Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Womb and Mercy

The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought

Some of my Ramadan reading has entailed the above, The Tao of Islam by Sachiko Murata. It is only through the materially deprived yet,spiritual uplifting state of fasting, that I can even hope to make sense of most of this book. She uses the Taoist formulation of yin and yang as a lens to look at Islam's theology around gender relations. It's fascinating. She has a most amazing chapter entitled, "The Womb." One of Allah's 99 names, ar-Rahman, or the Most Merciful one is closely related to the word for 'womb' in Arabic. There is so much depth and reflection on that alone, but for one more qualified than I! I wish to leave you with a few quotes relating ,of course to pregnancy, birth and mothers, all of which can be a wide opening into understanding the nature of the One who created.

There are four main sayings by the Prophet Muhammad, called hadith in Arabic, regarding the womb, which Murata uses towards the end of the chapter to exemplify the relationship between the nature of women, and Allah's Mercy. One of these that I particularly like is:

"God said, 'I am God and I am the All-merciful. I created the womb and gave it a name derived from My own name. Hence, if someone cuts off the womb, I will cut him off, but if someone joins the womb, I will join him to Me'"

The following passage on the station of mothers, was aid by Ali ibn al-Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The right of your mother is that you know that she carried you where no one carries anyone, she gave to you of the fruit of her heart that which no one gives to anyone, and she protected you with all of her organs. She did not care if she went hungry as along as you ate, if she was thirsty as long as you drank, if she was naked as long as you were clothed, if she was in the sun as long as you were in the shade. She gave up sleep for your sake, she protected you from heat and cold, in order that you might belong to her. You will not be able to show her gratitude, unless through God's help and giving success." (pg 213)

In reflecting on gestation and birth and how it relates to the grave and death, and the life after this, Sachiko Murata writes:

"Human beings develop in the womb in a manner that parallels the order followed by God in creating the macrocosm. In the womb the infant grows to completion and reaches deliverance by dying to the womb in order to be born into the world. In the world the human being grows to spiritual perfection and reaches deliverance through death to this world and birth into the next."

In keeping in this vein of reflecting on birth in this life with birth in the next, Murata quotes a Rumi poem. Here, he is comparing pregnancy and birth to a death, and encouraging us to live by the quote of Ali to "Die before you die", this of course, referring to the death of the ego. Like labor, this is an incredible challenge on all levels.

"Although the mother suffers the pain of childbirth, the embryo breaks out of prison.

The woman weeps at the birth: "Where is the refuge?" The child laughs: "Deliverance has come!"

Until mothers feel the pain of childbirth, the child finds no way to be born.

The Trust is within the heart and the heart is pregnant: all the exhortations of the saints act as a midwife.

The midwife says, "The woman has no pain. Pain is necessary, for it will open a way for the child."

I hope these quotes inspire you in these waning days of Ramadan. Please remember me and my family in your prayers!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Blessed Births and Beginnings

Motherhood by bagath makka

My Ramadan post has taken a back seat to, well, my Ramadan! Next year God willing, I will post something! In the meantime, I have found a lecture, again by Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad, on motherhood. He talks about many of the mothers mentioned in the Quran, the mother of Moses, Mary, and others, and mentions the significance of this. That each time we speak about greatness, we mention the mother, and that this in turn deserves an immense amount of respect. He mentions that starting with birth, a mother is given blessings; that with each contraction she is given the reward of freeing a slave. Each contraction! One reason to be grateful for a long labor! If you are celebrating Ramadan this year, I pray that it is one of enormous benefit to you and your family. Look for more frequent posting in a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Born into Ramadan

"Metabolically and internally, Ramadan knocks the stuffing out of us. Like all the basic practices of our religion, it is an idea as simple as it is shattering. The body and spirit respond at their deepest level. The ego squeals with pain. To the extent that we are still babies, we cry and cry.

There are some elemental human experiences where the body, detecting its limits, transforms the spirit. Making love, famously, is one example. But there are others. Once, walking in the Alps, I passed a lake as blue as cobalt, formed from the meltwater of a glacier which towered over it. No-one was in sight, so I stripped off and ran straight in. The shock of that freezing water around me was staggering, and I could feel my heart straining. Coming out, shivering uncontrollably, I felt like a king. All of life seemed to be shivering around me, and the world seemed to have become strangely sharp and bright.

The experience of being born must be similar. From a comfort zone we experience the pain of delivery, and the outrage of new existence in an external world of bright lights and strange sounds. The baby screams, but its pain is its first experience of true life. Spiritually, it has begun its career.

