along people asked us if we were going to find out what the gender of the baby would be and we agreed we wouldn’t. We felt like it was akin to reading the last page of the book before you start. I kind of thought of it as the ultimate climax to the pregnancy saga and while I now think that this is indeed true, I am starting to see that it is really the climax to chapter 1 of the saga.

As soon as the baby came out and the doctor (who had a better view than I did) said it was a girl, man, the world just shook on its foundations. I heard the cry. I held her little hand and I immediately started thinking about how I would do anything to keep this person I had just met as safe, sound, and secure as possible. I thought about her wedding, her kids, and worried about what would happen to her with the evil in the world. I started to cry. Bawl, really. I could barely control myself. I was holding the baby, soaking up the moment, taking pictures and videos (I even managed to cut the cord at one point), kiss my wife and have all of these thoughts. It was a tidal wave of stimuli, probably similar to the experience my daughter (whoa, even writing that is surreal) was having after having emerged from the womb.

She is just so cute. She has a stuffy nose and I want to clean it out for her. Yesterday, the thought of changing a diaper was admittedly a bit off-putting to me. Now, all I want to do is keep her comfortable.

I changed her today for the first time and I think I was a just a little bit rough. You know with girls, there are some folds and well, I just wanted to make sure she was clean as could be. She was crying, cold, and she peed on herself. I started crying because I was worried about hurting her. I am crying now just thinking about how I may have hurt her.

On the second change, I noticed that some of the adhesive from the diaper was on her skin-my fault-and I started crying again, begging her forgiveness as I pulled it off. Again, I am crying now just thinking about it.

When she cries from discomfort, I cry. This little 7 pound 19.5 inch piece of me has given me focus and appreciation the likes of which I have never felt before. I now recognize that it is about priorities. As my Uncle Bob said today and, though I’d heard and read this before, for the first time I really appreciate the full meaning of “this is what it is all about.”

I am appreciative, really impressed with the awesome power of God to make this creation process possible. It is said that each of us possesses a part of the Divine and if creating a life is not that spark, then I have no idea what is.

I have tremendous appreciation for our parents and all they have done for us. I am grateful that my mother’s parents were able to see this day and hold their great granddaughter in their arms. I am appreciative of the loving friends and family that we have who have called and visited up until now and for the society in which we live that so values human life and invests so many resources into protecting and nurturing it.

Calanit Dora is now 1 day old and doing well, but it’s not about the milestones, it’s about the inches in between the milestones and every little aspect that make up those inches. In 24 hours, this little girl, my daughter (whoa!) has taught me more about myself than any self-help book or meditation course ever could.

It’s so surreal. I know it has happened and while it has dawned on me at moments, I doubt the full effect of it has. It may never. All I know is that when I get in the car, I am as cautious as when I first got my license. I can’t get killed now. I’ve got two beautiful women counting on me.

I’m absolutely exhausted, but I don’t want to sleep. I want to watch her sleep and watch her breathe. I want to hold her, rock her, sing to her, and explain things to her. I’ve already showed her my laptop and Sunday, we’re going to watch the Redskins-Cowboys game together. I want to read Torah with her and I want to watch her grow and become beautiful, full of good values, self-respect, dignity, and wisdom.

I can’t stop crying now, so I have to stop. The worst part of this email is that I know that no matter how long I write, I can only scratch the surface of the experience.

It’s a ton of responsibility and I know it won’t be easy, but I feel a sense of mission slowly creeping over me. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about her. I also know that I’ll be able to do it. I have to. I have no other choice.

Key Statistics
Date: 12/10/03 (Daniel said same)
Time: 7.58pm (Daniel said 9.46am)
Gender: Girl (Daniel said same)
Weight: 7 lbs (Daniel said 7lbs 8 ozs)
Length: 19 inches (Daniel said 20 inches)