Somehow the world of childbirth, in its many forms, has been a part of different women in my close, distant, and even in-law family. My mom was a South African trained R.N. and worked in the labor and delivery ward in Israel in the early 70s. My cousin, Elaine, is a perinatal nurse in Vancouver, Canada. Another distant cousin, Louise, was a midwife in South Africa in the 50s. My sister-in-law’s sister, Berglind, is an OBGYN in Iceland, and a very close and dear friend of my late father (and now mine), Pamela, was a childbirth educator who lectured both in the USA and abroad focusing on topics such as The Sensuality of Birth.
In the future, I hope to share with you some stories and insights from these amazing women, and today I will start with my mom, Shaine. Hi Mom! 😉
Cat Woman, is an award-winning speech my mom wrote and delivered at her Toastmasters meeting in Florida. It’s about one of her early experiences as an R.N. in the labor and delivery ward in Israel. I hope you enjoy it.
It happened to me in the early seventies when I went to work in the Labor & Delivery ward of Beilinson Hospital in Israel.
I had not covered obstetrics during my 3 years of nurse training in South Africa.
It was all new to me – and to add to the stress level, everyone spoke Hebrew, which wasn’t my native language.
On my first day of work, the Matron of the hospital accompanied me to the Maternity wing to introduce me to the head midwife.
There were three midwives – Sonia, Genia, and Olga who all hailed from Russia.
They were tough old birds. They even looked alike. Their mouths were filled with gold-capped teeth. Their upper arms had bulging biceps. Two of them had mustaches. The one with the beard didn’t. They would have made mean linebackers.
In the maternity wing, there was a constant rotation of nurses – here one week and gone the next. As a result, the 3 Russian midwives kept their distance and didn’t get chummy with anyone.
Matron had forewarned me not to expect a warm and fuzzy reception and this too added to my stress level. However…. When Matron introduced me to Sonia and said, “This is Shaine”, Sonia gasped. “SHAINA?” Then she yelled at the top of her voice “GENIA, OLGA come and meet Shaina.”
Turns out that my very “Yiddish” name meant a lot to these big-hearted, gruff ladies. So my name – which I had always considered to be a handicap, was now proving to be my biggest asset. The 3 Russians loved me … and in time the feeling was mutual.
They took me under their massive wings and were determined to turn me into a midwife extraordinaire.
I followed them through daily birthings and paid close attention to the many different procedures.
Things went fine …. UNTIL …. One day, they asked me to do the rounds and check each laboring woman’s diaper pad. This was how we could tell what stage the woman’s labor had reached. Was she bleeding… had her water broken? Etc.
I set off confidently to check on the half-dozen soon-to-be-Moms, while the Russian trio sat in the break room sipping steaming mugs of tea, reminiscing about the “Good Old Days” when they were lumberjacks in Russia, while the Red Army choir was singing “Volga Volga” on the tape recorder in the background.
Cheerfully approaching the first woman, I asked in my rudimentary Hebrew how she was doing. Then I got down to the business at hand. “May I check your CHA-TOOL?” I smiled.
“My CHA-TOOL?” she asked in shock. I knew my Hebrew was not that good, so I was guessing I had made a mistake. I asked again, this time using hand gestures to indicate what I wanted. That just made things worse. By now this poor woman was crying with laughter in between her labor pains. “She wants to see my CHA-TOOL!” she bellowed to everyone within hearing distance.
Due to the commotion, the trio of Russian midwives came to investigate. Upon hearing the explanation, they too started laughing hysterically.
I stood there in total ignorance. “What the heck was so funny?” I felt foolish, humiliated and my sense of professionalism crumbled rapidly.
Finally, Sonia explained it to me.
The word for a diaper pad is CHEE-TOOL. The word I was saying – CHA- TOOL – is the word for “cat.” I had been asking the patient if I could check her “cat.”
It took a while to live that one down. It was repeated throughout the hospital. After that, I became known as “the cat woman.” That bothered me for a long, long time. But as I look back on it now, I’d much rather be known as “the cat woman” than as “the diaper woman.” I think “cat woman” sounds ever so much sexier.
“MEOW!” Don’t you?