Musings on entering motherhood after "Elderly Primigravida," the medical establishment's term for a woman who's over 35 and pregnant for the first time

04 August

On Turning Fifty

By Josie Glausiusz

A former high-school friend of mine recently posted an old class photo on Facebook. The photograph, taken in 1980 or 1981, soon prompted a lively exchange among my friends: Who did what when and where we all are now.

When I looked at the picture I had two thoughts: first, how dorky and out-of-place I had felt as a sixteen-year-old pupil at the school; and second, how lucky I was to be alive. Two of the women in the picture no longer are.

In August, I will turn fifty—as, this year, will my school-friends. For some time now the thought of celebrating half-a-century on earth has left me feeling, well, elderly. At the same time, though, I’m a mother of three-and-a-half-year-old twins, which puts me in a unique category. Menopause is just around the corner, but I spend the early mornings, late afternoons and evenings playing with, reading to, preparing meals for and teaching manners to two lovely, loving children who have only recently emerged from babyhood.

Taking care of babies

Taking care of babies

So while my friends are consulting herbalists, I’m explaining gender differences to three-year-olds. Or, as my son put it this morning: “Mickey Mouse has a penis, and Minnie Mouse does not have a penis, right, Mummy?” To which I responded, “That’s true, but Minnie Mouse has a vagina.”

I worked for the Walt Disney Company for more than a decade—and I have the plaque to prove it—as a reporter and editor for the then-Disney-owned science magazine Discover. I’ll admit that I never considered the anatomy of Mickey’s genitalia before. But there’s nothing like encroaching age for helping one to reappraise the workings of one’s own anatomy, sexual or otherwise.

A former high-school classmate of mine, Marina Benjamin, wrote recently in The New Statesman of her own struggles on turning 50, and the aching bones, popping joints and night sweats of the instant menopause that followed her hysterectomy. A college friend of mine, Susan Arno, wrote to me of her “sense of mourning for a lost rhythm,” and her need to rethink her “subconscious definition of ‘being female’ as ‘being fertile.’”

Mummy and Daughter

Mummy and Daughter

Friends my own age who are parents struggle with feelings of loss or fear as their children leave home, join the army, go off to college or climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I struggle with setting boundaries for my children, teaching them not to hit, and or with my own frustration when my kids don’t listen. I struggle with feelings of fear as they test their own independence, not wanting to let them out of my sight for a minute in the playground. It is not that I don’t think of my impending loss of rhythm, but right now it does not feature prominently in my everyday cares. And because I gave birth to my children in my mid-forties, I don’t have to think about them leaving home just yet.

This, I think, helps me to feel very grateful. When I look at my children, I often feel simply amazed that I am a mother. Thanks to modern medicine—and a great deal of persistence, faith, hope and tears along my journey to motherhood—I was able to give birth to my twins.

I have other reasons for feeling hopeful. My grandmother, Amelia Harris, lived to the grand age of 98, and was connected to the world around her until she died in early 2004. Her father, my great-grandfather Meyer Shapiro, died in 1945 at the age of 96. In addition to raising two children—my mother Irene and my aunt Sonya—with my grandfather, David Harris, my grandmother had multiple careers in the course of her long life: boot-polish seller, seamstress, insurance agent, accountant, clothing factory owner. In her retirement she and my grandfather traveled widely and ran a boarding house for elderly gentlemen in their boldly-painted bright green home by the sea.

My own parents, approaching their eighties, are still alive and healthy. My father, Gershon Glausiusz, survived the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen as a child; my mother, as a three-year-old evacuee from London, escaped the blitz-bombing of that city during World War II. Together, they are coming to live in Israel on August 13—one week after my own 50th birthday. For my father, it is his second “aliyah”; he first arrived in Israel on August 11, 1949, aboard the ship the “Negba,” as a 14-year-old refugee from Hungary. He remembers how he and his fellow-passengers danced and sang on the deck of the ship before dawn on that day, as they saw the lights of Haifa in the distance. “It was like a dream that came true,” as my father told me.

Abba and son

Abba and son

If I have inherited my ancestors’ longevity genes and my own parents’ resilience, then this is simply my first half-century, with many dreams yet to be fulfilled: to raise my children with my wonderful, patient, loving and kind husband Larry; to chant my way through the entire Torah; to continue to share love with my three brothers, my sister, my many nieces and nephews, and friends; to write, to travel to the far-off places I have as yet only written about—Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, perhaps—to eat wild apples in their place of origin, and to show my children these places. And to care for them and worry about them even as they grow, not wanting to let them out of my sight, but knowing that they must find their own way.

There is a Hebrew poem by Shmuel HaNagid, the 11th century Spanish-Jewish poet, scholar and soldier, that I have often read and have thought: I will quote that on my 50th birthday:

The Moment

She said: “Rejoice, for God has brought
you to your fiftieth year in the world!”
But she had no inkling that, for my
part, there is no difference at all
between my own days which have gone
by and the distant days of Noah in the
rumored past. I have nothing in the
world but the hour in which I am; it
pauses for a moment, and then, like a
cloud, moves on.

But as I read the poem now, I realize that the last few lines are not true for me. Because I have everything in this world.

22 January

A bang on the head: That big boo-boo was probably more traumatic for us than him

I was on deadline when the phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize, but I answered it anyway. The chaos of a busy place with a hundred different voices spilled out of the receiver.

“Is this Eli’s mommy?”


“It’s the staff at nursery school. He fell here in the courtyard.” A pause. “He’s uh, bleeding a little bit from the forehead.”

“He’s – bleeding?” I repeat. “A little bit?”

My husband Nachshon, also working from home, had overheard, and was already standing at the door of my office. “I’ll go now,” he said, and was out the door before I’d even hung up.

In 20 minutes, Nachshon had collected him, taken him to an emergency clinic across the street from the pre-school, and not half an hour later, my son had seven stitches in his forehead. Nachshon texted me a photo from the clinic with a horrible red crack up running up from our son’s eyebrow. I said I was on my way but he said not to bother, they were already coming home.

Just home from the emergency clinic.

Just home from the emergency clinic.

