babies


MAMUJI_251015_0104New baby smell is richly sweet like Early Grey with shots of vanilla and excitement. Like the newness of dawn and the start of a new season. Like petrichor and golden falling leaves shimmering in the rays of an autumn sun. Something deep inside stirs with each breath.

Your sweetness breaks my heart. I can barely contain this love.

Your smell reminds me of the previous morning. I took a brisk walk through the forest, enjoying the unseasonably warm air, the turning leaves and how the light opened my lungs and pushed you down. Each footstep reminded us both that your birth day was soon to arrive.

I told you to be born on the 10th and you listened. Just like your sisters before you, I knew the exact day you would come into this world, even though my OB thought differently. Your birth followed a cosmic design that mirrored my hopes for a 2015 Libra, born three days early to complete a sibling birth order of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

And while I thought your birth would follow the same pattern as your sisters, you flipped everything on its head.

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As we get closer and closer to Ivy’s first birthday, I can’t help but reflect on the emotions and the physical experience of bringing her into the world. While making serious plans to include some aspect of Star Wars for the performance of her “celebration” (she was born on May the 4th), these plans are punctuated with moments of clarity where I pause and relive the experience of her birth.

The calmness, the pain, the second I knew she was ready, moments of panic, time stretching into eternity as my body stretched to allow her passing, my elation at hearing it was a girl, and the surge of euphoria when my eyes met hers.

It’s a very internalized and magical experience — so I’m constantly asking the Hubby, Eryn and my friend who attended the birth to tell me how they “saw” and experienced her birth. To understand how her grand “opening” made an impact on their lives. I was surrounded by people I love — and their love carried and supported both of us. So, I have this urge to see the event through others’ eyes — as if their words, not so much validates, but punctuates or adds new depth to my metamorphosis into motherhood.

Muslim doula and Hypnobirthing instructor Krystina Friedlander recently shared her experience of a birth that she attended, and it’s absolutely gorgeous:

There’s a quote I like describing contractions from poet Lia Purpura in her memoir of pregnancy, Increase. “The sensation of attenuation, the ropy ligaments, smooth as taut skeins of silk, winching a great weight closer and closer to the edge.” I like this quote because it is beautiful, and because it describes the movement towards an edge which I’ve come to understand, in my own way, to be a sort of no-turning-back submission to what the body needs, what the moment needs, what the child needs. I read it as a threshold moment that separates all she has been as a woman from what she will come to be in addition to who she is; a mother to this new human.

This is where it became strange and magical for me. Mama was too exhausted to hold her daughter right away, and her two cousins took turns and then put the baby down. Mama asked me “do you know the Fatiha?” This is the opening chapter of the Qur’an, a requisite verse for each prayer we Muslims make. I said yes. She said “recite it to her.” And I went over to the baby in her warmer, squalling and red, and leaned in to quietly whisper the verse in her ear. She went silent listening to my voice. Her dark gray eyes were wide and searching. A wave of connection built and crested inside of me, and I loved this child.

Go read the whole thing over at her place. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Women wait with their infants at a hospital in Turkey. (BBC)

Breastfeeding may seem like the most natural thing in the world, but for a percentage of women it can be terribly challenging — especially if they cannot produce enough milk or refrain from breastfeeding due to medical reasons such as severe illness, accident, HIV infection, or taking certain medications that can harm the baby through breast milk.

As I’ve mentioned in another post on breastfeeding in Guinea, it’s widely accepted by health organizations that breast milk is the optimal food for infants and, when done exclusively, helps guard against infant mortality. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding for up to two years. But in cases where the mother cannot breastfeed, the WHO’s recommended choice of alternative is breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or from a human milk bank.

There are currently 13 milk banks in North America, almost 200 banks in Europe210 in Brazil, and several hospital neonatal and intensive care unit-affiliated banks worldwide. Recently in a two-minute video, the BBC covered a new government milk bank in a Muslim majority country – set to open in the port city of Izmir, Turkey.

“If successful, this pilot will help feed babies whose mothers have passed away and help mothers who cannot produce enough breast milk.”

Despite the fact that health authorities have taken special care to recognize and address the religious conditions necessary for a milk bank to work within an Islamic context, the BBC stresses that the project could, “face resistance as traditional Islam forbids marriage between people who have been fed with milk from the same woman.”

Rooted in the Qur’an (4:23), fostering sibling kinship through breastfeeding has a long tradition in Muslim communities. Classical and contemporary Islamic legal discourse outlines the many ways this kinship is established – and includes a number of varying conditions, such as requiring a family familiar wet-nurse or none at all, the nursling feeding directly from the breast or from a cup, and that feedings instating kinship range from a one time deal, to 10 sessions before the infant reaches the age of two (source). Once fulfilled, regardless of legal differences of opinion requiring the bond, a milk kinship is permanent and bars marriage between milk siblings.

Unlike other milk bank initiatives found in so-called “Western” countries, the program in Turkey has additional conditions to help ensure the quality of the milk. A soundbite from the Minister of Health, Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, explains that donors and recipients will be paired — so that the milk from a volunteering mother always goes to the same infant. The milk will also be tested, and only consumed with the approval of both the donating mother and the infant’s legal guardians.

