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What A Progressive Society Can Learn From The Ultra-Chassidic Sect of Skver
Kimpaturin; A Yiddish word for a woman who has just given birth.
I grew up hearing this term every time my mother referred to a post-partum woman, or in reference to herself after birthing a new child, which was often. Mom said and uttered “Kimpaturin” with awe and respect. If someone in the community recently gave birth, I would find her in the kitchen cooking, or on the phone arranging meals or cleaning help for the newest kimpurtin.
And then there was the kimpaturin home. After each baby my mother used to leave the hospital in New Jersey and head straight to New York for a week to recover in the kimpaturin home. We children didn't quite understand what this place was really about but we knew for our mother, this was a non-negotiable part of giving birth.
After I had my first child and with each additional one after, my mom would gently suggest that I consider recuperating in the kimpaturin home in New York. I live far away from family and as my responsibilities and family grew, I needed the rest more so. I also experienced post-partum anxiety after some of my births which left me emotionally and physically depleted.
But as daughters often do, I dismissed Mom’s suggestion. For several reasons. First, I thought it was ancient (after all, mom did it!). Also, as a woman with a Chabad background and identity, I wasn’t sure how I would be perceived and accepted in the very insular worlds of Satmar and Skver.
And finally, I figured if everyone else managed, I can too. This is where I was gravely mistaken.
Everyone else does not manage.
According to the CDC, up to twenty percent of women in the US get some form of postpartum depression- and that’s documenting live births. This does not include miscarriages etc. Additionally, the majority of these statistics are women who have reported themselves. Imagine the statistics if there was no stigma and shame attached to PPD?
Many factors contribute to PPD such as sleep deprivation that often leads to exhaustion, which most post-partum moms’ experience. But we simply can not ignore that postpartum and maternity health care and benefits in the US are some of the worst. Women are expected to spring back to work and assume normal responsibilities a mere few weeks and sometimes days after birth. The kimpaturin is not a concept in our progressive twenty seventeen society.
This is not so in the Chassidic communities such as Williamsburg and Boro Park. In their world, she's a superhero, this Mama Kimpaturin. We often say it takes a village to raise a child, and let me tell you, they have a village. This is due to many factors, some that as a modern society we simply can’t attain (such as living near our families) and some that we should embrace. In their village, after a baby is born, the siblings of the new baby are split between family members while mom takes a week or two to rest and recuperate. And many go to the kimpaturin homes.
This brings me to my own kimpatorin story after my recent birth of a baby boy.
Mother was finally successful in convincing me to let go of my “trepidations” and fears and with the encouragement of some friends and my supportive husband, I made the trip with my newborn to New York. I felt like a child going to overnight camp for the first time, but I knew I needed to try whatever it would take to get back to myself.
A beautiful state of the art building greeted us in New Square in the Skver section near Monsey, New York. A special entrance with a stunning lobby welcomed the new moms. The women at the reception desk greeted me with the most welcoming smiles. Asking me first when I had last eaten and offering to serve me cake and coffee. Two staff members whisked my suitcases to my private room while a nurse came to take the baby to the nursery. They led me to the a most elegant room with modern furnishing, and an attached bathroom. From the softest bed linen to the welcome bag on each bed and all the details so carefully thought of, it felt like I was on vacation in a five star hotel.
The kimpaturin home was nothing that I imagined it would be and everything a girl could dream of after giving birth. Three nutritious five star meals was served daily, with a twenty four hour tea room stocked with the finest pastries, hot and cold drinks and of course, ice cream!
The baby nursery was observed and looked after by certified nurses around the clock. There was a lactation consultant to help moms with breastfeeding and a mohel that came around to check on the newly circumcised baby boys. There was even a feeding room, with comfortable rocking chairs, surrounded by relaxing waterfalls to enjoy as you fed your new baby.
Then there were the kimpaturins, the women that I was nervous to meet. These women turned out to be so welcoming, kind and accepting. They were some of the deepest and most wise people I have met. I was envloped in constant validation, that I had just given birth, that I deserved to take care of myself, and in fact it was my duty to do so. The encouragement between all the moms to one another while comparing birth stories and sharing their lives was inspiring. More often than once I overheard a mom say to another, “you have to create a person for yourself first, and then you can be a good mother”.
I experienced a difficult birth plus two weeks of utter exhaustion, and in this place of nurturing, acceptance, and recuperation, I felt like a different human being. Actually, I just felt human again and it felt so good. For four wonderful days, as I recharged and took care of my body and self, I began to gain my strength back. And like so many daughters, it took many years but I finally understood my mother. My only regret was that I had waited so long.
It’s time we took a closer look at the physical and mental health of post-partum women in this country. Our progressive society has much progressing to do in this regard and has much to learn from these “ultra” Chassidic non- progressive communities. Practices and standards that we must apply to our own healthcare expectations.
When I got home last week, my eldest daughter returned from school, looked at me and said “Mommy, now you’re back to yourself, I can just tell”. I smiled as I thought of the wise women in the kimpaturin home who reminded one another that first you need to create a person for yourself before resuming mommy life.