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The Blessing of Normalcy

The Blessing of Normalcy

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I had a dream the other night. I hadn't seen my new granddaughter in twenty-four hours, and when I took her in my arms she was speaking complete sentences. This was extremely dramatic, because in the dream, as in life, the baby was only one month old.

In reality, not much about my first grandchild's birth was dramatic at all. Yes, my daughter went into labor nine years to the day after her father died, on the third of July. Yet the baby waited to be born – or G‑d held off her birth – till the next morning, at 8:24 AM. Maybe it was to make sure her birthday wouldn't be a reminder of a tragedy. Or, perhaps it was to make sure it would be huge celebration. In any event, Shayna Leah was born on the Fourth of July. I kept singing Yankee Doodle Dandy to her, all day long, much to the chagrin of her parents. And that night, when the annual fireworks display exploded over the East River, I was sure they were just for her.

It was a textbook delivery of a healthy baby girlOther than that, though, there wasn't much excitement in the birth of this little baby, other than the excitement every family feels when a baby is born. For us, it was, indeed, a life-changing moment. But in truth, there wasn't much to report about the whole event. It was a textbook delivery of a healthy baby girl.

This, in itself, was strange to me. My own daughter's birth was fraught with so much drama that as I stood in the hospital waiting for her to deliver her baby, I couldn't help flashing back to all the frightening details of the past. I thought about my daughter's little heart beating three hundred beats a minute moments after she was born; I thought about not seeing her for hours and hours while they tried to find a way to shock her heart back to normal rhythm; I thought about my fear that she would die.

But nothing like that happened this time around. My little granddaughter came into this world weighing six pounds, fourteen ounces. She cried on cue, loud and strong. The doctors and nurses declared her perfectly healthy. Her mother held her, her father held her, her father's mother held her, I held her, my mother held her, my husband held her. She slept. And slept. And cried some more. And that's about it.

I could tell you about the twelve hours we spent wondering if my daughter was really in labor. I could tell you about our walk down the street to get manicures and pedicures as a distraction. I could tell you about how my daughter and her husband sat around my mother's Manhattan apartment where I grew up, five blocks from the hospital, until they couldn't sit anymore and went back home to Brooklyn, only to turn around three hours later because it turned out Shira was in labor after all. I could tell you about going to the hospital at two-thirty in the morning, on a quiet summer night, and how I was the one who got to carry the giant blue "birthing ball" up the elevator, feeling silly but proud.

I could tell you about how my strong, calm daughter explained firmly to the surprised young resident in the maternity ward that she was not ready to be admitted, thank you very much, and preferred to walk around the hospital for the last hours of labor. I could tell you about how her husband's mother joined us, and how together the three of us coached my daughter through her contractions. I could tell you about how she resisted getting an epidural, afraid it would slow down her labor, only to learn a half hour after the pain meds had kicked in that not only hadn't it slowed her down, she was now fully dilated and it was suddenly time - time to bring a new life into the world.

We now had a fourth generation of women in our familyI could tell you about how I was getting a cup of coffee at that moment, and when my son-in-law called and said, "You'd better get in here, the baby's coming," I ran all the way down the hall to take my place beside his mom as a make-shift doula tag-team that so impressed the doctor, she wished she could hire us for every delivery. I could tell you how the news, "It's a girl!" surprised all of us, who'd believed every old-wives' tale about how a woman carries and were sure this baby would be a boy. I could tell you how the news that I, an only daughter, who'd given birth to an only daughter, cried and cried at the fact that we now had a fourth generation of women in our little family. I could tell you my mother's reaction, that made us all truly laugh in recognition, when she said, "I could deal with a boy the second time around, but I'm so glad this first baby is a real baby."

I could tell you about how incredible it was to hear my son-in-law reciting Tehillim, Psalms, during the moments leading up to his daughter's birth, and the awe on his face when he looked at her for the first time and said the Shehechiyanu prayer: "Blessed are you, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion."

I could tell you how amazing it was first to hold my daughter, and then moments later to caress my newborn granddaughter.

I could tell you how I cried the next morning when my daughter and I sat on her hospital bed, with the cell-phone on speaker, so that we could hear her young husband's deep, proud voice naming her in synagogue: Shayna Leah bat (the daughter of) Yishayahu Yisrael.

I could tell you how I stood on a balcony that night with my husband, in the rain, watching the sky burst with color, while New Yorkers celebrated our nation's freedom and we celebrated the fact that our half-Canadian, half-American Jewish granddaughter was born in the land of the free and the home of the brave, where she has a real shot at making every dream we have for her come true.

But I have to admit that there really isn't much of a story to tell about the birth of this one little baby. It's not particularly unique or exciting. Nothing dramatic happened, nothing unusual. She is simply, wonderfully, a healthy, happy baby, with healthy, happy parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

This Fourth of July we celebrated the blessings of normalcy, marveling at the fact that even in this day and age, with twenty-first century scientific knowledge, the birth of a healthy baby is still in G‑d's hands. My granddaughter's birth didn't leave me with much of a story to tell. But it was, indeed, a miracle.

Which is why, two nights later, on Shabbat, as I lit an extra candle for the newest member of our family, with tears streaming down my cheeks I thanked G‑d over and over again for all his blessings, but most of all for the precious little life cradled in my daughter's arms.

Jessica Klein Levenbrown is an award-winning television writer and producer. She began her career at Sesame Street, was the head writer of the daytime drama As The World Turns, and with partner Steve Wasserman wrote and produced the television series Beverly Hills, 90210. Jessica created the teen television drama Just Deal, partially based on her own experiences as a Jewish mother, and most recently produced the series Scout’s Safari.
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Kelly OBrien L.A., CA May 11, 2009

You & your Family look great! To Jessica I just saw this on the web OMG how time flies. I saw you last at Steve's funeral . He would be so proud of all of you. Miss you Kelly O Reply

Jessica Klein Levenbrown Los Angeles, CA August 30, 2007

Reply to lee All my mother has raised are girl children -- me and my daughter. She said this comment as a joke, but I knew there was much truth in it for her.

