Good Work: How One Birthwise Graduate Serves Her Orthodox Jewish Community
In her three years as a practicing midwife, Dahlyt Berezin Bahr (‘13) has already done things some midwives will never do. She’s caught a woman’s thirteenth child. She’s simultaneously been the midwife for two generations of women in the same family. She’s received calls from women all over the United States asking about midwifery care.
Dahlyt serves the Orthodox Jewish community in New Jersey and New York. An observant Jew herself, Dahlyt has found success working with the community’s women, who observe birth customs that other medical professionals sometimes have difficulty grasping.
Dahlyt, for example, knows where her clients can purchase a modest bathing suit that works perfectly for water births. She also understands that, to preserve his wife’s modesty, a client’s supportive, loving husband may not show it by physically supporting her while she gives birth.
“Modesty is a big deal in the Jewish community,” says Dahlyt. “Having a provider who understands that this is a big deal is really important to these women.”
No woman in labor wants to have to stop and explain her culture’s birth customs to her care provider. Luckily Dahlyt already understands. She knows the specific customs that families observe when a woman goes into labor on Shabbat. When women refer to their body parts or marital relations in Talmudic or Biblical terms, which her clients often do, Dahlyt doesn’t need a translation.
Because the cultural understanding is already there, it’s easy for Dahlyt to forge a deep connection with each individual client as a friend, confidant, and knowledgeable care provider. This connection is key to getting clients to open up about topics that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate.
One of these topics is birth control. Dahlyt often shares the benefits of natural family planning with her clients, many of whom have adopted the safe, natural method. Suggesting a woman use birth control is not, however, always straightforward in Orthodox Jewish communities.
“I know the sensitivities around birth control and the insult that could be implied when suggesting it,” says Dahlyt, “so I’ve made a point to become very knowledgeable about the Jewish perspective on birth control.”
“I am able to quote from the Talmud, the Bible, and modern-day commentaries, so these women understand all their choices. I also keep a list of Rabbis who are very knowledgeable on the laws and the choices of birth control that these women can feel comfortable talking to.”
When it comes to the delivery itself, every birth Dahlyt attends is rewarding in its own way. Every client is special. One particularly memorable client came to Dahlyt already pregnant with twins. She was a young, first time mom. Her doctor had suggested an induction and most probably a C-section at 32 weeks, but the client wasn’t sure that was what she wanted.
Dahlyt discussed all her options with the client, who asked Dahlyt to be her midwife. She ended up giving birth naturally to double breech twins the day after her due date. She was so empowered by her extraordinary birth experience that, afterwards, she became a doula and a placenta encapsulator.
“It is even more important to have good experiences and avoid C-sections in the Jewish community, because these women are not going to stop getting pregnant,”
Good individual birth experiences also resonate in the Jewish community at large. “Day to day, I’m receiving phone calls from all over the United States because someone’s sister, cousin, friend, used me as a midwife and now she wants information about homebirth, but she lives in Baltimore or Florida and so on.”
One of Dahlyt’s former clients, a 19-year old first time mom, shared her positive homebirth experience with an aunt in Israel. The aunt, inspired by her niece’s story, went on to have a successful homebirth halfway around the world. “You never know who will benefit from one person’s good experience,” says Dahlyt.
For Dahlyt, being a good midwife is all about reading each client and deciding what she needs as an individual: “Maybe she needs a stronger personality, maybe she needs an understanding listener or maybe she needs someone who willingly shares opinions and advice.”
Birthwise also helped shape Dahlyt into the midwife she is today. “Birthwise really prepared me to start my own practice right after graduation,” recalls Dahlyt. “Birthwise gave me an amazing wealth of knowledge. It also gave me the confidence to serve and support these women, so they can have the care they deserve.”
Birthwise also benefited from having Dahlyt as a student. “Dahlyt was a leader from day one,” remembers Birthwise academic director Heidi Fillmore. “She had a clear calling to her work as a midwife and had the backing of her community because she was committed to serving them as a midwife when she finished her studies.”
While a student, Dahlyt’s perspective added depth to classroom discussions since, in many ways, her perspective differed from the hegemonic midwifery worldview. “She was always ready to share her unique perspective as an Orthodox Jewish woman. The faculty and her classmates always enjoyed, appreciated, and benefited from this,” remembers Heidi.
Heidi credits Dahlyt with making a lasting contribution to the school’s educational and social culture. “Nothing fosters tolerance, respect, appreciation, and understanding of differences like a lively, diverse forum of voices in our classroom and Dahlyt enriched Birthwise by being part of that dialogue.”
For her part, Dahlyt has no plans of stopping now. She’s found midwifery to be an incredibly rewarding career: “Seeing a woman come out the other side of a labor, whether it’s her first or her thirteenth, is really what motivates me. Seeing that amazing relief, pride, excitement, and exhaustion – everything about it – is so awesome!”
By: Hannah Fillmore-Patrick