Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Birth Story - Baby Abdurahman

By Faraz_Ilu

This moving birth story is from a mother, Umm Abdullah, who had a C-section for her first, and a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) in a birth center for her second. Umm Abdullah was incredibly educated and persistent in her decision making around her VBAC birth and it was thrill to be able to aid her on this healing journey.It was a joyous day for all when little Abdurahman arrived! She was blessed to have the resources available to her to achieve the VBAC, unfortunately, many in this country are not so lucky and are forced to have repeat Cesarean surgeries. Recently, though the tides have been changing and there has been a lot of attention given to allowing more VBACs in America. Newsweek recently documented the changing attitudes about VBACs and the National Institute for Health has just convened a conference all about VBACs. You can read the results of that conference here and a NYT summary here. And now, the birth story....

Ar-Rahman's Gift
by Umm Abdullah

My second son, Abdurahman, was a gift from Ar-Rahman, as was his birth.

My first son, Abdullah, was born via c-section. Despite an un-medicated labor in which I even refused the IV, and an hour and a half of pushing, Allah willed that he come into this world with the help of surgical intervention. Alhamdulillah, he was a healthy and beautiful baby with a purple, cone-shaped head, and he latched-on to the breast vigorously despite the one hour interlude from the time of his birth until I could hold him in my arms. I brought him home with a sense of gratefulness to Allah for blessing me with His gift, yet I could not shake the sense of dissapointment that I had in not being able to birth naturally. I started to research VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) in those early post-partum days.

Almost exactly two years later my husband and I were blessed with another pregnancy. I knew that this time I would do things differently. I researched and searched, and realized that the best way to give myself a chance at a successful VBAC was to avoid the hospital. In the hospital, interventions are used routinely, and often times not out of real medical necessity. These unnecessary interventions interfere with the natural birth process and lead to unnatural results. Plus many women who gave birth in non-hospital settings, such as birth centers and at home, wrote of such amazing, positive birth experiences. I contacted a midwife named Shannon, a Muslima alhamdulillah, who works in a birth center, and my husband and I decided to meet her and tour the center. From the moment I met her I knew that I wanted her to be the one to help me deliver my baby, biithnillah. She is my sister in Islam and I was blessed to have her there for me from the start of my pregnancy, alhamdulillah.

One morning three weeks before my due date I was laying in bed reading stories of natural births when I felt a lot of pressure and more 'contractions' than the day before. I called Shannon and the rest of the day I noticed more and more pressure and contractions. Sure enough, by evening time I began contracting rhythmically and they were becoming more painful. I mustered up the energy to do a light cleaning of the house, packed my bag, and my husband and I drove to my in-law's house. We stayed there all night. My contractions were getting more intense but I took my midwife's advice to lay down on my side and try to get as much sleep as I could. This is the best piece of advice I can give to a woman in early labor: Don't get excited, sleep as much as you can! Towards fajr time it was very difficult for me to get any rest but I let my husband sleep some more because I knew he would need the rest. I took a shower which was very soothing. Some family members came in the morning and took my older son out and my husband and I headed to the birth center. We arrived there around 11 am and upon checking me Shannon said I was already almost eight centimeters dilated, Allahu Akbar - that was wonderful news!

We settled into a birthing suite (I picked the blue one). My doula arrived at the same time we did, and for the next few hours my husband and my doula did an amazing job of helping me through my contractions with massage, moral and physical support, and lots of liquids and yummy snacks. Every contraction was getting stronger and I was using breath awareness along with visualization to help me through. I thought about Maryam (alayha salaam) and how she did it all alone. Allah, aza wa jel, helped her and I knew He would help me too. He, subhanahu wa t'ala, would not give me more than I can bear (that's a promise from Him!). It was so wonderful to eat and drink as I pleased (which you are not allowed to do in the hospital), to try different positions without being strapped to beeping machines or with something poking you in the arm, and to have complete privacy. The only man that was there was my husband and it was a very intimate and comfortable environment, a requirement for natural labor. Standing up and holding on to a birth ball on the bed was my position of choice. Every time I would squat another contraction would come and this position allowed me to have some control over the contractions. My midwives were checking the baby's heart rate intermittently with a stethoscope and testing my urine hourly, and I felt that was in such good hands, alhamdulillah.

My contractions were becoming extremely intense and I knew I was in the transition phase. The intensity of the contractions made me feel overwhelmed, and the midwives recommended I try the birthing tub for relaxation. As the water to fill the tub was flowing my water burst and I knew the baby was coming. I called out to Shannon and she placed a birthing stool under me. I held on to the sides of the stool and began to push. Nervously I asked whether I should be pushing even when there is no contraction and Shannon told me to do whatever felt right for me. That was a sort of mantra during the labor and it was such a wonderful and intuitive piece of advice, advice that I would never have gotten in the hospital. I pushed as I felt was right and before long the baby's head was almost out. In fact, I only pushed for ten minutes before he was born. The last push was intense but when Abdurahman came out and was given to me I felt sheer elation (along with relief). His little body felt so sweet against my chest.

