During my first pregnancy, my husband and I went to a birthing class sponsored by the hospital where I was planning on delivering. The first evening our teacher, a nurse with 20 years in labor and delivery, posed a question to us and the ten other couples in our class: “How many of you are planning on having a natural birth?”

I was the only one who raised my hand.

She tipped her head to the side and gave me a close-lipped smile, as if to say, Isn’t that sweet. “Just so you know, ninety percent of the patients who come through maternity at this hospital get an epidural. The other ten percent show up too late to get one. But you’re welcome to try it naturally.”

I was crushed.

I had a sense that birth was supposed to be more than just a medical procedureAlthough I had never had a child, I had a sense that birth was supposed to be more than just a medical procedure, but the threshold through which women are refined into mothers. Even the Torah celebrates the wisdom of Jewish mothers, the power of their prayers and the strength they have to bring children into the world. In Egypt, the Jewish people survived because of the courage of Shifrah (Yocheved), the midwife who saved countless Jewish baby boys from Pharaoh’s death edict, and who later gave birth to Moses, who would eventually lead the Jews out of Egypt. I envisioned myself rising to the opportunity, discovering my own strength and reveling in the support of women who had come before me.

Unfortunately, aside from my husband, there was no one in my world to encourage that vision. All I got were messages that I would never be able to handle the pain of birth. In fact, according to the birth shows on television, the risk of danger during labor seemed so immense that it would have been negligent of me to try to go it without help.

In the end, I did not have a natural birth. When I arrived at the hospital, I became so fearful that my contractions stopped. I was induced with Pitocin and given an epidural, and 19 hours later my son was born. Within minutes, they had whisked him away for observation.

For two hours after I had brought my child into the world, I sat alone in the delivery room, numb from the waist down (my husband had left to pick up a few things from home). I longed to have someone to talk to about the birth, to tell me I’d done well, to help me process everything I’d just been through. Even more, I longed to hold my son, who I knew was fine, but no one answered when I repeatedly pressed the call button.

It was one of the loneliest experiences of my life.

“All that’s important is that your baby is healthy,” people told me for months afterwards. But they were wrong. Of course I was grateful for my beautiful, healthy son, but my experience of birth had left me feeling like something fundamental was missing. In fact, I felt a sense of loss I couldn’t explain.

So, when I got pregnant again, I felt conflicted about what to do. I wanted a different kind of experience than the one I’d had the first time, but I wasn’t sure what my options were, outside of the local hospital.

I wasn’t sure what my options were, outside of the local hospitalDuring a visit to the mystical city of Tzfat, in the north of Israel, my husband and I met a young couple who had just had their second child less than two weeks before.

“Where did you have the baby?” I asked the wife.

“Right over there,” she replied, pointing to her living room.

I did a double take. “You had your baby in your house?”

“Yes. And it was awesome.”

The shine in her eyes ensured me that she meant it.

“But what if something had happened?”

“There’s a hospital nearby,” she answered. “But I knew my midwife knew what she was doing.”

For the rest of our time with them, I couldn’t stop staring at the new mother. She seemed happy and peaceful—glowing, even. And the baby shone.

Maybe she was on to something.

When we got back to the States, I started doing research in earnest. I read countless medical studies that showed, consistently, that the safety of homebirth for low-risk women is equal to (and sometimes more than) that of hospital birth. The use of interventions—epidurals, labor augmentation with drugs, episiotomies, vacuum extraction and cesarean sections—was dramatically lower for women who gave birth at home, not only because they were not available, but because in their own secure environments, women felt no need for them. I recognized the benefits of modern obstetrics for high-risk pregnancies, but after looking at the facts and remembering my own experience, I had serious doubts that modern interventions were beneficial for a normal, healthy birth.

Still, I had my fears, not that something might go wrong—all the tests had shown my baby was healthy—but that I wouldn’t be able to handle childbirth. One day I had an appointment at my OB’s office during the week of Parshat Shemot, when we read about the Egyptian midwives who saved the baby boys in Egypt.

“What do you think of homebirth?” I asked the nurse-midwife who was seeing me.

“Well, you’re healthy, baby looks healthy,” she said, flipping through my charts. “I think you should go for it.”

Just then I noticed a richly colored painting on the wall behind her. There were two women in swirling purple and ruby robes, cradling a baby in their arms. Underneath them was a passage: But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive (Exodus 1:17).

It was a sign.

My second birth was everything I had hoped it would beWhen I started telling people we were having a homebirth, I was amazed at the negative reactions we received. While some offered a nervous “Hmmm . . . interesting . . .” or a polite “What happens if something happens?” (well, we were hoping something would happen), a few people asked point-blank, “Are you guys nuts?!?” However, I took strength in my husband’s support; the encouragement of my midwife, a Jewish woman named Rebecca; and the surprising rallying of my father, a scientist and math genius, who was proud of the fact that I had done my research.

My second birth was everything I had hoped it would be: calm, peaceful, awesome. I never felt alone for a second. Even when labor was at its most intense, I knew all was well, and that I had the strength to carry it through. Like the Jewish mothers in Egypt, I gave birth to my son, Akiva, sitting on a birthstool. As I held him, I felt a rush of amazement. If I can do that, I thought to myself, I can do anything.

Having a homebirth changed so much of the way I see the world, motherhood and myself. The experience inspired me so much that I went on to become a doula, a birth coach, so that I can assist women in having the same experience I did.

As Jewish mothers, we lay the foundation for the entire Jewish people. We are the ones who spend hours picking out the perfect stroller and the safest car seat. We read book after book on childrearing and education, agonizing over how best to give over the values we want them to live by. But before we can make any of these decisions, we must first decide what kind of beginning we want to offer our children, and how we want to look back on our entry into motherhood.

I will be forever grateful for the decision I made.