birth


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.

 

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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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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Alhamdulillah, superbly on May the 4th — Star Wars Day, a Friday and the start of the Supermoon — baby wood turtle was born!

Eryn attended the birth and was an absolute superstar — at times asking the attending where her baby crocodile was. And then within moments, her little sister announced herself to the world.

Outside of some lack of sleep, we’re all doing wonderful. I’ll post a birth story shortly — and keep an eye out for some excellent guest posts coming up in the next few weeks too.

Thank you everyone for your well wishes and prayers.

Much love from all of us!

We forgot to bring a baby hat — so we dressed baby wood turtle in my hijab. Heh.

I want to thank all of my wonderful readers for having patience over the past couple of weeks while I get my life in order preparing for the baby. Which will be coming in the next few days insha’Allah.

Posting has been light and while I’ve honestly been dying to write, I also feel like I’m in a holding pattern — just waiting around for more labour signs to manifest. I’ve a monkey on my back and it’s affecting the attention that I can give to this blog, which is a big thing for me because I really value the conversations we have, and of course, love to write.

But there’s good and exciting news! I have some EXCELLENT and FANTASTIC bloggers lined up to guest post throughout the month of May so that I can take a mini-mat leave in-between writing, nursing and diapers.

Then hopefully it’ll be back to the regular schedule.

And if you’re really interested, you can follow the exciting details of the birth on Twitter (because that’s just not too weird in this day and age is it?). If you’re not interested in the rest of my feed, I’ll be hashtagging the birth with #babywoodturtle.

Thanks everyone.

As much as I’m salivating to add some snark to a weekly roundup (tomorrow!) — I’m terribly preoccupied with the coming end of my pregnancy and the hopeful birth of a healthy baby insha’Allah.

Actually, what’s been on my mind of late is the preoccupation of my body by the world at large (or so it seems).

Daily emails remind me to do my kegels to help with delivery, maintain my pelvic floor and ensure not only urine retention later on, but some pretty great sex to boot. I’m told not to lift Eryn while I pray or risk having the baby at the mosque. Targeted advertisements on Google and Facebook remind me that I too can get my pre-pregnancy body back in the first six weeks after baby arrives. Am I eating enough? Eat well, but stay away from Sushi, cold cuts, hot dogs, feta, brie, coffee, tea, chocolate, pop, rare steak, poached eggs, and salad bars. Strangers balk at my size and can’t believe I’m due next week (or tomorrow… who knows!) — surely I have at least another month to go… where AM I hiding this baby?

And at this very moment, my dear Hubby just reminded me to sit on my exercise ball instead of slouching on the couch. As much as I really want to balance my fifth peanut butter cookie on my belly while I write, I know he’s only thinking of my inevitable groin pain the second I stand up.

Policing. Preoccupation. Heaven forbid I indulge in a little veggie sushi (or a California roll made with Tilapia-based-fake-crab), drink a large tea, not fit into my bikini by beach season, or birth a petite baby. Because getting caught doing any of these things means I’m just not good enough. Right? Why else bombard me with pictures and stories of women who are “doing it right?” It’s just a little healthy competition. Right?

People love the preoccupation with baby weight. The heavier the better (but not TOO heavy). Heavy means healthy. We proclaim the baby’s weight with the first announcement: Name, Time of Birth, Weight, Mom and Baby are doing fine. So I learned quickly that telling people I was carrying a small baby gained me more raised eyebrows than anticipated.

So today while venting about all of these issues, my mom reminded me of her own birth.

She was born at 28 weeks and weighed only three pounds. Northern Germany in 1944 didn’t have neonatal intensive care units — so she went home after seven days. Her parents lined a leather shopping bag with some bedding and kept her behind their coal burning stove just to keep her warm. For food they gave her cows milk mixed with sugar and corn starch. She was so tiny that whenever they hid in the bomb shelter, people thought her mother was hiding a kitten in her bag.

And she turned out just fine.

You may have noticed that I haven’t updated as frequently as I normally do. This is in part, due to the fact that I’m gearing up for the birth and have a couple of projects to finish before I’m able to fully concentrate on nesting and the blog.