And so my precious boy, just a few days shy of his third birthday, walked in with his head bandaged, a sight that was sadder than I can explain. “Ima,” he said as he walked in the door. “I fell. I got a bang on the head.” I held him and rocked him a while, showering him with TLC, telling myself it could have been much worse, a million thoughts running through my mind. Was he traumatized? Would it leave behind an awful scar? He seemed to want to forget about it and move to familiar comforts.  “I want juice,” he pleaded, “and then ‘So Long, Farewell,’” a “Sound of Music” clip I’d turned him on to because I needed a break from Barney.

The world suddenly felt different. For the first time in our lives as parents, we’d had a real injury. I felt helpless and out of control. I wanted to find someone to blame. Was it the fake grass he was running on when he hit the climbing ladder that leads to the slide? Was the whole playgym defective? Where the staff not watching him closely enough? Should we sue the city?

In the days to come we explored and investigated and had the equipment checked out, and soon came to the conclusion that there was probably no one to blame. Sometimes kids run and fall, sometimes they happen to fall in such a way that they split their foreheads open. I myself bear the scar from an accident I had when I was 5 — an older boy in the neighborhood suddenly had the urge to push and run with my bike (with me on it) and then let it go, sending me careening into a metal mailbox at the end of driveway. Still, I made up stories about how Eli’s accident wouldn’t have happened at the last gan he was in, the private, more expensive one where the big playgym was made of wood and not metal. Or this guilt-inducing train of thought: this wouldn’t have happened if he were at home with me.

If I had anyone to blame it was the universe itself, which was teaching me one of the hardest lessons of parenthood. I won’t always be able to protect my child from harm. I won’t always be there when he falls, though I wanted to believe I would. And I can’t keep him at home forever. The need to let go, ever so gradually, of the desire to protect and control is something that is a work in progress for me. Our son’s first big boo-boo (may there be no more) was probably more traumatic and memorable for us than him.

Being comforted with kisses by his little sister.

Eli’s fall happened three months ago, but he still gets reminded of it a lot, because people ask, with understanding curiosity, what happened to his forehead. I sometimes wince when I look at that scar in formation, sad for his pain, occasionally missing the perfect babyface he had before the fall. Each night and each morning, we put a special scar gel to help the healing process. Nachshon told Eli that his stitches were in the shape of a giraffe, and so the gel is “food for the giraffe,” which makes the process a bit sweeter.

Eli’s little giraffe aside, the animal I most associate with our relationship is the lion. For about a year now, Eli has been assigning animals to everyone in the family: He was always an elephant and his sister, amusingly enough, a snake. At some point, he decided I was a lion and took to calling me “Mommy Lion,” which he still does when he’s feeling sweet and cuddly. I love the thought of being a lioness, luxuriating with her cubs. But a real lioness is famously fierce in protecting her young. I wonder whether I, whether any of us, can ever live up that ideal.

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21 November

Beating the Odds: From Thirtysomething Single to Fortysomething Supermom

by Stacy Sullivan

NYCB&WI found love at 40.  I don’t know what percentage of the New York City dating pool I went through before it happened, but I know it was significant. The city seemed packed with beautiful, intelligent and accomplished women and a dearth of men worthy of them. Love proved elusive. I had faith that I would find it one day, but I didn’t think I would find it in time to have children.

When I turned 39, I went to a fertility clinic. I wanted to see if everything was working okay. I think part of me thought that maybe I was infertile, and if I was, I could stop fretting about missing the opportunity of having children. But I also wanted to know about the viability of freezing my eggs or conceiving a child with a sperm donor.

At the time, and at my age, egg freezing wasn’t really an option. The doctor said my egg reserves looked fine, but that if I wanted to conceive, I would need to act fast. Fertility plummets exponentially after 40 and with each month, the chances of conception were growing slimmer.  After a lot of soul searching and tears, I came to the decision that I wasn’t suited to be a single mother and that it was more important to me to find love (and perhaps adopt children later) than it was to have my own biological children.

And that’s when Karl Vick, the man who would become my husband, walked into my life. He was a Washington Post correspondent who had spent many years abroad – in Africa, Turkey, Iraq – covering wars, famine, natural disasters. For a variety of reasons, which included how he has spent the past couple of decades, he had managed to turn 50 and never marry.

Our romance moved quickly. He was beautiful and funny and accomplished, actually liked the idea of monogamy. He lived in Los Angeles and I in New York, but we somehow made it work. When he told me that he liked the idea of having children, I said there wasn’t any time to waste. We tried for a couple of months, and when I didn’t immediately get pregnant, I dragged him to the fertility clinic with me.

We both underwent some testing. Karl checked out fine. My plumbing was a bit more complicated. It seemed my tubes were somehow pinned up and didn’t reach my ovaries. The doctors said they could do some exploratory surgery to determine what was pinning up my tubes, but at my age, they recommended doing IVF.

So began a daily regimen of shots, which stimulated my ovaries to produce a bunch of eggs. I wasn’t terribly bothered by the IVF regimen. I already had numerous friends who had undergone IVF, some of them multiple times, so I sort of knew the drill. At the IVF clinic I bumped into old friends I hadn’t seen since graduate school. I saw a couple of male colleagues I worked with who were there accompanying their wives. IVF was kind of like going to the Hamptons. Everyone was doing it.

Everyone I knew who had done IVF wound up retrieving a dozen eggs or more. One friend of mine got more than 20. In the multiple ultrasounds I got during the two weeks prior to my retrieval had shown at least eight eggs, so I wasn’t worried. The doctors said everything looked fine. But when I awoke from the egg retrieval (which is done under general anesthesia), the nurse informed me that they had retrieved only two.

I was gutted. “Two?” I said, holding back tears. “What happened?”

“You only need one,” she said with what seemed like a well-rehearsed response.

I hated that nurse and her patronizing comment. I hated the doctor who seemed so inept at egg retrieval. And I hated the clinic for not providing an explanation for why they didn’t get more eggs. “Sometimes this happens,” was all they ever told me.

Of those two eggs, only one fertilized. And by day three, when the resulting embryo was supposed to be transferred into my womb, it was a measly four cells. Viable embryos are usually six to eight cells by that time. I asked my doctor if it was even worth going through with the transfer – why put my self through another couple of weeks of injections if the chances were so slim of getting pregnant? He said the odds were low, but that I should do it.

Nine months later, having moved to Jerusalem, I gave birth to my son, Nathaniel Augustus Vick.  I was 42. My pregnancy wasn’t particularly difficult. I did my fair share of vomiting in the first trimester and felt nauseated for seven weeks. I fretted about Downs Syndrome and other age-related abnormalities and did every kind of testing known to the New York medical establishment at the earliest possible dates. Some of those procedures were invasive and increased the possibility of miscarriage, so I fretted about that too.