Not once during my labor or delivery did I think about another cesarean. Allah, ta'ala, took that concept out of my mind completely, alhamdulillah. I was surrounded by caring, warm people whom I knew and who sincerely wanted the best for me and my baby. Undoubtedly it was hard work, but in the end I was blessed with an experience that I would never forget or want to change. Subhan'Allah, what a blessing from Ar-Rahman.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Interview - Hakim Archuletta

Hakim Archuletta is a healer in the true sense of the word. His knowledge of human nature on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level is profound. To read more of his extensive bio, click here. We are blessed to know him, and thrilled that he agreed to share his thoughts with us on women, birth, and pregnancy. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did! Many thanks to Hakim!

1) Tell us, in general, what you have learned about women through your work. The thing that I have seen most through the many years is the courage that women have and the strength that they have that they are often not aware of. More recently [I have seen], the willingness, the kind of enthusiasm for change and growth that they seem more connected to than men. So it seems that they more easily can make changes and are able to change with this goal and understanding that growth is part of their natural life force, and it demands a courage to face oneself; I’ve learned over the years that they do this more easily than men. Along with that, generally speaking, the strength that women have is inherent in their woman-ness, or their femininity, or whatever term. They are closer and find it more easy to be real and on the ground and grounded and connected than men. The other thing I have discovered is that they have taken up the slack that has been left by men who have not taken on the responsibility in the world for being men. So this strength that I have seen in women is more evident that in men. Men really have a fear of this strength. That fear is very often hidden and creates the need in men to control and to dominate. Woman’s kind of generosity in knowing that in many cases—and managing it anyway—is remarkable. And the patience and the tolerance that woman have for the weakness of men is part of the qualities they have as women.

2) Do you think women understand that they have this inner strength? Sometimes
they do, sometimes they don’t. They do unconsciously in many cases. They have the wisdom to know they can’t command their husband to do something. They can’t be “in charge,” but sneak the information in so he doesn’t know they are actually teaching him. The other thing I’ve learned is that cultures have not been—across the board whether they are Muslim, Arab, Pakistani, American—cultures are really off balance, and the real place of women even in this country is not really in place for the most part at all. And mostly that is because men have not stepped up to bat in the modern times. Rather they have let it go.

3)What kinds of issues specific to women do you feel affect their births? I think this basic configuration that I just described affects women deeply. They have not learned in many cases to trust what they know—and what they know in a more biological way for starters by being connected and grounded and real. Biological intelligence. And so they have been taught to believe that their knowledge is not real, that their emotions, for example, are their weakness according to cultures, whereas their emotions are their strength and force and foundation of knowledge. They don’t trust that; if they trusted that, everything would be better for them, including their birth. We are an unhealthy society top to bottom—education, politics, health, and finally in terms of our deaths—and all of this is not being addressed, little pieces, yes, but changing the whole kind of juggernaut in this world is daunting. My prayer is that Allah does not heal us with calamity and disasters like He heals individuals. Individuals are sometimes healed by disaster, calamity, grave illness, and so on. So childbirth should be completely re-thought. The hospital is not a healthy pace in terms of energy, in terms of everything a newborn needs, in terms of touch and smell, natural environment, air, light, energies. Traditionally, the advice that the hakims gave to pregnant women—and I have pregnant women who always ask me what to do you advise: First of all respect and honor what you have in terms of your natural mammalian capabilities in you. And if you give them their proper due, you want to have a setting that is safe. Every mammal does this. The closer they get to the birth, [they acquire] this need for the security of place. The traditional hakim is saying is during pregnancy, you surround yourself with good people and spiritual people and things that bring inspiration to you. Going to the awliya and having good energies surrounding you during the pregnancy is more important than any multi-vitamin for sure. Also, my advice when you are pregnant, is to be sure that you bring things to the table as a couple and address the unresolved issues as much as you can. You want love to be the primary nourishment for the child in the womb. Love is going to be the most valuable nutrient that it will get. Love, passion, lots of touching, lots of closeness, all those things that enhance the biological being, and singing … I love the tradition of an African tribe where the mother, each month of the pregnancy she composes a new line, she adds a line each month, until she has nine months of a song. So the child has a song, and when the child gets sick or hurt, she sings the song to him. The community as well sings the song to the child. Imagine the impact of this on the child, his nervous system, etc…

3. You have experienced home birth as a father. Can you tell us what that was like for you? I delivered my first son—following that I kind of had the realization that there is an energy that women have and that men have and that the birthing event is best conducted by women. Birthing belongs to the realm of women more than it does than to the realm of men. And so I actually tried to encourage women to take part in the births of my children as much possible, although I was present in many cases. I think if it were a homebirth, the sense of empowerment I think it has more do with recognition on a man’s part, the ability for him to recognize and on some level to grasp to some degree the awesome event of a birth. We have a tendency to abstract, and birthing drives home very dramatically that this is a life coming into being—because it so dramatic and so powerful, I would pray that insha’Allah men would have that ability without necessarily being present at birth. The best births tend to happen at home, and if there are women around that are supportive and they are reciting Qur’an and singing … my wife was doing the hadra right up to the birth. This is a very powerful thing to do in terms of preparing for birth. She would have half-hour labors. My daughter had two-hour labors. I asked her what would you attribute this to; she said childbirth is not hard, it’s easy because it's so natural. Yes, there is pain, yes, there is struggle, yes, there is stress … she actually uses that term, easy. The biggest thing is not buying in to the misogyny by men that describes childbirth as “the most painful thing that a person can go through.” That’s part of what I said in the first place. Men have a fear of woman. They love their mothers, but fear the power of women. The power to create—that’s much more than we men can ever take part in, the majesty of that. So keeping them [women] as these passive servants is an antidote for that. Making childbirth hard, all that comes in the same bundle of misunderstanding the strength and power that women hold ….

