Separated at Birth

A good friend of mine is looking for a hospital. She’s very pregnant, and it’s time to do the rounds, see which place is clean, which has the atmosphere you want, how many people they allow in the room, if they permit doulas and so on.
 It’s also a chance for the hospitals to market themselves for a very important source of income. They get 8,000 shekels (just over 2,000 dollars) for each mother that comes through their doors, from National Insurance (Social Security). That’s a lot of money, especially when you multiply it by the number of women giving birth daily in Israel.
It took me back to the same tour that me and Karen did just before Emma was born. It was a tour at the hospital that Karen eventually gave birth in. The walk around the maternity ward was fine, and everything seemed quite orderly and impressive. At the end we were taken to a small conference room to talk a bit more about the procedures and to answer any questions we might have. Most people seemed to be worried about the usual things, like how many nurses are on each shift, how many doctors, how soon can you get an epidural. But then, one woman had a question about post-birth accomodation. She didn’t care how many new mothers would be in the room with her. All she cared about was if there were going to be any Arab mothers in the room with her (she didn’t even say “Arab”, but instead used the common “our cousins” term). And although she didn’t say it specifiaclly, bascially she wanted to know if this hospital was going to commit the sin of integration. 
why-cant-we-beThe shock was so big, I thanked God I was already in a hospital. But what shocked me more, was that everyone else in the room seemed relieved. Relieved that someone else finally asked the question for them, that they were itching to ask too. And if that wasn’t enough, the nurse’s response got to me even more. First of all, she wasn’t taken aback. I could tell she gets this one every time. And her answer was just as prepared, smooth and ironed out as her scrubs. I can’t tell you that I remember what her exact wording was, but I do remember she effortlessly managed to calm down this disconcerted woman by assuring her that Jewish and Arab mothers would not be holding their newborns in the same room, and at the same time managed to avoid making it sound like official hospital policy. A real pro.
As I said, Karen gave birth to Emma at this hospital, and we had a wonderful experience there. I had a few chances to walk around the ward, pushing little Princess Emma in her transparent cart, and to my dismay witnessed the segragation de facto that I expected to see. Funny enough, we eventually had an Arab mother in our room, probably because the “other” section was already full. Maternity wards were crowded those days, it was the baby boom of the second Lebanese War. I admit, she did speak a bit too loud on her cell phone at times, but show me an Israeli who doesn’t…
I remember recounting this story to a few of my friends later on, and their response was just as dissapointing. Most of it was along the lines of “What do you want? You just gave birth, do you really want a whole Arab hamula on your head playing darbuka all day? Isn’t giving birth hard enough already?” I don’t remember any Arabs playing darbuka in my hospital, or a hamula having a hafla in the hallway. If anything, the Israelis made a lot more noise.
In an article in Ha’aretz, January 2006, Eli Ashkenazi reported that two hospitals up north were doing the same thing. Back then, the spokesperson for the Ziv hospital in Safed said that “We don’t segregate, but we try to make it comfortable for the mothers. Usually, a woman wants to spend time with another woman who speaks her own language”. The West Galilee hospital in Nahariya used the language excuse as well. It’s strange, though, because I haven’t heard about Jewish mothers of Russian or Ethiopian descent being sent to other rooms. Hmmm…
To those couples worried about Arabs in their rooms, I can only say: Wouldn’t it be nice to just drop the prejudices during those first few days, when all of us are celebrating a new life in our families?
And to those hospitals: Obviously, in order to make future mothers feel like yours is the best place to give birth, I understand there are steps you need to take to ensure a vital source of income. But segregation? Come on…

18 Responses to “Separated at Birth”

  1. April 22, 2009 at 09:09

    Where I live there is only one hospital in the area and it is highly trafficked (to say the least). Each room is divided by curtains into four sections. I was in the hospital for six days because my baby had jaundice, and in that time, I had an equal ratio of two Arab neighbors and one Ethiopian every day. I saw very few people in the recovery area at all who did not meet this description.

    Ami, I really appreciate posts like this. They are raw, honest, and interesting.

    All the best,

    ~ Maya

    The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy

    • 2 shmookty
      April 22, 2009 at 09:13

      Thank you Maya, for those kind words.
      It’s from your response and another I got via Facebook, I can tell that probably most hospitals in Israel aren’t practicing segregation. But even a few are one too many, in my opinion…

  2. 3 Debbie
    April 22, 2009 at 09:40

    Here via Facebook — Lisa’s link, bless her. As i said there (and she suggested I come and say here too):

    “When i gave birth to my daughter, i shared a room with an Arab woman — neither of us cared, we just shared bitch-and-whine sessions about our aches, pains, stitches and leaking boobs.”

    Not only did I not care who was in a room with me, I was actually heartened to see that the “ochlusia” of the hospital was such a “kibbutz galuyot”. It’s that kind of thing that actually gives me a left-wing Zionist warm and fuzzy.