(From l. to r.) Sophie, Stacy, Nat and Karl.

(From l. to r.) Sophie, Stacy, Nat and Karl.

When our son was born, my husband and I felt like we had beaten so many odds. We found love late in our lives. We conceived on the first try with IVF. And our baby was not plagued by the plethora of abnormalities associated with advanced maternal age. It seemed too good to be true.

So when I went in for my six-week post-natal check-up and my OB-GYN at Hadassah suggested that I stop breastfeeding at six-months – and undergo another round of IVF and freeze some embryos so that I might have another child – I laughed and told her she was out of her mind. Nathaniel was colicky and I had not slept in six weeks. And my husband and I were in the business of counting our blessings, not pushing our luck. Almost everyone I knew who had done IVF had to do it multiple times before getting pregnant, and many never did.

But not long after I walked out of her office, I started thinking about it. I mentioned it to Karl and he laughed too.  But not long after that, he too started thinking. So when Nat stopped nursing on his own accord at 8 ½ months, I thought maybe he was sending me a message. He pushed my breasts away with both of his hands and I heard “I want a sibling!”

The IVF clinic at Hadassah Mount Scopus was not encouraging. The doctor told us that at my age (now 43), we had about a 2 percent chance of a “live birth.” And she recommended against freezing embryos. If we wanted another baby, she said I should try to get pregnant as soon as possible. We weren’t ready yet – Nathaniel was only 10-months-old, still waking several times a night and I was still exhausted – but we followed the doctor’s recommendation and decided to try anyway.

A couple of weeks of hormone injections, and a handful of blood tests and ultrasounds later, I went under general anesthesia for the egg retrieval. It was Thanksgiving Day, 2011. I don’t know if it was the hormonal regimen the Hadassah doctors put me on or if the doctor was more adept at retrieving the eggs, but when I awoke, a nurse informed me that the doctor had retrieved 15 eggs.

Five eggs fertilized, and three days later, my doctor implanted two into my uterus. We froze the other three. I should have been thrilled, but I spent the next two weeks weeping along side my sick 10-month-old son who was waking several times a night – and praying that I wasn’t pregnant.  Motherhood was miserable, I thought, and there was no way in hell I was ready to go through this again.

I wasn’t surprised when the clinic told me a couple of weeks later that I wasn’t pregnant.  And I was tremendously relieved. My doctor recommended that we try again with the three frozen embryos as soon as possible, but I knew I needed more time. Who undergoes IVF and then prays she doesn’t get pregnant?

I told her that I understood she was giving me sound medical advice, but that I had other personal factors to consider. I needed to wait until my son was a little older, until he was healthy, until I felt healthy. We were planning a family vacation in South Africa in February, and I told her I would try again in the spring.

The vacation was glorious. I felt rested and warm, and Nathanial responded to the sunshine and the ocean air by taking long naps and sleeping much better at night. When we returned to Jerusalem in March, I felt ready to try again.  The clinic recommended implanting all three embryos and advised against doing another round of IVF if this didn’t work. In April, I signed a form acknowledging that there was a possibility I could have triplets and all three were placed into my uterus. It was probably our last shot.

My doctor seemed optimistic after the procedure. She said that one of the little embryos had grown in between the time it was thawed out in the morning and the time it was implanted in the afternoon. I tried not to read too much into it, but I wasn’t surprised when she called me a couple of weeks later – it was Mother’s Day – and told me I was pregnant.

And so it was, against tremendous odds, that in my 44th year on earth, thanks to science, I had a daughter. Sophia Marie Sullivan Vick was born on January 6, 2013.


Stacy Sullivan is a writer based in Tel Aviv and author of Be Not Afraid, for You Have Sons in America.
07 November

Do I Look Like a Grandma?

Oh, dearie me. On a summer Sunday several months ago, a woman in the playground asked if I was my children’s grandma. She really was a grandmother—she was there with her toddler grandson. But I like to think that I look younger than my real age, even though I’m so sensitive about it that I rarely reveal my age publicly. Oh, dearie, dearie me.

Arriving at the barbershop for my son's first haircut.

Arriving at the barbershop for my son’s first haircut.

In fact, when my mother was my (secret) age, she was a grandma, too. So it’s really not such a bizarre question, especially since I often see grandparents taking care of their grandchildren. And I’ve been asked more intrusive questions: at a recent mammogram appointment the sonographer asked, about my two-year-old twins, “Are they natural?” (The obvious response, which I’m too polite to offer, is, “no, they are robots.”) In my former home of New York City, where I was often surrounded by nannies in the park, a typical question was, “Are they yours?” (“No, I found them by the roadside and took them home,” – an answer I never gave.)

People ask all kinds of rude, stupid, and inquisitive questions. But the question about whether I am their grandma grates. We live in a society that worships the young. And I have to admit that my body, post-twin-birth, doesn’t look so trim and slender anymore. My tummy bulges. My old clothes don’t fit. I gave away more than half my wardrobe before we moved to Israel—some clothes to friends and others, packed inside black bin bags, to the Housing Works, an AIDS charity in New York City.

I try to maintain a certain poise about my altered body. But how do I accept my extra pudge? My cousin Zahava Gilmore, who teaches yoga for women, offered me an answer on a recent visit to her home. Zahava, who is the most serene mama I have ever met, said, “We need to love our bellies. We’re not supposed to have a tight, totally restricted flat belly. And we’re not going to be the same as before giving birth – but what a blessing our kids are.” Acknowledging this transformation, she added, “doesn’t mean we go to pot. It doesn’t mean that everything is collapsed and all out of tone, but it means that we accept the changes and see the beauty.”

Post-pregnancy beauty, as the celebrity magazines remind us constantly,  means being “slim, gorgeous,” like Kate Middleton two months after giving birth to Prince George. (I’d love to see a headline celebrating a “buxom, gorgeous” princess two months post-birth.) But as Zahava points out, “Because of the media, because of the models that are all underweight and super-skinny, that affects how we think about ourselves. These skinny models look like young teenage girls. It’s not a reality check; it’s not the body of a woman.”