4. I have seen that hospital births have the potential to disrupt early bonding between mother and child. Meanwhile, it seems that much of the trauma you see originates in the relationship between mother and child. Can home birth play a preventative role? It is pretty clear to everybody that initial bonding, that intital touch,
establishes the foundational principle of resilience, and the ability to have a sense of security. That lack of security is one of the causes for so much emotional illness and physical illness in the mdoern world. Looking back historically there were times they would take child away from mother, there was a time that the colostrum of the mother was believed to not be clean, that baby should not suckle. All of these bizarre distortions of our basic nature. So bonding, genuine presence of mother and father, is the key to healthy stability in the persona and the development of resiliency of that child, the strengthening of the nervous system. Allah is generous so he gives mother-ness in many forms in his creation, even if the mother was not able to have the contact that they wanted with the child. The birth practice the more natural it is, the more pleasant the surrounding, there is beauty present. We cannot underestimate how important beauty is in our lives. Take the hospital, how it looks—already you are in trouble. Beauty is a real thing. It's not just aesthetics. This is something we lost, we have this idea that these things are not important to us in terms of our well being. So beginning with the birth process, this establishes our resiliance and ability to feel safe in the world, to have the nervous system function fully is important to our spiritual well being.

5. Can you recommend any somatic exercises that might help women prepare for birth? The more present one can be in body from the very beginning is important. This naturally wants to happen in pregnancy anyway, so the body will do things to make you present. Birthing is actually a somatic demand to be present, isn’t it? If I was giving advice, the exercises of awareness would be the first exercises [I would recommend]. These exercises establish their sense of standing on their two feet, of their legs carrying the weight of their body. [The are about] learning how to stand and establishing standing or re-establishing a sense of standing. Number two, becoming aware of the body's responses to everything the person encounters. How do you feel when this happens, what happens in you body when you walk into a Wal-Mart, when you walk into a rose garden? Become more aware of the standing in your body with your consciousness in the world. And then the awareness of breathing and the ability and development of this awareness, along with the flexibility of movement during the pregnancy. So the breath is full and complete. All of that breath and oxygen is free to travel through the body as fast as possible. There are more specific excercies that have to do with flexibility and presence that can enable one to relax so there is an easy letting go of the cervix and dilation that one can have …

In summary back to some of these things I started with. Women: learn to trust what you know inherently. Find how you can reach those things, trust them, and use them to live by. They call it women’s intuition, but more than that, it’s what Allah gave them. Its our inherent biological system, our nervous system, on mammalian level, a human level.

Picture Credits - Hakim Archuletta from
Ethiopian Woman - babasteve
Father and Baby - modenadude
Sultan Ahmet - rmx

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Third Trimester - The Blossoming

Cherry Blossom by conner395.
Cherry Blossom by conner395

"And God brought you out of your mother's insides while you knew nothing, and gave you hearing and eyesight and feelings, that you might be grateful."
Qur'an (16:78)

You feel as if you are about to burst forth. Your body is now completing its preparations for the upcoming birth and subsequent mothering upon which you are about to embark. And everyone wants to know, "When are you due?" The waning days of pregnancy can bring joy and discomfort, all within moments of each other! Fetal development is geared towards preparing the baby to enter the world; the lungs are preparing to inflate and the brain is laying down the foundation for the nervous system. For most women this is a time of anticipation and excitement, but it can also be a time of anxiety and worry as the end of pregnancy nears and the momentous act of receiving a new life begins. I want to briefly discuss some common physical and emotional manifestations that can arise in the third trimester.

Insomnia is common during the last few months of pregnancy. It can be a combination of physical and emotional factors that have you tossing and turning. A study of pregnant women throughout their pregnancy revealed that by the end of pregnancy 97% of women had trouble with sleep! The most common cause for night waking? You guessed it, the need to urinate!
  • Doing cat/cow pelvic tilts before bed can reduce the frequency of urination at night. Try doing at least ten before bed and see if it reduces at least one trip to the bathroom. The theory is that it moves the baby's head off your bladder for enough time to allow you some shut eye.
  • Take a bath with aromatherapy, lavender oil, chamomile oil, or other relaxing scents about an hour before bed.
  • Working out any fears and/or anxieties around the birth often happens at night. I find that most women benefit from writing down a list of the things they are concerned with when they wake at night. They can then promise themselves that they will get back to it in the morning. This can also be an enlightening look into the unconscious mind.
  • Getting plenty of exercise during the day, particularly late afternoon, can help bring on restful sleep.
  • A calcium magnesium supplement is always helpful when dealing with insomnia.
  • Also, make sure you are getting enough to eat. Hunger, even when you don't feel hungry, can be a cause of insomnia. Try to make yourself a snack, peanut butter toast, milk, an apple, and see if you don't drift off easier.
  • Know that this is also Allah's way of preparing you for the frequent night wakings bound to come with a newborn in the house. It's a marvelous system isn't it?
  • The infamous dreams of pregnancy also arise during the third trimester. You misplace your baby, or your baby is born a cat, or you are stuck in a small space. All of these dreams are allowing you to work out the worry. Psychologists say that the more anxious the dreams a woman has, the easier her labor! Now there is an upside to bad dreams!

