We caught up with Emily Whyte, an American woman raising her growing family in Tel Aviv, to learn more about what makes mothering in Israel so special. She shared her insights, delights (and some fears!) with us for our series on mamas raising their children far away from their normal lives for our series, #MotherlyAbroad.
Tell us about your life and family. . . .
I moved to Tel Aviv two years ago after my now-husband, Mattan and I did the pain staking long distance relationship for two years.
I was living in Paris, working in fashion and relaunching Kenzo when we met.
Originally from New York, I never imagined myself quitting my job and leaving my Parisian apartment and cozy Oberkampf neighborhood in exchange for Hebrew lessons and the best hummus in the world, not to mention love.
But I did, and while fashion weeks are nostalgic, I wouldn’t go back and change anything.
Because of this leap of faith, we just celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary and have a five-month-old son, Eitan.
Along with my husband’s three children, we have built a warm, fun and loving home in the center of Tel Aviv.
I manage and develop the international business for Israel’s #1 designer bag and shoe brand, Daniella Lehavi as well as co-own a cultural and design focused online magazine, telavivian.com.
What’s so interesting about giving birth in Tel Aviv is. . .
As soon as we found out I was pregnant, the testing began!
And WOW, are there a lot of tests and screenings and more tests done during the pregnancy. Health care is socialized so everyone benefits.
But as luck would have it, as an newcomer, married to an Israeli, my living status was still in that weird bureaucratic limbo stage.
So while I was entitled to kupat cholim (health plan) and insurance, it didn’t include many of the tests and clinic visits necessary along the way.
The language barrier was also unnerving but Mattan insisted on coming with me to each appointment to make sure nothing was missed.
Thankfully, this was the only difficulty during my pregnancy.
Six days past my due date and on the third visit to the maternity hospital’s clinic, they discovered I did not have enough amniotic fluid and the baby must come out!
An hour later and 4cm dilated, I was escorted up to the labor room to meet my midwife. The hospital allows the mother to bring whomever she would like into the delivery room.
My husband, the midwife and some Chopin were enough for me.
There are always one or two doctors on duty but it is the midwives who coach you through the delivery process and delivery the baby.
The experience was amazing and made me feel empowered to handle this awesomely momentous task.
Post-delivery, a team of nurses help you recover.
I use that term loosely as there is a more tough love approach to recovery.
Men or partners cannot sleep over so the mother can rest, mothers must get up themselves to fetch a magnesium pad or fresh towels.
The most wonderful thing about mothering in Tel Aviv…
The most wonderful thing about mothering in Tel Aviv starts at the beginning.
Mothers have the opportunity to take three months paid maternity leave, with the option to extend another three to six months, unpaid with their work position awaiting their return.
Tel Aviv and Israel in general are very baby-friendly.
No one thinks twice about strollers in restaurants and cafes, day or night, changing diapers wherever a flat surface is accessible, and breastfeeding any where you feel comfortable, keyword you, the mother!
This cultural tradition about motherhood is something I have tried to practice. . .
The cultural tradition on motherhood here is very maternal, very important and sacred.
I chose to embrace this by taking six months on maternity leave, to put my career on hold, in order to really enjoy my firstborn.
The one piece of advice, and there have been many, that everyone has repeated again again is that in a blink of an eye they are off to school.
My son has become my best friend and I am so glad I embraced this time with him.
At 10 am on weekends, you can find me and my family. . .
At 10 am on weekends, you can find me and my family taking a walk along treelined Rothschild Boulevard towards HaBima Square, a beautiful urban square and plenty of room to run around and meet friends for coffee.
Or we are on our way to Park HaYarkon for a picnic with friends.
As an American, what I find most fascinating is. . .
However, as an American, what I find most fascinating is new motherhood and raising children brings on the same societal pressures or questions of work/life balance and parental confidence exist here as it does in the States.
Just in a different language. It has only made me more aware of it and striving to do what we think is best, for our family.
To cope with the distance, I send daily photos and videos to my parents and family through an app called Daily Kiddo.
Looks and feel of Instagram with alerts, by invite only and completely private.
They love it!
Growing my family abroad. . .
One of the great things about growing my family abroad is the opportunity to pass along my traditions as well as discover and establish new ones together.
One of those traditions is travel!
Being so close to Europe has allowed us to squeeze in long weekend trips, which we have continued since Eitan arrived.
I’m sure it will naturally slow down, but for now, Eitan has been to Paris at one month, Florence and three months and will be off to The Philippines at six months for his uncle’s wedding.
Being a mother abroad is challenging but such an adventure.