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photo 2 (3)Smooth indie pop mixed with the din of morning breakfasters — masking the Arabic and English conversations and adding a warm buzz to the many clinking tea cups. It was a cold morning and the wind off Kuwait’s Marina drove patio-goers indoors to the trendy cafés lining the water.

I was enjoying a Moroccan mint tea and nursing Ivy to sleep when I heard a testing, “Hello?”

Expecting guests, I looked up with a bright smile and instantly recognized Heba al-Ali, co-founder of BirthKuwait. Her colleague, a birth doula, gave a quick nudge and joked at me, “When I saw you breastfeeding, I knew you were one of us.”

The three of us had never met before — but a chance tweet and a couple of email exchanges later, there we were, talking all things maternal over poached eggs and organic bread.

BirthKuwait was created to better support mothers by advocating for healthy and natural birth, and to improve maternity services by making resources and information available to women. One and a half years ago, doula Sarah Paksima and midwife Zuzana Nadova spearheaded a plan to get professionals who were interested in maternal care — breastfeeding and natural birth — all together in one room. Health professionals, doulas, pediatricians, and members from the Ministry of Health’s Breastfeeding Promotion and Support Team entered into a discussion to move beyond just breastfeeding support and answer the question, what else was there to offer women in Kuwait?

Heba explained:

We wanted to offer monthly meetings to give out free information, and educate women so they can demand the changes in maternal health. We didn’t want to lecture the government or the hospitals to change — but to empower women to demand the change for themselves.

BirthKuwait is essentially helping to fill education gaps in breastfeeding support, prenatal care, unnecessary medical interventions during delivery and postnatal care that women in Kuwait might not receive from private or government hospitals. Unless someone actively seeks out information from their doctor or government clinics, it’s unlikely they will be made aware of  lactation consultants, childbirth preparation classes, or that the birth experience doesn’t have to include an episiotomy — a standard procedure in Kuwait.

I had read online that birth in Kuwait is a highly medicalized, hospital event and that midwifery isn’t a recognized profession. But I was still shocked to hear the opinion that doctors don’t know how to birth a child without an episiotomy and that women simply expect to receive one.

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Hello Sweetie,

I don’t know what we did to be blessed with such a wonderful baby, but I thank God daily for you.

You. It’s such a funny word to give an infant. You’ve barely grown as a person, but you, Ivy — at three months have already developed a real personality. We sometimes call you “the baby” or “this one” — but really, we should be calling you Ivy all the time, because you’re so easy to know.

So what can I tell you about yourself so early in this sweet life? You’re incredibly laid back. Nothing bothers you and you don’t bother anyone. Unless you’re tired. Then all hell breaks loose and you use this fantastic high-pitched, zero-to-60 scream to get my attention.

It works.

Right now you have an amazing ability to just “get it.” Life seems to come easy to you. Nursing? You got it. From day one, you knew how to nurse like a champion. Sleeping? You got it. You were such a sleepy baby at the beginning and it’s carried on to today (I can’t thank you enough for sleeping through the night so early in the game). Fussiness? Compared to your colicky sister, you were fussy only eight times. That’s right. Eight.

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Two little lips make fish kisses against my left cheek and a chubby fist reaches around to grab my right.

Allahu Akbar!

Looking down at Ivy’s delicious leg rolls, I can barely control the smile that breaks out on my face. She gooes in reply.

Allahu Akbar!

I’m back down in prostration to God, again receiving fish kisses against my cheek.

It’s the first time I’ve been able to pray in congregation all Ramadan — and it’s amazingly fulfilling to join everyone in the sunset worship.

But soon Eryn is running around us — pulling on headscarves and climbing on baba’s back. Our short dua’ after prayer is made even shorter to instruct Eryn on a better way to behave when the family prays together, and before I can even get into the rhythm of dhikr, I have to attend to a screaming Ivy who’s demanding her third meal of the evening.

If the fasters are disturbed by the noise of children, I don’t care. I spent the first week of Ramadan desperately trying to keep the babies quiet so the fasters could eat their date and pray the sunset prayer in peace. Then I’d pray after everyone started their iftaar — trying to concentrate on whatever peacefulness I could muster while attending to both girls. It was terribly isolating.

It’s hard feeling like you’re actually praying and not just going through the motions when you constantly have to keep your hyper toddler from smothering the baby. It’s hard practicing Ramadan when you’re not actually fasting.

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People tell me I was made to have children.

I love being pregnant. I love the experience of giving birth.

Even when I was dealing with some serious baby blues and a bad recovery after Eryn’s birth, I still look back at the key moments that brought her into this world with a kind of euphoria.

It is amazing to me to see what I am physically capable of, how well I know my body, and that I was blessed to have an informed and empowered birth experience with Ivy.

This was due in part to both birth experiences progressing the same way — both starting at fajr prayer and ending at maghrib. Both with mild and manageable contractions until transition. Both with an incredibly short pushing phase.

So while I had fears that this labour would be different due to a longer hospital presence to treat Group B Strep — because the progression was similar, I knew exactly when it was time to go to the hospital. I knew the precise moment when my cervix dilated to seven centimeters. I knew this meant the baby would be born within the half hour, if not sooner. I trusted my instincts completely. I trusted my body.

Ivy’s birth has key moments that will take time to process. Moments that mark her birth as special and wonderful. Moments that still send shivers down my spine and make me feel incredibly alive and powerful.

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