The main work of the third trimester though, is preparing for the birth. There are a lot of physical and emotional preparations that all mothers make in order to ready themselves for the big arrival. Here are some suggestions that might help with making this passage smooth for you.

  • Visualize the birth. Imagine yourself not at the birth, but in the birth. What is the sensation of your labor journey, the color, the feel? Picture the baby head down, with her back facing out and her limbs cocooned towards your center. See yourself as strong, confident and capable.
  • Be honest with your self about any fears that you have around the birth. The more these fears stay suppressed, the likelier they are to arise at inconvenient times. It's best to look them in the eye now. Try writing them down, painting them, singing them...
  • Birthing From Within gives guidance to creatively expressing yourself around the issues of pregnancy, labor, delivery, etc... I find it a wonderful friend in the third trimester. Lots of art and soul searching in this book.
  • Find ways to feel supported and nurtured, both now, and for after the labor. Organize a food tree. This can be a great way to let your friends and family see the baby, while you get the help you need. It can be strengthening to know going into labor, that others are waiting to nourish your family with food and their help after all is said and done.
  • Midwife guru, Anne Frye, has an interesting, and Islamic take on emotions during the third trimester. She believes that many women are coming up against their own mortality during pregnancy, and that a lot of the fears that arise during this time, can stem from that thought. She states that " some ways labor is the closest she may ever be to the threshold between life and death while she is still very much alive." And really, doesn't a part of us die while giving birth. It's the tariqa of motherhood I suppose!
In order to complement babies quickly developing brain and lungs, there are a few supplements specific to the third trimester. Also, there are a few for mom too, in order to prepare her body for the momentous task of birth.

  • As stated above fetal brain development is rapid during these last months. There are some preliminary studies to show that prenatal supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids, like those found in fish oil, might aid in your child's cognitive function later in life. Supplementing with fish oil prenatally has also been found to aid in preventing postpartum depression.
  • Supplementing with pro-biotics prenatally has been found to reduce the incidence of eczema and allergies in the first year of life, in children prone to them. It also makes for a healthier vaginal flora and can help in preventing colonization of GBS in both mothers and newborns.
  • Alfalfa tincture or pill can help to prevent excessive blood loss by building a mother's Vitamin K stores.
  • Some midwives suggest taking a late pregnancy tonic to help tonify the uterus and prepare the body for birth. I don't believe it's essential, but can be useful for some.
You are about to begin a new journey as a mother, no matter what number the baby, our lives always change when a new one is added. May these final adjustment to pregnant life be easy and blessed!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Mattress Ad & The Home Birth Project

This is a husband and wife team talking of their experiences with midwifery care and home birth. She tells her birth stories and experiences with midwives. Her sons play and come in and out of her telling, making for a natural, intimate setting, much like home birth.

If you can believe it, the following video aired on Spanish television. It shows a home birth on a Flex mattress. It is a commercial for Flex mattresses! I love how beautiful yet commonplace they make the birth of a child seem. Amazing. For those of you more sensitive viewers, it is a birth, portrayed tastefully enough to show on Spanish television, but a birth none the less...Worth a watch!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interview -Maha al-Musa Creator of Belly Dance Birth

Maha al-Musa is author, mother of three, doula and creator of Belly Dance Birth. She has released a DVD entitled, "Dance of the Womb - Belly Dance for Pregnancy and Birth". I love this DVD. It is soothing, encouraging, and a wonderful exercise during pregnancy and as a preparation for childbirth. I wanted to ask Maha more about how she developed this method, her experiences as an Arab women reconnecting with her roots, and of course, her births! The interview is below. You can watch a trailer of the DVD here and visit her website here.

1) Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you become interested in belly dancing as an art form?
Thank you Shannon – lovely to connect with you - My background is that I am of Palestinian/Moslem (father) and Lebanese/Christian (mother) origin, raised in Australia from two years of age! East meets West! I have always listened to Arabic music, including my father’s soulful singing voice, and danced as a child but it wasn’t until I went to visit my father’s exiled Palestinian family in Jordan at 21 years of age that I connected to belly dance as a powerful, spirited, fun and explorative dance art form…art in terms of expressing one’s longings, emotions, moods and essence through the bellydance..I was so fortunate to be invited into many different women’s space’s that exuded the same passion and genuine love of the feminine sisterly connection – I loved it and was hooked!