A beautiful girl, snapped on the New York subway. Credit: NYC Girls Project

A beautiful girl, snapped on the New York subway. Credit: NYC Girls Project

If I don’t love and accept my own body, how am I going to teach my daughter to love and accept her own shape? I tell her all the time how beautiful she is, and at the same time, because I don’t want her to think she is valued only for her looks, I also tell her that she is kind, generous, loving, clever and a good sister. (I say similar words to my son.) Perhaps that’s why I was so happy to see, recently, a poster on the New York Subway promoting the NYC Girls’ Project. It shows a girl with large glasses and the tagline, “I’m a girl. I’m honest, smart, brave, funny, courageous, tough, loving, unique, healthy and creative. I’m beautiful the way I am.”

I also think of my own grandmother, Amelia Harris, who died in January 2004 at the grand age of 98, and who was, until her final years, pleasingly plump. Born in 1906 in London’s East End, the daughter of immigrants from Vilna, in Lithuania, she grew up in abject poverty. She and my grandfather loved good food, and some of my happiest memories are of sitting beside them in their Brighton beach chalet, drinking tea and eating chocolate digestive biscuits, as the cold waves of the British channel crashed upon the pebbly beach. Several months before my grandmother died, I gave her a copy of a photograph of a broadly-smiling me that appeared on the back flap of my then soon-to-be-published book, “Buzz: The Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects.” She proudly displayed the photograph on the cabinet beside her bed. When I flew from New York across the Atlantic to be with her, a day before she died, she emerged, briefly, from unconsciousness and pointed at the picture. “Everyone says how lovely the photo is,” she said. “Everyone says how beautiful you are.”

25 August

‘Buy the Village’: Pushing back against too much babysitting

It’s these moments I dread: I am asked to cover something and have to turn down the assignment for lack of a babysitter.

But in this case, it was last-minute, at a time of day when I’m normally home with my kids, on a day of the week when my husband is out of the house until late at night – a day of the week, in other words, that’s all mine. I’d been out in the evening a lot already that week. And the story, I suppose, just didn’t feel that important.

I told my colleague that regrettably, I have to pass on that one.

“You know this whole thing about how it takes a village?” the colleague posed. “I say, if you don’t have a village, buy the village. When my kids were little we had a whole army of sitters and helpers on call at any moment.” I agreed – and offered that we do have a number of reliable babysitters in my quick-dial.

Much more fun than camp: baking cookies with Grandma.

Much more fun than camp: baking cookies with Grandma.

But that doesn’t mean I want to call them all the time. I wondered afterwards about the meaning of this famous African quote popularized by Hillary Clinton’s book. In the developing world – the ones most Africans still live in, and the ones our ancestors lived in until a few generations ago – women with small children lived in tightly knit communities surrounded by sisters, parents and cousins. You didn’t hire a babysitter, you relied on an immediate relative to pick up the slack if you suddenly got ill or had some other emergency that required what we have now come to call “childcare.”

The more I chewed on the funny twist on the quote Hillary popularized, the more I felt the desire to reject it. I can’t afford to buy the village. My husband and I are already tapped out by the cost of full-time childcare during regular working hours. In Israel that general means a “gan” (a catch-all term that equals both daycare and pre-school) that runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m – occasionally 4.  When we pay for yet more childcare in the form of babysitters in the evening or weekends, we do it sparingly: to go to a wedding, for example, or to see a performance on an occasional “date night.”) If I were to hire a babysitter every time a story beckoned or a social invitation landed alluringly in my in-box, we would truly be in debt.

What’s more, I find myself feeling fiercely protective of my time with my kids. I’ve changed jobs three times in the past three years – since having my first child in September 2010 – while trying to find a work-kids balance that I could live with.

I’ve made my compromises, and I’ve drawn a few red lines. I don’t want to buy a village to raise my children, and I can’t. I want to raise them, and I’m not interested in farming out more than I already do.

We certainly haven’t made it easy for ourselves. We live far from our families, and have less-than-traditional jobs with sprawling hours.

The cover of "It Takes A Village," by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The cover of “It Takes A Village,” a book about education by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I still appreciate whatever village I can get. I have friends who come to help without asking, an Israeli mother-in-law who came to visit twice this summer to help us in the middle of a big move, an American mother who flew halfway around the world this month to spend time with us and our kids when we needed it most. At times like these – such as when my mom played live-in nanny one day last week while I wrote on deadline, then treated us to a nice dinner out – I realize how wonderful  it is to have grandmothers (and grandfathers) around. I see now how much simpler it would be if I lived village-style, next door to my family, or close to my husband’s parents, who are a three-hour-drive away.

Of course, living in close proximity to family has its own challenges. My time spent visiting homes throughout the developing world taught me that living with one’s extended family can be as oppressive as it is supportive. One of the successes of Western civilization was to liberate the individual from the need to live with his or her family of origin – or any family at all. But sometimes I wonder if this liberation has gone too far – leaving lots of people like me reaching for the phone, ambivalently and expensively, to call a babysitter. We want the freedom of starting fresh in some place we’re excited to live, or the opportunity to accept a job offer in a faraway place, but miss the comforts of the “village” our ancestors enjoyed.  I would hazard a guess that in my grandmother’s shtetl in Poland, there was no need to pay a babysitter by the hour.

Today, for example, we had an orientation at our daughter’s gan in the morning and an orientation at our son’s gan at 6:30 in the evening. No babysitters, we decided: it would be nice for each child to see where the other would be going to gan. I ignored the occasional stare of a parent wondering why we’d dragged along a child of “that” age – whether too young or too old for the group.

I feel a combination of sadness and relief that the summer is tumbling to an end. A friend asked me how I managed to get through the month of August and write as much as I did, given that gan ended in late July. I could only thank my extraordinarily competent husband and his light August workload, my mother, and my (somewhat) flexible job. And maybe myself, for insisting on a little fun time with my kids and not contracting it all out entirely.

The Numbers Game: Why I’m not sure whether or not we’re done

by Beth Freedman

I barely made it into the primigravida club – I gave birth to my first son shortly after turning thirty-five. But I’m a primagravida all the same, in all the ways that count. And there is one issue directly related to the age at which we started our family that continues to haunt me. 

Baby One and Baby Two. Is it possible to stop thinking about the viability of Baby Three?

Baby One and Baby Two. Is it possible to stop thinking about the viability of Baby Three?

