Sleep-Training My Baby in Israel Through the War

6 minute read
Kaufmann is a writer and lawyer based in Jerusalem, where she currently works at a solar energy company.

We’ve been sleep-training our baby together, but my husband has been on reserve duty since Saturday, October 7, so now I’m doing it alone. The other day, about an hour after I put my son down, Imri woke up crying. I rubbed his stomach – the sleep trainer says we should pick him up only if we really have to, so he learns how to calm himself down. But he kept crying, a high-pitched wail now, with short, sharp breaths, and I worried he wasn’t breathing, so I picked him up and held him close, hugging him and circling my hand around his back, kissing his warm, wet cheeks.

I stayed with him in the dark while he cried, and then I was no longer at my parents’ house, where we came for the holiday and then stayed – but in Gaza, taken hostage, with my baby. I started crying, quietly first and then hysterically, because what if it had been us? What if Imri, my beautiful baby, and I had been taken from our home by Hamas? And he was crying, and I had nothing, nothing to do?

Read More: Let's Be Honest About the Hate That Drove the Hamas Attack

I know the real questions are larger – are they alive? Are they being beaten? Raped? Tortured? I know there are tactical questions, strategic questions, political questions. But the questions running through my head that night with Imri in my arms were – do they have pacifiers? Do they have diapers? Do they have formula? Are there women nursing? Do the babies smile at all, or look at their mothers to make them smile? Do they sleep? Do the mothers get to hold them? And what – oh God, what – do they do when they cry?

And there we were again in the dark, quiet room at my parents’ house in Ra’anana, one of the safest places in the country these days, and yet where I slept with a knife under my bed for almost a week, and I held him for longer, much longer, than our sleep trainer would approve. The two of us sobbing, sobbing.

Once the floodgates open, everything makes me cry. I cry when my husband tells me he isn’t happy with where they’ve stationed him in the army, that he thinks he can be doing more and wants to tell his commander to place him where he’s needed most.

I cry preparing a care package for my brother and his unit, who are stationed up North. After buying socks and a headlamp and packing up the food, I sit down to write him a letter, because he doesn’t have his phone. I want to write something upbeat and fun but I can’t. I tell him I love him and want him to come home.

Read More: How to Help Victims of the Israel-Hamas War

I cry when my sister shows me a video she’s filmed of volunteers who’ve just cleaned and prepared brand-new apartments for people who’ve fled the horrors. When the evacuees drive up, all the volunteers cheer and clap.

I can’t even get through Joe Biden’s speech, which was supposed to be uplifting. At the words “parents butchered using their bodies to try to protect their children,” I shut my phone.

I see a picture of a baby and my stomach tightens and twists and I put down my phone again. Is he the son of an army acquaintance, the one who was murdered? The 4.5-month-old who was taken into Gaza with his 4-year-old brother and miraculously released, saved by their neighbor? Or was it one of the babies taken hostage, or beheaded?

When I hear that Israel is cutting off Gaza’s water supply, the first thing I think of is the mothers and babies. What will they do? When I hear that Israel has told North Gaza to evacuate, I think of them again, the mothers and babies.

Being a mother has redefined how I experience everything, and how I feel emotions. They’re all close to the surface, strong and visceral and raw.

Everyone is scared, but I think being a mother amplifies it. I take Imri for a walk in the stroller on my parents’ cul-de-sac, walking back and forth so we aren’t far from their bomb shelter. When the siren goes off, I sprint, heart racing, worried only about getting Imri in there quickly, safely, and thinking it’s a game. Another time, he’s with my mother and I call her immediately to make sure they’ve found shelter. Another time, I hear a siren and spin around frantically and see it’s a little boy riding a battery-powered plastic bike.

Being a mother amplifies my anger, too. My rage. At the bloodthirsty murderers who did this, people guided by evil, who forgot what it is to be human. People who burn houses. People who rape women. People who kill babies. 

I’m also angry at our current government. Maybe it’s because of the six hours it took from when the massacre started until they held their first meeting. Maybe it’s because of the five days of fine-tuning the politics before they could form a unity government and start working together to stop the carnage. Maybe it’s because they made the Supreme Court and the media out to be enemies of the State, forgetting completely where we live. Maybe it’s because they’re Twitter heroes who’ve been spewing hatred and racism for months, but were silent, nowhere to be found, when a terrified nation needed someone to tell us what the hell was happening. Maybe it’s because they’re the ones who were supposed to protect us.

Maybe it’s because they’re making me question whether Israel is a place to raise a child.

I wasn’t always a mother – I gave birth to Imri less than 10 months ago. I’ve experienced Israel as a soldier, as a civil servant in government, as an advisor to a minister in the previous government. I have opinions and political views, but not now. These past few days, all I have are my tumultuous emotions. These past few days, I’m a mother.

Imri and I are the women and children. Women and children, the ones who must stay out of war and killing, at all costs. The ones who, if left alone, would never have let any of this happen. The ones who’ve been dragged in.

These days, my primary focus is protecting my baby. But really, he’s been protecting me. With his smile, that one tiny little tooth jutting up from the bottom. The way he looks at me with those big eyes, waiting for me to pick him up from his crib, knowing I’ll do anything for him. This morning, I kissed his soft belly as I changed his diaper. He laughed. I did it again, and he laughed harder, lifting his hands up to touch my face, sighing gleefully. I did it again and again, just so I could hear him laugh.

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