2) How did you start to make the connection between belly dancing and birth?
When I was 30 weeks pregnant with my first son Kailash over 13 years ago, I came to a very progressive and exceptionally beautiful town in Australia called Byron Bay that supported natural, home waterbirths and independent midwives…here I actually joined a pre natal belly dance class with an amazing midwife Ann (who was also a belly dancer!) … her class triggered deep memories of my Arab ancestry and experience from Jordan. I saw a very simple and natural connection to birthing through the belly dance movements which mimic the instinctive rhythms of the female body….in pregnancy the beauty of the changing shape and body of a woman is reflected in the tempo, tone and rhythm of this Arabic dance. In labour I took with me these empowering movements that encouraged a welcoming of contractions through a holistic focus on the dance, one’s body and breath, and a beautiful alignment and connection to baby during the birth process…I felt that I had all I needed to be autonomous and strong in my own resource: my birthing body and I was able to surrender without fear as my cervix dilated and I softened body, mind and Spirit thru the dance. When Kailash turned 6 months old I took over the class from Ann and I would take him with me dancing with him on my hip swirling and circling around the room full of beautiful mothers…I developed the work over the next 13 years until today and I never stop being inspired and sharing the knowledge with so many other women to give them faith, hope and strength in the normality of is a great passion and love of mine…!

3) Can you speak about some of the traditional ways in which Arab women birthed and how the incorporated movement in their birthing?
I can speak about some traditional birth stories I know from my own Palestinian grandmother who birthed 9 babies at home and from an Egyptian friend of mine whose mother had 6 babies at home in rural Egypt, as well as an American dancer and belly dance teacher Morocco who witnessed the birth dance in a village in Morocco in the 1960’s – In regards to my grandmother - we had a traditional family birthing house where women of the family went to birth in the village of Al Qubab - Palestine… To this special house my grandma was taken on a horse and cart by my grandfather, whilst she was in labour with all her children by her side..there a midwife would meet her and assist in the birthing…the understanding was that a woman could move about in labour however she wished and in fact she was positively encouraged to move and be in upright positions..this is also depicted in many statues, drawings and images of ancient Near East women’s studies….before the advent of hospitals and medical interventions women of the east and I would assume in many traditional cultures supported one another whether it be by midwife, relatives or other village women…The contemporary observation of a birth in a village in Morocco by the wonderful belly dancer Morocco from New York was one in which she witnessed the supportive circle of women dancing, chanting, ululating around a very relaxed labouring is a beautiful tale of sisterly support and celebration of natural birthing..

4) One of the things I love about your work is that it portrays Arab women, not only in a positive light, but also as very powerful. This has always been my experience of Muslim women, but Arab women in particular. How do you see this work in terms of changing some of the stereotypes people may hold about Arab and Muslim women?
Thank you Shannon – this subject is extremely important to me…I am very very passionate about sharing POSITIVE aspects of Arab women’s culture..the awakening I had in Jordan was a real eye opener because before embarking on this trip I had a pre conceived idea about Arab and Moslem women and families expecting to witness Arab women as subservient, uneducated, walking 10 paces behind a man and generally down trodden! Nothing could have been further from the truth in my experience (and I am not denying that there are negative things that do also happen) but what we tend to see is media that constantly portrays Muslims and people of Middle Eastern origin as somewhat primitive, unapproachable and when not romanticized plain odd! Being Palestinian I have had many a surprised comments from people when they meet me amazed that I am a very nice and normal person not the assumed terrorist or fighting kind! Often it is those whom have never met a Palestinian or Arab person who have in their mind a detailed analysis, usually a one dimensional stereotype, that isn’t always favorable to the truth of what is…I love that the fact that in the birth climate (which has a political edge – human rights for baby, mother and society!) and my work there is a similar running theme of needing to stand up, be heard, to have the “truth” spoken and to be honored and acknowledged!

5) In your DVD you show the home birth of your daughter at 46, no small feat! It is very clear by watching it that the pelvic movements of belly dance births allowed you some release and relaxation, what was it like for you as a laboring woman to have this tool of belly dancing to cope with the contractions?
I have to say that I truly believe that having had the experience, knowledge and support of my cultural roots and this bellydancebirth® work enabled me to birth with a fearlessness and strength that was undeniable… was such a great gift to birth at home again at 46 years of age…….the bellydancebirth® techniques definitely helped to put me into a focused, soft, surrendered and relaxed state..a very good dear friend of mine, who also assists at homebirth, said to me there is no reason why older women cannot birth naturally….the main thing is they must release the neo cortex (thinking brain) and focus in on the primal brain, letting go of thoughts, analysis, what if’s etc in birthing – I have to say I AGREE!! we get older we do tend to think too much and not allow spontaneity and that comme ci comme ca attitude to prevail!! As an older woman birthing if you can allow the thinky brain to go on holiday and LET GO of “mind” chatter you will birth with greater surrender….the bellydancebirth® movements can powerfully bring you into this meditative, hypnotic state very easily…..its a great tool and focus in first stage labour….Not to say I didn’t have moments of “thinking” but I was able, through my experience of meditation and softening in the bellydancebirth® techniques to let them go more easily…and accept the sensations and contractions of my labour with a sense of birthing purpose rather than tension and tightness….