Before my husband and I got married, we talked about how many children we wanted, and we both agreed that three was a nice number. We knew, of course, that since we were older than many, it might not be that simple. But then I got pregnant very easily with number one, so it seemed we were blessed in that respect. But then week six of the pregnancy arrived, and I got really, really, really sick. I never knew just how long nine months was, until I had to endure nine months of pregnancy, throwing up every day for well over half of that time, and feeling constantly, severely nauseated every moment I was awake. During that first pregnancy, I honestly didn’t know how I could bear to put myself through that again to have another. After the pregnancy, I felt like I had PTSD – not for the labor, which was actually wonderful, but for the pregnancy. But I knew that I would have to go through it again. Having an only child just didn’t seem like an option for either of us, for a whole slew of reasons.

Then things got more complicated. When I felt I was as ready as I was going to be, and I couldn’t wait that much longer, since I was already 37, we started trying for number two. Since number one had been so simple, I fully expected to be pregnant within a couple of months. But nothing happened. And nothing happened. And nothing happened. Every month I would be on an emotional rollercoaster — sad that it hadn’t worked, but also relieved that I didn’t have to go through the hell of pregnancy yet.

After five months or so I was ready to go to the gynecologist to get help. We did every test there was to be done, but the results all came back normal. After a year without conceiving, we were diagnosed with “unexplained secondary infertility.” I had to begin to face the idea that my son might be an only child, and something about that just broke my heart, no matter how much I was dreading being pregnant again. We were about to start fertility treatments when, on our nineteenth month of trying, I got pregnant naturally.

There is an age gap of four years and three months between our children. My second pregnancy was even worse than the first, and in the end, we were actually lucky that it took that long to work, because having a three-and-a-half-year-old at home while you are so sick you can’t lift your head off the pillow is infinitely better than having a two-year-old at home. He was just able to deal with it more than a toddler would have been.

An interesting thing happened to me, though, as soon as I got pregnant with number two. I immediately started thinking about the viability of number three. Despite the amount of time it took us to get pregnant with number two, despite the fact that it was clear now that I’d have to wait until baby number two was also not a toddler anymore if we wanted another, I immediately started thinking of it as though having (or not having) a third was purely a matter of choice.

Our second son was born six weeks before I turned forty. He is now five months old, and the question will not leave my head. There are many, many reasons why I think we have had all the children we are going to have. I am forty already. I can’t risk trying to conceive again for another for three years because we wouldn’t cope otherwise — if we could even cope then. To start trying at forty-three, knowing it could take years… well, I don’t want to be that much of an older parent. We are so tired right now. It is almost all I can do to look after a newborn and a four year old. I’ve never been particularly energetic and it is taking all of my strength to get through this year, with its associated sleep deprivation. I also don’t think I can put my body through another pregnancy. My husband doesn’t think he would be able to look after two children on his own through the first four months of another pregnancy ; looking after one on his own last year, while I was bedridden, was hard enough. We keep talking about all the advantages to having two children; that we’d have more time for them, the ‘neatness’ of it, the fact that we’d still fit into our relatively small living space and our car, and so many other things. And there is the simple physical fact that if I could get pregnant again, which in itself is doubtful, the physical strain of that pregnancy and of another newborn year is just more than either of us can take.

And yet, there is something that I just can’t let go of. My baby has grown out of his newborn clothes, but something is preventing me from selling them or giving them away. I think it is the difficulty of accepting the reality, as opposed to the ideal. If we had been just five years younger, we’d still be thinking of having number three. It’s still the number of children we want. And there is a part of me that feels like I am cheating my sons out of another sibling, one whom they are “supposed” to have. This feeling hits even harder as I watch our four-year-old express his utter delight at having a baby brother.

In a way, it would be easier for me if I knew that I absolutely could not have another child (which might well be true, given how long it took us to conceive number two). But in the end, I did conceive, so I feel like I am still capable. And because I feel that we are making a choice, I am plagued by that choice. Ever since I got pregnant with number two, the issue has been going round and round in my head. We go through a particularly hard day (or night, or both) and I know that I am right, that we have been blessed with all the children that we can manage. But then I think I am being selfish, that I am not doing what is best for my kids. But then I think — what is best for them is not biting off more than we can chew, and ending up so exhausted and overwhelmed that we can’t care for any of them well. And then I end up full of self-recriminations — why can’t I be strong enough to have three? Is there another soul out there who is supposed to be part of our family?

So how do I do it? How do I give up the ideal, for the reality? It is a wonderful reality, after all. I have two healthy, beautiful boys, and a wonderful husband. I’m so looking forward to our baby growing up and becoming a person in his own right; to watching the siblings play together. I know that this is right for us, by every logical measure, but my emotions won’t quite come into line. My biggest ‘issue’, in truth, is not the “ideal” as we saw it — I am content with two children, as is my husband — but the worry that I am shortchanging the two kids I do have by not giving them another sibling.

It is possible that I might feel this way less if I did not live in a society where having two kids is unusual, and most families have three or more. A while back I read a blog post written by a woman in America, asking advice on how she could “know” whether it was right or not to have number three. Again and again, along with the very sage advice she was given by other mothers, came the caution that she would have to deal with the “inevitable” questions/comments on why she had had another. It seems that the default in secular America is two children, and more is considered… odd. Even selfish. But I’m not sure that it’s the society I’m surrounded by. I’m one of five, but I didn’t ever want five. I grew up with a lot of friends who had only one sibling and didn’t think of them as different, or lacking.

I wonder if I can work this through and come to a place where I have accepted that our family is complete. I look forward to hearing other mothers’ experiences – I imagine I’m not the only one losing sleep trying to figure it out.

– Beth Freedman is a writer who uses a pseudonym when including personal information she’d rather keep private.

Moments of Grace

By Josie Glausiusz

A couple of months ago, I took my two-year-old twins to the playground, and they commandeered some other child’s abandoned tricycle.

Since there was only one vehicle between the two of them, I told them to take turns, counting to ten when it was time to switch. To my immense gratification, they took turns without objecting, although each turn was short. My friend Judy Merion, who had flown in from New York and was visiting us in Ra’anana, had accompanied us to the playground. I turned to her and said, “At times when I think I am a total disaster as a mother, I look at my children behaving so nicely and remind myself that I must be doing something  right.”