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Lee Shinefield Madison, WI/USA August 28, 2007

Regarding Normalcy Dear Ms. Levenbrown,
I found your piece on normalcy to be extremely moving, particularly the part about your fear that your daughter wouldn't make it. My daughter was born after a horrific pregnancy and required oxygen to start breathing. I remember vividly standing over her, praying and encouraging her to start breathing - and my joy when she took her first breath, opened her eyes and looked directly and calmly into mine.

I was puzzled, though, at your mother's comment, "I could deal with a boy the second time around, but I'm so glad this first baby is a real baby." I experienced both my daughter and son as real babys. Will you explain what she meant by that?

Thank you for the heartfelt words, and best regards, Lee Reply

Nathalie Yerushalaim, Israel August 25, 2007

To Carmen Even if something which is "bad" in our eyes is decreed, prayer can change it. So, I'll add my prayers to yours, trusting G-d that you and your baby will be just fine. In any case, know that your baby could not wish for a better mother than you, who prays for his neshama's (soul's)well being and trusts in G-d's salvation. G-d willing will we hear good tidings from you. Reply

Harriet NY, NY via chabadgn.com August 24, 2007

Shayna Leah My first grandaughter Eliana Leah was born this June. She too is Canadian and Ameican. Her Tata Jordana was born on the fourth of July 19 years ago. Jordana always took great pride in how America celebrated her birthday. A stirring of many memories.
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Devorah Mei Ramat Golan, Israel August 23, 2007

A marvellous dream ..... Funny about the grandmother's dream . When my daughter in law was still pregnant, I "saw" the baby boy in my husbands arms, and he was talking to me. I said to my husband - look at him, can you hear what he is saying, the baby is talking to me ! No, the baby is quiet he is not saying anything , was his answer! I called my son and asked the same question. Mom, are you ok? What is going on ....the baby is not talking. No one could hear.... and this baby was born after eight month pregnancy....and when I saw him one hour after delivery, it was exactely the same baby I saw in my dream with his grandfather. Reply

Jessica Klein Levenbrown Los Angeles, CA August 22, 2007

To Carmen I'm thankful for all the responses to this story, particularly from all the happy members of our extended family. But I am most touched by Carmen's letter. I pray for your health and the health of your baby. I met a miracle child recently, whom doctors never expected to live. She is now seven years old, healthy and happy. We can never know what G-d has in store for us, nor can we know the reasons. We can pray for the best, and for the wisdom and strength to handle the challenges of life. Good luck to you, your family and your baby, and may you be blessed with joyful news. Reply

S Palo Alto, CA August 22, 2007

The Miracles can be found in the 'Normal' What a beautiful story, I cried reading it! May little Shayna Leah grow to chuppah, Torah and deeds of kindness, bring her family much joy, and be blessed to go on to have children of her own, in good time. Reply

Carmen Kenai, AK August 22, 2007

Lovely story I'm having a baby on the 31st of August but the news of his health isn't a happy one. He's not expected to live and I pray to G-d every hour of the day that the doctors will be wrong. It's nine days until I have him and I'm terrified. I just pray that G-d will be with me for the whole event. Reply

Wendy August 22, 2007

Shayna Leah's birth Once again, Jessica beautifully describes a life passage, one that if you haven't experienced it firsthand, you can always relate to, totally. As for me, I'm the friend of the father's mother, who awoke at 1:38 am., and pushed my sleepy friend out the hotel room door toward the hospital, with many hugs, kisses and some air pumping - "Go Grandma!". When so much of our lives seem to be full of urgency, emergency, upheaval, and duress, "normal", "routine", and "peaceful" are huge blessings, indeed. Reply

Rubi Orlando, FL August 21, 2007

Just a bit more than normal :) Just this Sabbath my sister had her first daughter (my first niece) and finding this beautiful life story was as sweet as a friend's hug. Mazal Tov to all of you in the family. Reply

Great-Aunt Lisa Toronto, Canada August 20, 2007

Shayna Leah Rose This is a wonderful birth story. Mazel Tov to all of you and may you always have the blessings of a loving and supportive family. Reply

Bonnie Elster, Great Aunt of Shayna Leah Vancouver, Canada August 20, 2007

From the West Coast Thank you for expressing so beautifully your thoughts and feelings about such a special time. Reading your column connected me to your experience as any mother would be connected, but it also gave me a brief glimpse into a very personal moment. Thank you for sharing. Reply

avromie and shternie detroit, michigan August 19, 2007

mazal tov mazal tov she should bring revealed blessings into you lives
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Catherine Roozman Weigensberg Montreal, Canada August 19, 2007

A Blessing Indeed I have such a smile on my face as I look at this photo of 4 generations (wow!) and there you are after all that teamwork, beaming with such obvious pride as you cradle this beautiful baby. Your happiness is as evident as your remarkable talent for being able to draw us all in to share these precious moments with you in spirit. Your readers are right there with you as all the hardships, joys, challenges and miracles during your life fuse into this one moment in time ---when all is right with the world and nothing, but nothing could top this blessed event. Mazel Tov to you and your family on the birth of your 'extra'- ordinary treasure!. Reply

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs Kfar Chabad, Israel August 19, 2007

Mazel Tov. Leave it to Jessica Klein Levenbrown to show how the little things in life, are really the big ones. The things most people might view as painful, as containing our greatest pleasures. And to show us how every one of those tiny pieces of our day are not minutes -- they are eternity. Blessings to a blessed family at a marvelous time.

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