6) How have you seen belly dancing help pregnant and laboring women? Are there any specific labor patterns or pregnancy complaints that belly dancing might address?
There are many areas where bellydancebirth® techniques are very helpful for a pregnant and labouring woman…..the main areas that I emphasize are around the philosophy that birth is baby and woman centered…giving a central premise upon which the movements and philosophy of my techniques must stem….so firstly the psychological knowing that women are capable, strong, and their bodies are perfectly designed to birth is but a beginning point…we cannot hope to empower women when their main belief is that the answers lie outside of themselves….We have lost birth to the experts – the idea that the “other” is more knowledgeable than “I”…women must also work hard now to get back their sense of I CAN DO THIS identity…to have positive birth possibility is our main hope for the future……Then of course there are the physical realities of pregnancy and labour…For example, lower back pain a very common complaint which belly dance is very good at releasing through the sacrum and circling and rolling the pelvis with bended knees…..Also posterior presentations are more common today and are generally caused from too much reclining so we need women to exercise in upright positions with pelvis at its widest point and in labour to get women up with gravity and leaning forward to allow greater pelvic room with circular rotations ..this really helps with optimal foetal positioning……Bellydancebirth® techniques can help in so many ways – physical, mental and emotional….

7) Thank you so much for preserving this legacy of women centered birth. Is there anything else you would like to add or leave us with?
I am so happy to see after 13 years of work that belly dance for birth is really starting to take off around the world..I think women are looking for natural ways to empower themselves in birthing and in ways that truly work and support her instinctual knowing…I also know that birth is a mysterious process sometimes way out of our hands as well….there are no certainties so we must approach all our preparations with an open heart and mind ready for whatever experience we will have…..still to be BEST prepared, knowledgeable, have informed choice and with a sense of feeling safe wherever we birth (and that is personal) must be respected for all women…..I say “less can be more” on this journey…I am also happy to say that I am in the process of putting together my one day intensive workshop for birth professionals in theFundamentals Of Bellydance For Birth – The Al Musa Method®, which I have had many requests for and which I hope to take all over the world. My book and DVD Dance Of The Womb, are two wonderful resources as a starting point for women to have some understanding of this beautiful birthing modality.

Thank you Shannon for taking the time with me…much appreciated!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Family Bed

by Kenny Moller

The midwives have cleaned up and left, or you're finally home from the hospital, a family unto yourselves. And it's finally here,the first night alone with your baby. It's exhilarating and all too real, this little creature is yours from now until forever, and somewhere you have the inkling that your life will never be the same, for better or worse. You are ready to curl up and get some much deserved sleep, but what do you do with, and where do you put the baby?

Co-sleeping, or family bed as it is sometimes called, is the practice of an infant sleeping in the same bed as the parent. In the West, co-sleeping is a controversial phenomenon. It stems from incidents in Europe during the 16th-18th centuries where mothers, with no access to birth control and usually suffering extreme poverty, would smother their infants by overlaying. It resulted in co-sleeping with an infant being outlawed in much of Europe, and a permanent aversion in the Western psyche to the family bed.

In other parts of the world, where mothers often have little money for cribs and fully accessorized nurseries, the family bed is the norm. Even in the developed world in countries such as, China, Sweden, Chile, Denmark, and Japan bed sharing is the norm. Helen Ball, an anthropologist specializing in parent-infant behavior, found that in the UK up to 75% of families co-slept, but did not report this to their doctor or midwife. Another study in the United Arab Emirates, which looked at changes in childbirth and parenting over three generations of women, found that birth attendants, breastfeeding length, medication and labor during childbirth, all changed across generations, except for the family bed, this remained a constant amongst Emirati women over time.

SIDS, which stand for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is often cited as a reason to avoid the family bed. In the United States, SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants past one month of age. Yet there are many reasons why SIDS occurs, none of which holds the entire solution to the prevention of SIDS. So far, the 'Back to Sleep' campaign has been successful in countries like America and New Zealand at reducing the SIDS rates. Of great interest, is that in countries with the lowest rates of SIDS, such as Japan and China, they also report the highest numbers of co-sleeping. The concern with co-sleeping and SIDS is that the infants will be smothered, an age old concern, not well validated by today's science.

Researcher James McKenna has found that mother and infant dyads sharing the same bed display an inordinate amount of sensitivity to each other throughout the night. In his Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, he found that mothers usually adopted a protective position, on their sides facing their infants throughout the night, increasing the amount of face to face time with their infant. This is stimulating to the infant and believed to stimulate infant respiration,believed to be a protective factor against SIDS. He has also found that the mother regulates the baby's breathing, heart rate, temperature, and that babies had greater daily weight gain when they slept side by side with their mothers.

This is to say nothing of breastfeeding and its relationship to co-sleeping. Bed-sharing is strongly associated with better breastfeeding outcomes. One of the beauties of breastfeeding is it's relationship to mom's sleep, there is no getting up to make bottles in the middle of the night, the food is always ready and the right temperature. Not that bottle feeding mamas are more or less exhausted than their breastfeeding counterparts, all moms work at night, but it does make nighttime infinitely easier if all you have to do is roll over and nurse. In answer to a question on co-sleeping on the Islamic forum, Sunnipath, one teacher answered: "I don't know of any specific Islamic injunction about co-sleeping. There is absolutely no problem with having your baby in the bed with you. In fact, if you're breastfeeding, which, according to Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, is a religious and moral responsibility toward your child, then it makes a lot of sense to co-sleep. " It does just make sense!

