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Take and Give

As told to Rochel Burstyn

When four frum women in Detroit were touched by trial or tragedy, they used the experience as an impetus to better the lives of others

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


“The opportunity to give to others who are in pain, to channel my sorrow into something meaningful, to do chesed that my daughter will never be able to do, has given my life new light”

A cancer survivor and her busy mother, a mother of a thriving preemie, and a grieving young mom got together in Detroit, Michigan; the shadows of their experiences sparked ideas, which swirled together, growing, taking form. Together they share their stories… 

Miriam Amzalak

There it was again. I rested my hands on my bump. After six kids, there was no doubt. 

But… how could I be in labor? 

In the ER, they administered magnesium, but the contractions came faster, harder. 

Dr. Horowitz studied the printout recording of my contractions, with a worried look. 

My doctor was nervous? I started panicking. I didn’t know anything about preemies, never had reason to do research, didn’t know the survival statistics. 

“Looks like your baby’s coming. We’re giving you steroids to help his lungs grow faster.” 

Before I could respond, the steady clop-clop of the baby’s heartbeat that filled the room changed pace. Nurses appeared, expressions grim, the doctor shouted for an ultrasound, and someone quickly explained: The baby had turned sideways and he was so small — now a caesarean was necessary.

Everything became a blur. I was prepped, then wheeled to surgery, where my mother sat by my head and spoke soothingly, reminding me that my precious baby was about to be born, that Hashem was with me, that this was a spiritual moment, telling me names of people to daven for.

And then he was lifted out into the world, all three pounds and 16 inches of him… 11 weeks before my due date. 

The next day, sore but eager to see my baby, I was pushed in a wheelchair to the NICU. The baby looked half-baked, like an almost-baby. I wasn’t allowed to hold him until the next day. 

At first, I couldn’t figure out how to pick him up; my hands looked too big. The nurse lifted him into my hands, showed me how to hold him, and tucked him inside my shirt, his skin on mine. Terms I’d never experienced before became part of everyday conversations: jaundice, bilirubin lights, heart monitor, oxygen, incubator. 

Each day, I’d get my kids off to school, then rush to the hospital to hold Baby, switching shifts with my mother or husband so I’d be home for baths and supper time. Days turned into weeks.

“How do you tell your beautiful daughter that the doctors were wrong, that the tumor they’d said was benign was worse than they thought and could not be taken out?”

And then — a miracle! The day arrived! Baby could breathe on his own, hold his body temperature, and drink from his tiny bottle. He could come home! My kids were breathless with excitement, my husband and I euphoric.

Even though Baby was home, the scare wasn’t over. One day, I walked past him, small in his infant car seat, and I screamed. He was blue, nearly lifeless. I grabbed him, instinctively blew into his mouth and pressed his chest while yelling for my daughter to call an ambulance. Baby started breathing minutes before the ambulance pulled up. He’d contracted a dangerous virus and was hospitalized with steroids, a nebulizer, and medication for yet another week. 

Afterward, my husband and I and our three oldest kids took a CPR class. Now we’re always prepared, though hopefully we won’t ever need to use this knowledge.

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