Dont Let Me Fall
By: Shifra Bar Memel
Shaare Zedek Hospital
Two hours ago I delivered a beautiful baby girl with Down syndrome.
When she came out, she seemed normal to me. I asked, Is she normal?
the midwife answered, Shifra, its hard to say yes.
What kind of an answer was that?
It took me a second or two to catch on. I didn't feel anything, just
All the doctors and midwives were in the delivery room looking at the
baby. What they were saying fit with what I had just heard. My own words
from last night came back to me: Ill love you as you are.
A doctor came over to me and said, We all see that she doesn't look
like a regular baby. Tomorrow well do tests.
I nodded in understanding. I was taking it all so calmly, so
emotionally detached. When the midwife came over to me, I put my hand on
her arm. Thank you for telling me, I told her. I knew the midwives
are not allowed to tell. I was so glad that they hadn't made a fool of
me by lying to me.
The midwife asked if I wanted to nurse the baby, and I answered in the
affirmative. I clutched my precious bundle to my heart and whispered,
Ill love you the way you are; I promised you. I was surprised she
latched right on and started nursing like a regular baby. She was so
beautiful. She looked normal to me. Poor little thing.
My husband was being ushered in.
Mazel tov! You have a baby girl, he was told. His face lit up with
I couldn't stand the deception. She's not normal, I told him
Now my kids were on the phone. I was not ready for this. I couldn't
tell them over the phone. We have a baby girl, I told them
they were thrilled, which made me even more uncomfortable. Mazel tov!
Mazel tov! they cried. We guessed you were going to the hospital!
they told me, so proud of themselves.
Finally, my husband and I were alone.
Its mainly a social problem, he said.
I nodded and asked him, What would be worse - a retarded child or a
A wicked child would be worse, we agreed. We sat in silence for a long
time. It was very late. Finally I sent him home.
Now I'm in the maternity ward (writing in the dark). I think it would
be much more normal (and probably healthier) for me to be crying than
react like this, with acceptance and resignation. Ive already been told
that I'm terrific. I'm even acting cheerful and saying, This, too, if
for the good. Id had the uneasy feeling that wed been very blessed,
while all around us people had tzaros (troubles).
I miss my baby and long to hug her.
Last night, Shabbos, I was awakened by a contraction, a full two weeks
before my due date. Ten days ago, my doctor told me that the baby was in
a transverse position. Now, with labor starting, I was frantic to know
how the baby was lying. I couldn't tell. Turn around with you head
down, I told her. I clearly heard a voice: I don't want to be born.
I'm not normal; I have Down syndrome!
Ill love you as you are. Just please position yourself head down.
Otherwise, they'll pull you out by C-section, I told her. Then I fell
into a deep sleep.
On Shabbos morning, I woke up in labor, feeling that everything was
fine. A midwife friend confirmed that the baby was in cephalic (head)
Tomorrow, how will I deal with all the cheerful mazel tovs?
At 6 A.M. this morning, I went to the nursery to get my baby for her
morning feeding (I knew they wouldn't bring her to me when they
distributed all the babies). The nurse there told me that a few weeks
ago a baby with Down syndrome had been born to a very young mother, her
first child. The mother hadn't come to see her baby and didn't want to
take him home. I felt sorry for that mother and very fortunate for my
healthy children at home.
A midwife friend cam e to visit me after she finished her night shift,
and we talked. I told her that I didn't know how to react to the mazel
tovs. She explained to me that the mazel tovs were appropriate and to
accept them. I wasn't totally convinced, but at least I knew what to do.
I told her that I knew this could happen at my age (I'm forty-four) and
had consciously taken the risk. I wanted to do Hashems will.
I am finally crying. Baruch Hashem, I'm normal. The tears come and
come. I have no complaints to Hashem. I know He knows what He's doing,
and everything Hashem does is good and chesed. So why do I have to cry?
Because on some level there must be a lot of pain in a situation like
this. I have to get in touch with this pain and get it out in order to
be healthy and get on with life.
How much do I have to cry?
By noon my tears dried up, and everyone started visiting. They came in
warily. Anyone who had seen my husbands face figured out that something
was wrong. To each of them I said, Say mazel tov! Look at the baby -
she's beautiful. Can you tell she has Down syndrome?
So now I cry and cry all morning. Could this really have happened? This
is a bad dream, and I cant wake up.
I am very organized. In the mornings, I draw the curtains around my bed
and cry my heart out. In the afternoons, my tears dry up, and Im
cheerful and optimistic. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I have been receiving tremendous amounts of support. It seems as if
just about everyone I know has come to visit me, and it gives me
strength. Many of them confide in me the ordeals theyve been through
that I never knew about.
No one wants the other fellows pekel (burden).
What I have to remember is, if this is what Hashem gave me, then this
is the best thing for me. At my age, I had a one in seventy chance of
having a baby with Down syndrome (that's 1.5 percent). Statistically, I
should have been among the sixty-nine normal ones. I needed special
hashgachah pratis (providence) to be the one out of seventy. For a good
reason, this baby had to come to His world this way, and she had to come
through me. Everyone who is affected by it had to be affected. In this
world there are no answers. They say that in the next world there will
be no questions.
Hashem has been giving me so much strength. I have been receiving
tremendous kochos hanefesh (spiritual strength) from Him. I myself would
have collapsed in a heap.
Hashem! Please dont leave me. Please don't let me fall.
The baby has jaundice (this is to be expected with Down syndrome), and
they want to send me home without her. I will not go home without this
baby. This is a special case, I declare, and they relent.
A friend comes and reminds me that I studied healing and one-brain
therapy. Treat your baby, she insists.
I do imagery, healing, and one-brain on the baby. The image that comes
to me is white light flowing into the baby, and the flowing out carrying
the yellow particles.
The baby's billirubin has dropped sharply, baruch Hashem. My baby and I
are going home.
Shifra Bar Memel lives in Jerusalem with her husband and thirteen
children. They are all crazy about their delightful baby.
Reprinted with permission from Horizons-The Jewish Family Journal