One project is rereading Dune by Frank Herbert.  I tend to reread this book before every major life event. Sometimes I’ll reread the entire series. But this time I only have time for the first book. I somehow just feel it’s important — the book has a lot of meaning for me, and a lot of wisdom that has impacted my life.

The other project is creating a birth plan for Eryn.

My first birth plan was the standard checklist available on any pregnancy site:  Do you want medication? Limited intervention? What pain coping techniques do you want? And who are your support people?

But it also included tips for hospital staff that included my modesty requests — such as to labour with my hijab on if a male attendant was present; to double up on hospital gowns to make sure I didn’t flash anyone when wandering the halls; and that any male nurse or student entering my room needed to have my permission first.

Well, Eryn came so quickly that I’d thrown the birth plan out the window by the time they had me naked on the table with a male OB between my legs.

This time we don’t have much of a plan, beside the fact that I want to labour outside of the hospital for as long as possible and I’d really like Eryn present at the birth. We also have to prepare her for a night over at my parents house, in the event that we’ll stay overnight at the hospital. She’s never slept away from both of us before.

And of course, we have to prepare her for the baby coming home.

So I made her a birth plan.

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What's your guess? Girl, boy? I think I'm carrying a baby.

I just realised that I haven’t written about my pregnancy. I’ve shown a couple of pictures here and there of my growing belly — but I haven’t gone into details about my cravings, my aches and pains, my hormone-induced rages and cry-fests, or why I hate it when people play the sex guessing-game. Which is about as reliable as guessing the sex of my baby from how I style my hijab — people you REALLY don’t have to look at my butt!

And it’s not that I haven’t thought about sharing these experiences. I’m a mom, a Muslim, a feminist, a saxophonist, a lover of all things sci-fi, and many other things that inform this blog and give me fodder for (hopefully) interesting posts. I suppose this is a mommy-muslim-feminist-activist-saxophonist-sci-fi blog — but I never thought of it as a “pregnancy” blog.

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Maryam couldn’t remember how long she had felt the pains. All she knew was that they were coming more frequently, growing in intensity and there was no one around to help her.

In a moment’s respite, she squatted and leaned her forehead against a boulder. Firm and cool, the rock allowed her to rest as she stretched her back and released some of the pressure in her pelvis. When she lifted her head, she was surprised at the drops of sweat darkening the boulder’s dusty face. Maryam looked around. The valley was eclectic, with patches of firm, tan-coloured sand pans outlined by sharp gravel and bordered by the rocky hills. A solitary palm tree stood dead before her — it’s weeping leaves collapsed downward, forbidding shade to the rock-bed below. Dried thistle peppered the hill outcroppings, adding a splash of vibrant purple colour to a landscape that should only hold browns and grays. The sun was low overhead, casting long, cool shadows across the valley floor. For that she was thankful.

A few days prior, Maryam had set out to the East, away from her community. She had felt her swollen belly becoming tight more frequently and the baby’s movements slowed. Something within her told her it was time to move. Hiding the pregnancy had been easier than she expected — especially within the confines of the covenant. Flowing robes took care of her small, swollen belly and she took strips of pleated wool to bind her breasts as they grew larger. Zacharias never questioned her. He wouldn’t have. He just made sure she was well taken care of — that she completed her studies and had enough to eat and drink.

Remembering his absentmindedness over the past few months Maryam had to laugh. As an old man, he was an unexpected new father, and often forgot his place as he gushed over the wonders of his infant and finding joy in every sleepless hour, cry and gurgle.  Everyone spoke of the miraculousness of how his barren wife had given birth to a healthy son. Maryam smiled, recalling baby Yahya’s shock of curly, black hair and wondered if her baby would have the same.

The pressure started to build and she winced, fearing she would be unable to stop the urge to push again. Breathing rapidly, she tried to ignore the workings of her body — but her mind was overruled and her muscles contracted, forcing the baby down. This time the pressure lasted longer and she felt fire cutting between her legs. Fear overwhelmed her, and Maryam stood up suddenly to run away from it all.

Lightheaded and disoriented with pain she stumbled into the palm tree. Her body shook uncontrollably and she thought she heard a voice screaming in the distance. But as suddenly as it came, the pain subsided. She shivered and covered her mouth, realizing the scream came from her.  Maryam longed for water, for a cool, caring touch to wipe her forehead. She needed to hold her mother’s strong hand, not the rough calluses of a dead tree. She started to cry.