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments about segregation. Well put.

    • 4 shmookty
      April 22, 2009 at 09:49

      Thank you Debbie!
      (And yes, bless Lisa, I’m getting a lot more readers because of her…)
      I also saw your response on Facebook, and am happy you had that experience – that’s the way it should be!

  3. 5 Shelly
    April 22, 2009 at 12:24

    Insightful post with great title (admired by veteran copywriter).
    Question: Did you ever wonder whether the separation request emanates from the other side as well?

    • 6 shmookty
      April 22, 2009 at 12:31

      Very good question! I don’t know, to tell you the truth. My hunch is that it doesn’t, but I can’t know for sure. But even if it does, 1) I reprimand the Arab mothers as well, and 2) the hospital is still practicing segragation no matter what…

  4. April 22, 2009 at 18:13

    Hello – ehh, shmookty? 🙂
    Also here through Lisa’s – twitter, this time! Very interesting post indeed, and beautiful feelings.
    Shelly beat me to it – I also wonder whether Israeli-Arab moms also don’t feel like sharing a room with their cousins either. 🙂 I truly wouldn’t know. Though numerically (not adjusting for birth rates by group or demographic distribution) if we have a 4:1 ratio of Jewish to Arab moms-to-be in a random maternity ward in Israel, the latter are less likely to have a say in who they get to share a room with..

  5. April 22, 2009 at 18:13

    If the answer turns out to be yes – i second above suggestions. 🙂

    • 9 shmookty
      April 22, 2009 at 20:30

      Hi Mo-ha-med 🙂
      Again, bless Lisa and Twitter…
      Your point about the ratio is a very good one, and of course it applies to other areas of discrimination against Arabs outside the maternity ward.
      Your blog looks great, I’m definitely going to spend some time reading it!
      Thanx for your comment! 🙂

  6. 10 Karin Sharav-Zalkind
    April 23, 2009 at 02:12

    Wow ami this has made me sick to read I was not aware of this sort of policy. To be honest growing up in Jerusalem you really get mixed in the hospital so I don’t know if this will apply there. A real eye opener thank you for sharing this.

    • 11 shmookty
      April 23, 2009 at 07:51

      Thanx Karin. How ironic that in Jerusalem, the epicenter of the conflict, things might actually be normal, eh?

      • April 23, 2009 at 10:34

        So Jerusalem is out and the Negev is out for these practices. Can we pinpoint hospitals who are doing this? Is this a pattern or one messed up situation?

        ~ Maya

  7. 13 shmookty
    April 23, 2009 at 10:42

    Well, there are a few hospitals in Jerusalem that Karin may not have seen. Also, since there is no official policy of segeregation, and since most of us never knew it could take place, many people might not even know it’s happening right under their noses (we’re busy with the baby, right?). I have a feeling this happens quietly in more hospitals than we think about. Most of them are probably not as dumb as the hospitals in Nahariya and Safed who blatantly admit they do it.

    • April 23, 2009 at 10:48

      True, true. I only feel especially confident in my assertion because of my long stay and conscious observation of patterns while I was there. If I’d left after two days, I will would have been buzzing when I left.

      ~ Maya

  8. 15 Karin Sharav-Zalkind
    April 26, 2009 at 20:17

    Well I think that at the end of the day it’s an awfel practice.It should not even happen in 1 hospital is my take on this. In America it’s the money line that devide us here – not much better…

  9. May 9, 2009 at 13:37

    My sole experience in a hospital so far (and hope to keep it that way…) was at Tel Hashomer two weeks ago. I spent the day w friends whose daughter was in the intensive care unit. We sat in the corridor, as close to the door of the door to the room/beds as possible. In the week since their vigil began, the had bonded with an Arab couple from the north. The profound shared anguish, prayers (to one deity in two languages… five times daily and three times daily), concern, and affection was palpable. My friends are no big liberals… yet I felt/wondered on the spot and since that perhaps the angel of death (to the believers) or simply to fine line between life and death was so weighty, so awesome, so BEYOND ultimate human control, love, wants, etc., that they let down their guard and opened themselves to the humanity of all. Am I romanticizing? I don’t think so. However, I don’t know that this bonding will extend beyond the hospital corridor where terrified, grieving people transcended false divides in one of life’s more horrific situations — mortal danger to their own.

    I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.

    Last, ditto on thanks to you… and to Lisa… and PLEASE reverse your font color… reading white copy of dark background is… uh… not pretty or easy. Black text on white background is most “reader friendly.” Thanks!

    • 18 shmookty
      May 9, 2009 at 16:24

      Hi Tamar,
      Thanx for your comment!
      Being an eternally-occasional optimist, I might see this bonding between the couples continue, and if it doesn’t, it may nonetheless have a lasting impression on the four of them when they consider relations between these two nations in the future.
      I look forward to reading your blog, and admit that I too have thought about my font color. Thanx for the advice 🙂

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