Nothing is absolutely foolproof however, and sadly, babies do succumb to SIDS even while co-sleeping. May Allah protect all of our children. Here is a list compiled by Dr. James McKenna, excerpted from Mothering magazine, of how to increase the safety of co-sleeping:
  • For parents who smoke, drink, or are unusually heavy sleepers, or use any kind of drugs that inhibit arousal from sleep, co-sleeping on the same surface with a baby is not recommended, said McKenna. For these parents, having their child sleep on a separate surface near them, such as a cradle or bassinet, will protect the baby from overlaying while still providing the baby with many of the same benefits as cosleeping.
  • Make sure the surface your baby sleeps on is firm. "There are many adult mattresses that can match the stiffness of CPSC recommendations," McKenna said. Avoid waterbeds, lambskins, and other soft bedding for your baby. Stuffed animals and toys should be kept out of the baby's sleep environment.
  • Don't give pillows to babies or young toddlers, and keep their faces away from your pillow. Keep blankets away from babies' faces, too.
  • Cosleeping babies are kept warmer than solitary sleeping babies, so they need lighter blankets and pajamas. (Being too warm may be a factor in SIDS.)
  • Toddlers should not be allowed to sleep next to infants, said McKenna, because "They are too unaware of the dangers their bodies pose." Instead, either the infant or the toddler can sleep on a separate surface next to the family bed—the infant in a cosleeper, crib, or bassinet; the toddler in a toddler bed or mattress on the floor.
  • Headboards, footboards, and side rails can be unsafe, especially if a baby is left alone in bed with these trappings. One of the most dangerous situations for young children is getting their heads wedged in furniture, said McKenna. He suggested making sure the child's head can't fit between the side rail and any surrounding surfaces. If a parent is using a crib as a sidecar, make sure the two mattresses are on the same level and held tightly together, so there is no space that a baby could slip into. If a bed is up against a wall, ensure that there are no gaps in which a child's head can get trapped. Another option is to put the mattress right on the floor, so that side rails are not necessary to prevent a baby from falling off the bed.
  • Do not sleep on the sofa with your baby, or leave a sleeping baby alone 
on a sofa.
  • Do not leave a baby unattended in an adult bed. The benefits of the family bed exist only when the parents are there with the child; if the parents want some adult time while baby sleeps, the child should be put somewhere else—such as a crib, bassinet, or mattress on the floor—until the parents are ready for him to join them, McKenna said.
If you are interested in reading more about co-sleeping, Mothering magazine is having a sale on all of their Sleep Resources. Wishing you and yours many a good night's sleep!

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Are You Carrying?

Mother and Child, Marrakech by Greg Robbins.
Mother and Child, Marrakech by Greg Robbins

In honor of International Woman's Day I wanted to share this video from the New York Times. The women of the Congo outdo Nicholas Kristof in a hilarious lifting contest of sorts. It is a testament to both the sheer physical strength of women and to their emotional resiliency and grace in the face of much hardship.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Breastfeeding the Early Days

Moeder en kroost by Inferis

Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated: Salamah, the wetnurse of Ibrahim, the son of the Prophet, peace of and blessings of Allah upon him, said, "O Messenger of Allah. You give tidings of all the good to the men and you don't give tidings to the women." He said, "Did your female companions induce you to [ask] this?" She said, "Yes." He said, "Will one of you not be pleased that when she is pregnant from her husband and he is pleased with her that she has a reward like the reward of the one who fasts and prays in the way of Allah? Then when she is in labor, none of the people of the heavens or the earth know what is hidden for her of [pleasures,] soothing to her eyes. And when she delivers, no mouthful of milk flows from her nor a [child's] suck except that she has a reward with every mouthful and with every suck. And if [her child] keeps her awake during the night, she has a reward similar to the reward of freeing seventy slaves for the sake of Allah."

-Related by Tabarani in his Mu'jam al-Awsat

Isn't that an amazing hadith?! The reality for most women is that breastfeeding does come easily and continues without much of a hitch. However, it is not true for everyone, and for some mothers, this can be particularly devastating. One of the wisdoms which I gathered from the conference on lactation* is that birth practices do affect and impact breastfeeding and its longevity. I wish most of us would have home births, where for the most part, optimal birth practices are in place to promote breast feeding, but alas, I know that is not the case. Although most hospital staff are in support of breast feeding, much of what happens in the first few hours is dictated by hospital policies and procedures, rather than a drive towards successful lactation. It's time we started looking at breastfeeding as a part of the birth experience, not a separate component. The following is a brief, brief summary of what I learned at this past week's conference, which can optimize lactation, breast milk production and bonding for mother and child in those most invaluable early days. All of these things can be included in a birth plan and discussed with your midwife and/or doctor.