Baby, you can drive my car

Baby, you can drive my car

Total disaster as a mother. I can’t explain why these words popped into my head, but I’ve noticed that moms, when they make a minor mistake, are very quick to label themselves terrible mother or worst mother in the world, instead of simply saying “I slipped up; I’ll do better next time,” or “I’ll try and learn a different way to do things.” I rarely hear fathers say, “I’m the worst dad on earth.” Why the blanket self-condemnation?

Judy, a warm-hearted and insightful psychotherapist, replied, “We all tend to be incredibly insecure about our parenting. There’s nothing any of us has done or will ever do that means as much to us as how we raise our children. So we’re quick to criticize ourselves for each and every blunder—and God knows there are always plenty of those.” Personally, I’m very careful to take note of each and every blunder, and as my husband points out, I am highly skilled at deflecting compliments. Example: Larry praised my home-made hummus and babaganouj (eggplant spread) saying, “I think of those items as supermarket products, but you just decide to make them, and you do, and they are delicious.” My response? “Yes, but I have no idea how to make soufflé.”

Maybe it is my British upbringing that prompts me to reject compliments: after all, in the land of my birth it is a dreadful social error to commit the sin of “showing off.” Yet I also spend much more time examining my errors and missteps than feeling proud of my achievements as a mother. One of my so-far unattained goals is to never yell at my children, like the “Orange Rhino” mom, who gave up yelling at her children for a year (and counting). I have fallen short of this goal many times, usually at moments when I am exhausted, frustrated, or tired of repeating the same instructions. Orange Rhino Mom no longer goes to bed with a “gut-wrenching pit in my stomach because I felt like the worst mom ever,” and good luck to her.

I’ve also told my toddlers to eat food “X”—quinoa muffins, for example—because “I’ve spent a long time preparing them,” and now I find that scientists at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland have shown that “the use of guilt-inducing parenting in daily parent-child interaction causes children distress still evident on the next day,” although they add that “this kind of parenting is typical for parents who are themselves distressed or exhausted.” (By the way, that declaration elicits no increased interest in the proffered food—although yesterday my boy did reject ice cream in favor of frozen peas.)

As parents in my twins club have pointed out, new motherhood comes with doubts aplenty. When I asked parents on the forum why mothers are so quick to label themselves “terrible,” for small mistakes, one mom told me that “almost 7 months into new mommy-hood I had found myself saying what a terrible job I was doing on a regular basis.” Unsolicited advice from friends and strangers can make moms feel worse: as she relates, “I inadvertently banged my boy’s head on a wooden bench when I was changing him this weekend (he’s fine, but it was a total “whoops” moment where people gave me looks); researching ANY baby item, like the foam mats all over our apartment, makes me think I’m either giving us or the babies cancer . . . so it just seems like there are a million inputs saying how bad a job I’m doing (or at least I take it personally.)”

And actually, fathers aren’t immune from these feelings. A gay dad on the twins forum told me that, “At round 4 months we went to our pediatrician who asked “any teeth?” and we both nodded ‘no’ with our heads. She opened our son’s mouth and pointed out two teeth in the front. We jokingly called ourselves ‘worst dads ever!’” But, he adds, “Hopefully for most of us we can recognize that this emotion is temporary and that we are great parents. We just can’t do everything perfectly.”

Twins, sharing the excitement of flying on an aeroplane.

Twins, sharing the excitement of flying on an aeroplane.

Or as my friend Judy says, “It’s probably a reasonable idea to also take note of those moments of grace; those times when our children let us know we’ve done something blessedly right.” So here are some of those “moments of grace” when I look at my children and say, “I have taught them well”:


They say “Bless You” when I sneeze.

They throw their bowls into the sink after breakfast, and help stack them on the draining board after I wash them.

They comfort each other when one of them cries.

They carefully observe ants carrying “oatmeal” into their underground nest.

They imagine a piece of bread to be a bus, and say “Pigeon at the wheel.”

They say “Be careful” when they cross the parking lot.

They pack a small bag with toys, and tell me they are going on holiday.

They sing “Happy Birthday” to each other, even when it is not their birthday.

And of course, they take turns.

02 April

Am I an attachment parent?

By Josie Glausiusz

On a recent bus journey to Jerusalem, I realized that I was leaving my two-year-old twins for an entire day for only the second time since they were born. I was on my way to report on a World Bank hearing for the journal Nature on a controversial plan to build a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, and I knew that my children would be fine: they were spending the whole day in nursery for the first time, instead of the morning only.

Every mother I know is trying to strike some balance between motherhood and career.

Every mother I know is trying to strike some balance between motherhood and career.

Still I was concerned. Would they take their regular afternoon nap? Would they be sad when I did not show up, as usual, after their lunch? And how exactly did I turn into one of those attachment parenting thingies that inspire both ire and admiration?

I am not a devotee of the attachment parenting school, though I am very attached to my children. My twins slept in a crib from the day they came home from the hospital (when they were very small, they shared the crib) and I have no intention of home-schooling them, ever. But when I became a mother, it was as if I had been turned inside out, like a scrunched-up flower in bud that suddenly blooms. Until giving birth, my focus in life was myself and my husband, immediate family, and friends. Upon giving birth, my brain seemed to transform itself into an organ exclusively focused on my children. Magnetic resonance imaging indeed shows that parts of the maternal brain grow after a woman gives birth: areas devoted to maternal motivation, emotion and reward processing, reasoning and judgment increase in volume.

Still, I hadn’t planned on dedicating myself so completely to my children. I hadn’t really planned to give birth in my forties, either, and didn’t think I could. But I did. And now, when I tell people that my two-year-old twins are in nursery only in the mornings, they give me a quizzical look and ask why I don’t leave them there all day, as most Israeli mothers do, so that I could return to my freelance science writing career full-time. Which is odd in a way, because in my former home in New York City, most working parents hire a nanny to look after their babies and don’t send their toddlers to pre-school until they are nearly three years old—and then only for two to three hours a day, perhaps three times a week.


A new meaning to “Boxing Day.”

