Everyone crowded around the computer monitor to get a glimpse of little Amber and coo over how cute she is, and how she even resembles her mother! Earlier in the day we had treated my co-worker Julie to a leisurely lunch, and presented her with a card crammed with congratulatory messages, along with a pink receiving blanket. This was followed by doling out home-made chocolate cake in the office boardroom.
I was very happy and excited for my co-worker, but I was struck by the fact that Amber wasn't even born yet.
I compared the ultrasound image jumping out from the monitor with the one I had viewed a mere hour earlier in the hospital – of my own baby. Mine was only three weeks younger than Amber, without a name, and without a known gender. To me, the two images were indistinguishable – each showed five fingers per hand, a large head, an amorphous torso. They were generic fetuses, without any personality, without any characteristics that made them appear unique.
Although my wife was seven months pregnant, no one at my workplace knew. In fact, even most of our friends and relatives didn't know. Like the embryo itself, we wanted to keep the news wrapped up and protected.
"Hey Jack, how are the little ones?" a colleague I hadn't seen in weeks shouted across the hall, the day before I planned on finally telling my supervisor.
"Everyone's fine, thanks for asking."
"You have four, right?"
“That's right, thank God."
"Any more on the way?"
Not wanting to lie, I hesitated and answered evasively: "I love children, but these things are not up to me. They're up to a Higher Power, a Higher Intelligence."
"Oh..." he retorted, "you mean your wife?"
A Time to Be Silent and a Time to Speak
After a sincere "congratulations," and inquiring how far along my wife was, came the inevitable, wide-eyed reaction from my supervisor: "You mean, you kept it a secret all these months?!"
"Actually, it wasn't a secret," I stammered. “My wife knew... Besides, unlike Julie, I had the choice..."
I told my supervisor we were expecting two months before the due date.
I felt like I needed to apologize to my supervisor, like I needed to justify my well thought-out decision to keep the exciting news to ourselves until two months before the due date.
I tried to explain that in my culture, we don't flaunt things, we don't take things for granted, and we don't entice the "evil eye." And that the only reason I was telling my supervisor then was so she would have enough time to look for a replacement while I went on parental leave.
"So, would you want a celebration – like we had for Julie?" she probed sensitively. "I can buy a kosher cake, and –"
"I appreciate your thoughtfulness," I interrupted, "and certainly a little celebration would be called for, but not before the baby is born."
I was on a roll. "In fact, in my Jewish community, we don't even say 'congratulations' upon learning of a pregnancy. We express our wish that the baby and mother be healthy, that the labor should go smoothly, and that the baby arrive at an auspicious time."
Later, as the news spread like wildfire, one co-worker (a religious Christian) approached me: "I'll pray for you." That was the best – indeed the only – type of reaction I needed or wanted at that time.
Not Taking Things for Granted
Withholding the Big News, for us, was an exercise in not taking things for granted. In my Jewish community, people make minimal preparations for a birth; purchasing only the immediate essentials, such as a few newborn diapers and maybe a can of formula. From a psychological perspective, this makes eminent sense. Imagine the expectant parent – fraught with excitement and anticipation – who has a stillbirth (God forbid). Imagine the devastation – and how it would be compounded by coming home from the hospital to face an empty crib, complete with the baby's name beautifully embroidered on the soft cushion.
Withholding the Big News is also an act of modesty that affords a measure of Divine protection. The Torah says that "God will command the blessing for you in your hidden storage places" (Deut. 28:8), which implies that once things become visible to the eyes, they are more at the mercy of natural forces.
An Exercise in Sensitivity
In an ideal world, bringing a new soul into our community is a joy for all mankind. But we do not live in an ideal world.
There are many people – women, as well as men – who desperately long to have a child. They yearn to experience parenthood, to be able to hold and cuddle a crying baby they can call their own. But for whatever reason, this blessing has been denied them. It is heart-wrenching. Others are still single and feeling the anxiety of a ticking biological clock. When we casually flaunt our own children, we add to their pain. True, they should not be harboring such feelings of envy. But given that we are human, it is natural that one person’s blessings could arouse resentment at those who feel denied.
For my wife and me, not revealing our little secret was an exercise in sensitivity and care.
Part and parcel of living in this world is to be responsive to the emotional sensitivities of others. For my wife and me, not revealing our little secret to most of our relatives and friends was an exercise not only in self-discipline but in sensitivity and care.
Besides the hurt that we may cause others, the negative energy that emanates from their hearts, whether intentional or not, can work against us. That’s why we are more careful to “protect” a small fetus – so fragile and susceptible to even the slightest barrier to its proper growth.
At the Right Time
Which brings us to the central questions: Whom to tell, and when?
Common courtesy dictates that we tell those who are closest to us first. But there is a proviso: there should be a purpose in telling.
The guideline that my wife and I followed is to tell those we believe are most likely to be genuinely happy for us – close family and friends, those who already have children, or young newlyweds.
On the other hand, we did not go out of our way to conceal the news from everyone else. If the conversation naturally led to it, it was perfectly fine to disclose. That was not flaunting –that was respecting the relationship.
At the same time, we didn't need to go out of our way to let the whole world know of the burgeoning treasure in our tummy. People found out in due course.
On January 30 (25 Shvat 5771) the author’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Carmiel Chayim. Mazel tov!