Skin to skin contact has been proven scientifically to increase, among many other things, rates of exclusive breastfeeding in mothers and infants. As long as the baby is stable at birth, this is easily accomplished and accommodated in any birth setting. Request that the baby be placed on your abdomen or chest immediately after birth. Skin to skin contact is dose dependent, the more skin to skin in the early days, the better adjusted your baby is to this earth, and the more successful breastfeeding becomes. Anyone can do skin to skin contact, the father, grandmother, auntie. It is ideal if it's the mother, but the self regulating mechanisms of skin to skin can be accomplished with other adults. The other benefits of skin to skin are that it begins to colonize the normal flora of a baby's many developing systems, it regulates temperature and respirations of a baby (particularly important for a preemie), and amazingly reduces pain in the baby. Skin to skin contact also increases levels of oxytocin in the mother's blood stream, a hormone essential for a mother to let down her milk supply to the baby.

Infants are born with an instinct to find the breast and self attach. This video eloquently demonstrates this. The areola, the darkened skin around the nipples acts as a point of focus for the baby. The scent of amniotic fluid reminds baby of his intrauterine home and as he journeys to the breast, he is smearing this scent from his hands over the mother's body. This is both calming and a guidance to the infant. As you'll see one of the remarkable things about this instinct, is that it is influenced by pain medications used in labor, if used the instinct is dulled and disorganized. Epidurals are not without their place in the birth world. However, they are not without their side effects either. A recent study found that women who used an epidural with Fentanyl (a narcotic analgesic) had lower rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six weeks postpartum. Undisturbed, natural birth deserves more credit than it receives, it's benefits are subtle and vast, the self attachment of a newborn to its source of nourishment being but one.

Prolactin, the hormone required for breast milk production, rises with repeated stimulation of the breast. When babies are born, they are usually in a quiet, alert state. Priming the hormonal pump, by taking advantage of this state and initiating breastfeeding within an hour and half or so of birth, can help to increase and maintain milk supplies. The feeds should not be timed or scheduled in order for baby to continue stimulating the release of this important hormone in the first few days postpartum.This usually translates as: stay in bed with the baby and let the baby feed frequently!

Hand expression is another useful tool for a breastfeeding mom to learn. This is a video which beautifully explains how to do it. Hand expression after each feed in the early days, continues to stimulate your breast to make more milk, it also fully empties the breast when a newborn cannot, another important element in increasing milk supply. An empty breast signals the brain that it needs to make more milk. Hand expression accomplishes this beautifully and without a bulky pump. If done regularly after each feeding, it can also prevent engorgement of the breast. Save what you collect and feed to the baby with a spoon, small cup, or syringe.

This is just a small assortment of things to help you along in the first few days of your new child's life. Things like latch and positioning are immense and deserve much more time than a blog posting allots. As the above hadith states, with every mouthful and suck, a mother gets a reward. I hope that these tips increase your babies moutfuls and sucks and in turn your reward!

*I would like to thank the woman at Evergreen Perinatal for their dedication to breastfeeding and for an amazing conference. If any of you get the chance to attend on of their lectures, it is well worth it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Midwives for Peace

I love how in the first video, the Palestinian midwife demonstrates how the prostration of our prayer is a good birthing position. It does work doesn't it?!

Meanwhile in America, the CDC just released a report that home births here have increased by 3.5% between the years 2003-2004 and 2005-2006. I think the common thread in all three of these, is well trained midwives. The role of birth attendant is extremely significant, whether it's the midwife who stays with you through the entire labor, monitoring your physical and emotional well being, or the doctor who saves the life of a mother and baby; both must be respectful of the power and strength of women and their bodies as well as knowledgeable and skilled in regards to the labor and birthing process. In this country we would be much better off if they could work in sync with one another, rather than at odds.

Sorry for the light posting this week. I have been at a lactation conference, stay tuned for some exciting posts on breastfeeding. I never knew the lactating breast was so fascinating! Have a fabulous weekend!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Poem & The Sunnas of a Newborn Child

Baby C by capturedbychelsea.

Baby Song

From the private ease of Mother's womb
I fall into the lighted room.

Why don't they simply put me back
Where it is warm and wet and black?

But one thing follows on another.
Things were different inside Mother.

Padded and jolly I would ride
The perfect comfort of her inside.

They tuck me in a rustling bed
-I lie there, raging, small, and red.

I may sleep soon, I may forget,
But I won't forget that I regret.

A rain of blood poured round her womb,
But all time roars outside this room.

-Thom Gunn (1929- )

What an amusing poem! I love how the baby wants to go back inside. It seems like that sometimes doesn't it! Here are some links about babies:

  • There is a new website containing lectures by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller's esteemed wife Umm Sahl. Particularly pertinent to this blog is Lecture 5.1, the sunnas of a newborn child. It's wonderful and thought provoking. To hear this lecture and others visit

  • "Do Toxins Cause Autism?" a recent op-ed by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff looks at the recent studies linking our chemical exposures to increasing rates of autism in children. He briefly discusses the new bill proposed in the Senate that strengthens the Toxic Substances Control Act. Apparently of the 80,000 chemicals in our environment the EPA only tests 200! Kristof's last paragraph contains excellent advice for pregnant women and parents. "The precautionary principle suggests that we should be wary of personal products like fragrances unless they are marked phthalate-free. And it makes sense — particularly for children and pregnant women — to avoid most plastics marked at the bottom as 3, 6 and 7 because they are the ones associated with potentially harmful toxins."