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Eryn seconds old I’ve been thinking about getting pregnant.

Pregnant bellies have started looking really good to me and I’ve actually felt some jealousy when shopping for baby items and bumping into random bumps. I loved being pregnant and alhamdulilah I had a great birth experience. And of course it’s something that I’d like to experience again.

Naturally, there were definitely some things about my birth experience that I’d like done differently a second time around.

The hospital we chose was AMAZING. Apparently the labour help is  top-notch, allowing labouring mothers to walk around and not to be tied down to an IV; no invasive baby monitoring; a low use of invasive delivery techniques such as forceps or episiotomies; and a dedicated nurse to coach you through labour (I wouldn’t really know first hand though, since we essentially walked in and delivered on the spot).

They don’t routinely suction newborns and will hold off administering any injections or clean-up if you request it. And the first place baby goes after being born is directly onto mama’s chest. There baby is left to calm down, breathe, and get some help latching on from lactation consultants if necessary. The aftercare is also brilliant — with daily group breastfeeding help sessions with one-on-one help available.  I ended up using their breastfeeding clinic’s helpline almost weekly until Eryn was about 2 months old.  They’ve also gone through extensive renovations and now have birthing units so that you deliver and recover in the same room. Each birthing unit is also equipped with a specially designed tub for water birth — which would be really neat in my mind.

Now, there were some things that I could have gone without. We were admitted at 7cm dilation. But within the time it took me to get changed and walk to the birthing unit (oh, about 10 minutes), I had hit the 10cm mark. When I walked into the delivery room I immediately said, “I have to push.” That’s when the nurse gave me a rigorous internal exam.

She swirled her hand around like she was washing rice and I quickly sat up and shouted, “woah! Not so fast!!” To this day I wonder if she was attempting to strip my membranes or trying to get my water to break.  Once she determined I was 10cm, she lifted my legs, told me to grip behind my knees and push.

I was overwhelmed, confused and shocked. First I asked about the Hubby and if we should wait for him to come. He was SUPPOSED to be there. He was my voice and my support network. She said push. I then asked about my position — was it alright being flat on my back? In my head spun the unspoken options that we learned about in prenatal class: side lying, squatting, sitting. My crazy, hippy prenatal instructor was repeating over and over again, “avoid giving birth on your back.”

But instead the nurse said, push.

So I pushed. And a cheering purple push squad came into the room. After 10 minutes when her head crowned and the delivering OB came in he said, “stop pushing so hard. Ease into the push like you’re saying ‘house’. The slower the push, the less you’ll tear.” Great advice, but too late. Recovery had some interesting challenges outside of the broken blood vessels in my face.

So now that I’m wiser about how to deliver and I’ve been able to revisit my birth experience mentally and on film (God bless my techno-Hubby), I have a pretty good idea not only how I want to deliver, but how I’ll have the strength of mind to say, “I want to be side-lying or squatting. I’ll have none of the stirrups thank you very much.”

I also have been thinking about having a midwife instead of my OB. But I really have no idea about what the practical differences would be between a supportive OB (like mine was.. late, but better late than never), and a midwife. I could have my awesome OB throughout the pregnancy and end up with a dud on call for the actual delivery — which is what happened with Eryn. I had a dud throughout the pregnancy only to be delivered by Dr. Wonderful.

Delivering in a hospital setting is something I still would like to do, but to have more control over the actual delivery, which is what a midwife could potentially offer.  There’s also the continuity of care provided by a midwife that the one 8-week OB appointment just can’t compare to. Instead of running to clinics, calling helplines, making specialist appointments during recovery, a midwife would coordinate all of that, or avoid the issues that would require extended aftercare. In fact, from what I understand, a midwife would also be able to mitigate purple push squad nurses and slow the delivery down to avoid a natural episiotomy (or as Dr. Wonderful told me to watch out for in future: prolapse :( )

What do you think? Anyone with practical experience willing to share?

We haven’t exactly started trying yet, or even really talked about it, but I’m starting to think the Hubby and I should start doing some research and have a couple of numbers on hand in case of a happy chance.

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