I waited a long time to have children. And as my mother once warned me, looking after young children when you are older is tiring. I am tired every day. Really, really tired. I am also really, really fascinated by my children’s brains. Take yesterday’s 15-minute walk home in the stroller from nursery: as soon as we left, we stopped to look at a very large, purple thistle. “Prickly” my boy said. Then he and his sister pointed out the colors of the cars in the parking lot. (Yellow is their favorite.) They counted the doors leading to the houses in an adjacent street. They shouted “big truck” whenever a large lorry went by on Ra’anana’s main road, Achuza Street. They admired the plaster dog outside the veterinarian’s office. We paused to pick up big red blossoms from the pavement: my daughter insists on one for herself, one for her brother, one for Mummy, one for Abba, one for Grandma (in America) and one for Savta (her English Grandma.) She gave some to her brother, who shredded them into pieces and dropped them over the side of the stroller, and clutched hers tightly for the rest of the ride. Just before our arrival home, they ran their hands through the weeds growing out of the wall on the road to our house, saying “weedy, weedy.”

Toddlers are small scientists: fascinated by the world, willing to repeat an experiment over and over again, and not limited by convention or rigid thinking. One evening I watched my daughter lick scrambled egg from the bottom of her overturned plate and thought to myself, well, why not? Who says that you have to eat off the top of the plate, anyway? After all, the Brits eat with their forks upside down, a skill I have never understood, nor been able to master, despite being born in the U.K. So when one or the other of my children is throwing a tantrum, or running up two flights of stairs despite my vain calls to “come back, come back,” or scooping soil out of my neighbor’s potted plant and scattering it, or throwing puzzle pieces around the room, I remind myself how lucky I am to have these exuberant little people in my life.

I also realize how lucky I am to be able to spend this time with my kids at home. Most other mothers I know don’t have a choice about engaging in full-time paid employment to support their families—and I stress “paid employment,” because, trust me, looking after two toddlers is work. I know that the day will come when my twins would rather spend time with their friends than cuddling with me in the rocking chair post-nap reading My Truck is Stuck or Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. So while I enjoyed every minute of my Nature assignment—the passionate speeches and the arguments in favor and against the project, and occasional catcalls and boos from the audience—I was also just as happy to get back on the bus in the afternoon and come home. Hallo, sweet children.

Josie Glausiusz is a science journalist who moved to Ra’anana, Israel in October 2012 with her husband and now-two-year-old twins.
21 January

Getting what I deserve

In a recent blog post, I mentioned the challenges of trying to bring up baby alongside boisterous toddler. After griping about the latter throwing blocks at the former – these days the greater issue is headlocks of love and other toddler-on-baby moves that look startlingly similar to wrestling positions – perhaps I got what I deserve.

Big Brother loves to grab baby Z's face from behind and squeeze hard - not sure she likes it quite as much.

Big Bro E loves to grab baby Z’s face from behind and squeeze vigorously – not sure she enjoys it quite as much.

One reader wrote in to say, in a word, that’s why it’s a good idea to be mindful of spacing one’s children successfully, as she did. But that reader, it turned out, had her first child at 25, and was done by age 32. Bless, as they say in the UK. I’m glad it worked out for her that way.

Life for us primigravidas is different. A woman who starts a family with a first birth somewhere near 40 is not going sit around and wait until her child seems old enough to handle being a big brother or sister, or (where relevant) until she and her partner feel truly “ready” for another baby. Most of us conceiving children in this age bracket, whether naturally or through assisted reproductive technology (ART), know that our fertility is finite. No one knows exactly where or when it ends, and we’re likely to be pressured by doctors, as many of my friends have, to get on with it now if they hope to have another child or two.

One friend with fertility challenges, though still in her mid-30s, has been told by her doctors to start a new round of IVF, just five months after the birth of her first baby. Another friend all but forced herself to have a second baby before she felt ready, simply because she knew time was running short. Similarly, my husband and I were quick to try to conceive after having our first child because we thought it could take a long time to get pregnant again. I had convinced myself that my first pregnancy was a fluke and would be near-impossible to repeat.

In my best moments, I feel blessed to have two gorgeous children who are just a year and 5 months apart. In other moments, I feel overwhelmed at the challenges: keeping them happy and fed and warm, preventing them from hurting each other, and stopping them from feeling that they must compete for my love – though I suppose that happens at any age.

Of the primigravidas in the target demographic of this blog, I’ve met a preponderance of women who have children very close in age – that is to say, much closer than they would have preferred, had they started earlier – and women who have twins conceived via IVF.

I write about this trend neither to criticize it nor to laud it, but rather, simply to take notice of it. This is what motherhood looks like for the growing ranks of women like us. It means that more of us are coping with twins, or with children so close in age that it is, as I sometimes put it, a bit like having twins, except one has the ability to harm the other – or to smother her with well-meaning hugs. People sometimes call this situation “Irish twins,” though I suspect the term is a bit politically incorrect. So I’ll just call it what it is. Since last February, I’ve had two kids in diapers. Two kids who often demand and compete for my undivided attention. Two kids with different needs that are hard to fulfill simultaneously. (Currently, one needs to be rocked and held in the dark at exactly the moment that the other needs to be read an engaging story.) Two kids who cannot be left alone to play in the living room for more than two minutes while I cook dinner in the kitchen.

A sweet, rare moment of playing together nicely: E & Z cook breakfast together in their new kitchen.

A sweet moment of playing together nicely: the littl’uns cooking together in their new kitchen, care of their American aunts and uncles.

BUT WHO REALLY CARES? Only me and a bunch of women (and men) in the same situation. What I’m coming to realize is the extent to which I must stop expecting the world to sympathize with the struggles this entails. Especially, that is, a certain obnoxious flight attendant on British Airways, who during a leg of our recent trip home acted heartlessly throughout, all but yelling “schnell, schnell” as we tried to gather our things and our babies and get off the plane. I just wanted for her or her colleagues to offer a hand at pulling a piece of carry-on luggage down the aisle or to understand that when your toddler is fast sleep and needs to be carried just like the baby, it’s pretty damn hard to also carry your many accoutrements necessary for an 8-hour flight, plus winter coats, etc. Perhaps she didn’t know that strapping on your baby and negotiating three other bags takes a few minutes.

As part of this experience, I realized how attached we are to our double stroller cum luggage cart. Dear flight attendants, if you’re going to deprive us of it at the boarding gate, at least help us to and from our seats and be nice about it, the same you would as the little old lady who needs wheelchair assistance.

Of course, parenting is not a handicap. But having more than one mini-person in your charge does add so many complications that I sometimes wish people would see it that way. We move more slowly, we need the elevator, we’re dependent on our wheels. Please, I feel like saying, can’t you see I’ve got two kids in diapers? Can’t you please rearrange the universe to make it easier for me?

