It’s not over…until Hashem says it is
By Chandrea Serebro
It was late Thursday night, filled with anticipation. Moments before the birth, the monitors started to beep and blink, going crazy. The rhythmic sound of his heartbeat began to drop and then very quickly disappeared into an abyss of silence. He was born quickly. His mother hardly saw him. All she could see was her pale, grey baby lying limp, receiving resuscitation attempts by the frantic medical personnel in the room. She didn’t see any movement. She didn’t see the rise and fall of his newly learned breathing. All she saw was a Doctor trying to keep calm while doing everything his years of training had taught him to recover the heartbeat of this perfect child.
Nurses and doctors rushed in and out. She was suspended in disbelief, waiting to finally hear that new-born wail that signals breath, air, and life; that cry in which every mother for all time rejoices; that sweet sound of promise that every mother expects to hear after giving birth. It is a cry that she did not hear that night.
Every mother dreams of that moment; that precious first moment, after the pains of labour and the relief that birth brings, when all the effort and love that went into bringing a new human being into the world culminate in the ecstasy of new life; when you can look down at your new baby and bless Hashem at the sheer miracle of it. For Esther Rubin, it wasn’t this way.
“We had chosen a name before I was even pregnant. We knew it would be Chaim Zevulun. Life.” During all the chaos and confusion, with Esther’s frantic calls for information and clarity, her countless pleas to know what was happening, Esther turned to her husband, Yossi, and told him that, if the baby makes it, he’s going to be called Chaim. That is what she clung to, the hope that her beautiful baby would live.
Very quickly, Yossi sprang into action, opening a Jewish grapevine of prayer to family and friends, rabbis, Esther’s seminary, and shul groups, imploring them all to daven for their baby and for the tenuous hope that Esther still clung to. Their desperate plea went viral, and all around the world, Tehillim were being said. “I’m really not sure how long after the birth I got the news. It could have been two hours. It could have been 20 minutes. I was told that my baby didn’t make it. My mother and my rebbetzin were there along with my husband who had just come from the NICU. All I could say was, “I can’t handle this.”
The rest of that night, Esther and Yossi spent hours and eternities trying to make sense of it all. As hard as the news was for them to accept – the loss of their precious Chaim before he could take his first breath of life – they both new that this is the way that Hashem runs the world. “It is all in the timing. It is all part of a grand plan that only Hashem orchestrates. And it all runs on a perfect schedule.” This faith and commitment to believing lead to the news that their baby boy was in fact alive. A message so sweet only to be marred with the reality that, while he was alive, he was brain dead, with 0% brain activity, a place so dark and despairing from which, according to the doctor, no baby has made it out alive.
“He was on life support and unresponsive. It was decided that the baby would get a bris, and then the plug would be pulled,” news even more devastating than the original loss that the Rubins were still trying to overcome. “But, it was Thursday night. We didn’t want to go into Shabbos with the grief of another loss, and so we decided to wait until after Shabbos. We resolved that no paper would be signed or any go-ahead given until after Shabbos,” which would be a time of comfort before the mammoth task to come.
Around 4am on Friday morning, a nurse came in to ask them to sign a document, which stated that the baby would be staying in the hospital until after Shabbos. Yossi was on his way over to the NICU to say his goodbyes to the baby and try and find peace. “He touched his face. He spoke to him. And he cried. Oh how he cried.” He placed his finger into the baby’s mouth to offer him whatever sense of comfort he could in this despairing time. But instead of the comfort he hoped to give his beautiful, unresponsive baby, he felt a faint sucking.
“It couldn’t be.” That is all he could think of, that maybe he had imagined it. It was not possible. Brain dead babies do not suckle. “Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Maybe it was the grief.” He raced downstairs, single-mindedly, not knowing whether he was driven mad with grief or hope or if he was not mad at all. Not wanting to alarm his wife, he secreted the dummy from the nappy bag full of unfulfilled promise, and raced back to his new baby’s side. It made no sense, but something propelled him forward. When he put the dummy in the baby’s mouth, he realised that he had not imagined it, and the baby was sucking his dummy. Weakly. So weakly it kept falling out of his mouth. But it was there. The undeniable sign of life. He asked the nurse what was going on, but she didn’t take notice of him or the baby. Here was a grieving dad, with a baby connected to a plug that was keeping it alive, a plug that was soon to be pulled anyway. No progress checks would be needed, nothing was supposed to happen.
Later that morning the doctor visited and advised the Rubins that they visit their baby, and talk to him. The doctor couldn’t say much, no sense could be made of it, but all that he did know was that the baby was pulling on some cords attached to him. “He had never seen anything like this before.”
That Thursday night was a rollercoaster ride for the entire family. “Even though things looked so grim, we made a big effort to concentrate on the positive. We didn’t know how long he would make it, but we wanted to believe that he would. We did give up a few times. It was really tough.” What helped the family was the knowledge that, all around, their friends and family, and even strangers, were rallying for them, the constant “buzz” of another Tehillim being said giving them strength, knowing that people were dedicating their time, at all hours of the day, from all around the world, for the continued success of their Chaim.
“People went to kevarim (graves) of great rabbis; they went to the kotel; or they brought in Shabbos early. They took on personal commitments to make themselves better people. They learned and they prayed – all of it, in Chaim’s honour. Our little baby was making the world a better place. And we saw how this was making him stronger each day.” Chaim continued to thrive, he got better and better, and soon the story of Chaim’s birth became a story of miracles and the power of hope. “The darkest day of my life was a day which soon turned into the miracle of Chaim’s birth. The experience built our emunah in Hashem and taught us that none of it is in our hands. We just have to trust in G-d that the outcome is the best for us. And accept it.”
Esther recalls one morning visiting the hospital, when – very casually – the head nurse who was looking after the baby mentioned that he could probably go off of the oxygen. “We had been trying for a few days to wean him off, but it wasn’t going very well. I was surprised, as they had told me that, for now, they would leave the oxygen in until they were sure he was strong enough. She told me that when she had come in for her day shift and taken over from the night nurse, she noticed that the oxygen tube had moved and wasn’t even going into his nose. And that is how we weaned him off oxygen. That is when you realise, again and again, that G-d is near, and in charge. And when you realise that, then that is the moment when you hand it over to G-d.”
Looking at Chaim now, Esther and Yossi feel immense gratitude. “In the hardest times we have to stand our ground. We may not get the result that we want right away, but in the end we will. Sometimes G-d wants to test our love for Him.” Despite their positivity and the miracle of their baby, this doesn’t mean that there haven’t been more excruciating moments since this all took place. “We did give up hope a few times. Sometimes in darkness we can’t even see a glimmer of light. It is hard to say, and even harder to hear, when one is going through a dark time that one must never give up hope. Know that whatever is planned by G-d is what is meant for us. Even if we cannot see that it is good. It is a very hard thing to achieve – knowing that we’re not in control.”