Again, I’m probably getting exactly what I deserve. Once upon a time, I was the person who had no clue why people with small kids needed to stop having a normal life. I was the woman who occasionally snaked off to see if she could get her seat on the plane changed (‘sure, that baby’s cute, but I need to sleep/work/read/etc.’) And more than once, I probably looked at an overwhelmed, exasperated mother of multiple children and thought, ‘well, don’t have ‘em if you can’t take care of‘em.’ I distinctly remember seeing a wayward child on a plane and thinking, ‘Sheesh, can’t you control your child?’ Control. Were it that easy! Seems almost as quaint a notion – as old-fashioned family planning.




12 December

Liberated from the Playpen

Guest blog
by Josie Glausiusz

A few days after we moved into our new apartment in Ra’anana, Israel, I noticed that my not-quite-two-year-old boy was very quiet and was nowhere to be seen.

I looked around our box-stacked apartment and discovered him in my husband’s office, sitting calmly at his desk. He was playing with a pair of pliers, and he looked very pleased with himself. I couldn’t help but laugh. And this is a new sensation for me, because in our old home in New York, I would never have let him wander around our apartment on his own without watching him and his twin sister very carefully. If I was unable to stay in the same room with them—if I was cooking, for example—I’d put them both in their double-size playpen where they would play with their toys. Not always willingly, I should add, but most of the time without tremendous fuss. But when we moved to Israel last October 15, we came with only our suitcases, and nearly all of our possessions—including the playpen, a newly purchased piano, our furniture, computers, wedding china, and a red-booted, wooden Nova Scotian folk art chicken—traveled via ship to Israel in a 40-foot long Zim container.

Now the playpen has arrived in Israel, and we are planning on selling it. My children have been liberated from it, and in the process I have liberated myself from some of my fears of calamity befalling them.

I am a nervous mother: I admit it.

The laundry basket is more fun than the playpen anyway.

The laundry basket is more fun than the playpen anyway.

I gave birth to my twins at an age when many of my friends are sending their children to college, and I became pregnant after enduring seven rounds of fertility treatment and an earlier miscarriage. Perhaps as a result, I suffered from debilitating anxiety during my pregnancy, even worrying that my worrying could impair my babies’ brain development. Until they were about nine months old, I crept into their room every night at 1 or 2 a.m. to make sure they were still breathing. If they napped in their bouncy seats in the living room, I would carefully check that no cushions could levitate from the couch, ricochet off the walls, and land on my babies and smother them. As they grew older and began crawling and walking and climbing, I worried that they would fall off the slide in the playground, or wander out of the playground and get lost, or swallow something nasty that they found in the grass.

As any twin mom can attest, it’s not always easy to supervise toddlers who are determined to run in opposite directions. During our first five weeks in Israel, we lived in a rented, furnished apartment and for the first week or so it seemed as if my children were going berserk: climbing on the furniture, opening, slamming and shaking the doors, unraveling the toilet rolls, emptying the kitchen cabinets of all the pots, pressing all the buttons on the washing machine and turning it on and off, and ignoring my requests to stop, come back, and sit down. If I had had a playpen, I certainly would have put them in it. But I didn’t. And as I discovered, Israelis aren’t too impressed with the idea of confining your children in a cage. A babysitter who worked for us for precisely one morning looked at me derisively when I told her about our playpen and cynically remarked, “very good for their emotional development and curiosity.”

Just as it seemed as if I was about to lose my marbles, I had a wonderful conversation with the children’s nursery school teacher.

One day when I went to pick them up after lunch, she said to me, “your kids don’t really listen to instructions, do they?” I agreed, with some embarrassment, that they did not, and that I had no idea how to encourage them to listen, either. She said, “call me; we’ll talk about it.” So I did. Her solution surprised me: not, as I had expected, more time-outs or more rules, but, “you need to give your children more responsibility.” Have your children pick up their toys at the end of the day, she suggested. Sing the “clean-up” song with them. That evening, I told my twins to pick up the plates and spoons they had thrown on the floor during dinner. They willingly did so, and seemed to enjoy the task. They also enjoyed sweeping the floor, packing their toys in boxes, and hiding their shoes in the scattered soup pots.

Israeli attitudes towards toddlerhood, I’ve found, are quite different from those I’ve experienced in the U.S. I’ve noticed that Israelis seem to be more liberal about allowing toddlers to follow their natural instincts and explore, even if it means more chaos. When a worker came to install our new dishwasher, I apologized for not listening to his detailed instructions, because I was chasing my children around at the same time. “My children are very curious,” I said. “But that’s what you want; that’s good,” he replied. “You don’t want them to be phlegmatic.”

During a recent visit to Tipat Chalav (Well Baby) clinic, my kids walked behind the nurse’s desk, pressed all the buttons on her computer, and turned it off. Then they emptied the rubbish bin on the floor, opened all the drawers in the room, found a packet of plastic spoons, took them out and stuck them through the slats on the window blinds, laughing all the time. When I posted an anecdote about this clinic visit on Facebook, my American friends seemed mildly surprised about the absence of control—MY control—even though I was attempting in vain to curb the chaos. One dear friend commented, “Wow….very cute! My pediatrician (whom I adore) would have lectured me on the need to enforce the 1-2-3 strikes you’re out rule and give them a time out!” But the Tipat Chalav nurse remained calm throughout, and seemed to think that this was exactly the kind of behavior she was looking for in a toddler – a sign that they were developing normally.

Let me be clear: I’m not in favor of children running wild, either. Or playing with pliers. But when I watch my lovely children bouncing up and down on a see-saw, or bravely climbing steps to the slide that are half their own height, or climbing into a cupboard, crouching down and then leaping up and laughing, I think about all those times in our lives when we try to re-create the feelings and experiences of early childhood, where everything is new and different and exciting. For them, to open a kitchen drawer is to discover new and amazing inventions: a potato masher, a garlic crusher, a soup ladle. They find an old breast pump flange, and turn it into a trumpet. They turn a clock into a telephone, hold it to their ear, and say, “’allo, ‘allo.” Life may have been calmer in a playpen, but definitely less interesting – for them and for me. And there is no way you can teach your children the value of freedom unless they experience it for themselves.

Josie Glausiusz is a journalist who writes for Nature, Scientific American Mind, and other magazines. She recently returned to Israel with her family after living in New York City for twenty years.