The fast blasts us, and exhausts us. We feel the laughable flab melting away, and start to remember the important fact that we are alive. Life is a symbiosis between our bodies and the world. We are alive when we feel that interaction and dependency at work."


By Sh. Abdal-Hakim Murad

Please consider donating to the Cambridge Mosque, the first fully eco-friendly mosque in Europe, of which Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad is a part of.

Photo by The Alpine by kern.justin

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Home Birth Videos

I bring you two home birth videos. The first is a first time couple, birthing at home on their Oregon farm. It is a mini-documentary and one of the most modest home birth films I have seen, yet very real and moving. The second is from a documentary I have blogged about before, The Doula Film. It is a second time mom birthing at home in the UK. She is incredibly calm and composed throughout the birth, particularly whilst pushing. Enjoy.

I hope to post on Ramadan for pregnant and nursing moms in the next day or two. Ramadan begins here tomorrow so we are making goodies and preparing today. There is a sister conducting a study on whether or not fasting in Ramadan while nursing impacts baby weight gain, and/or milk supply. She is hoping to get more participants. If you are interested please email her at - until then enjoy the videos and Ramadan Kareem!!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Birthing With Reverence
img_2798 by eyeliam

I found the following passage, about birthing with reverence from midwife Carolina Wise, to be eloquent and thoughtful. She does a wonderful job of extrapolating our current state of our highly technological maternity care system to our understanding of the meaning of sacred in society. May we all be more reverent. Birth is a litmus test for a society's treatment of women and for it's application of the sacred. A rising 32.8% Cesarean rate (and rising) leaves much to be said for America's view of women.

Birthing with Reverence

Midwives can create a spirit of beauty at a birth or they can desecrate it. They can create a sacred space around a birthing woman that drives out fear and inspires the mother’s belief in herself, which ultimately determines the outcome of the birth. Midwives can be a channel of Grace in ways they never imagined and in doing so they create a spirit of reverence. Reverence in these days and times is not a common thing.

As a midwife there were times after births that I was overcome with awe, which is another term for reverence. It seemed appropriate for the sun to stand still in the sky, and the traffic to stop, and the whole universe to pause for a minute of awe in acknowledgement [sic] that something astonishing had just happened. It just seemed appropriate that all of creation should have taken notice. Perhaps, in the unseen world, it did.

Unfortunately in America there appears to be little reverence for much, especially not women or birth. This is not surprising given the history of the oppression of midwives, the rise of the medical model and the objectification of women’s bodies. The sacred has not just been drowned out at births but in our lives as a whole. In fact, reverence is not part of our public vocabulary at all. Yet, there are a few things that Americans do revere. Reverence for money comes to mind.

If you follow where the money goes it will reveal the short list of things that Americans do have reverence for. Large amounts of money are funneled into the pornography industry. Women are not revered in that industry. In fact, they are desecrated as an object of fantasy, not to be loved, cherished and honored, but simply to be used and discarded. Therefore, lust is revered, and as a result we have become a pornographic culture in which women are routinely desecrated.

Desecration involves an act in which a sacred thing is pillaged, or dishonored. The opposite of desecration is reverence. Reverence acknowledges and honors the sacred. Women and that which has to do with them, namely birth, are sacred. But they are not sacred at this place and this time. In fact, who among all the industrialized nations are reverent about women and what they do when they give birth?

Midwives have been given a sacred trust and a great honor to stand by as a witness to a miracle. Birth is not a small miracle. It is an extraordinary miracle. We are created for reverence and our work demands it. But when birth became a medical procedure our culture became so far removed from the beauty of it that it became commonplace and unimportant to the larger community. In the process of our irreverence we lost sight of our beauty as human beings.

Caroline Wise
Excerpted from "Birthing with Reverence," Midwifery Today, Issue 82

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

World Breastfeeding Week

Piknikas by c r z.
Piknikas by c r z

Happy World Breastfeeding Week! Every year, the first week in August is World Breastfeeding Week. Among other things, the purpose of this week is to highlight the ten steps to successful breastfeeding, which are part of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. The World Health Organization and UNICEF started this initiative in 1991 to encourage hospitals to engage in birth and immediate postpartum practices which encourage exclusive breastfeeding. Of the 19,000 facilities worldwide, the US has a mere 63.

If a hospital birth is in your future, I strongly encourage you to consult this list of the US Baby Friendly hospitals and deliver there. At the birth center, we take our transfers to one of two Baby Friendly hospitals in the Bay Area. It is a display of excellence in maternity care. Women and babies are treated as they should be, an inseparable dyad (unless, of course, medically indicated). Because un-medicated, natural, vaginal births have higher rates of success in regards to initiating breastfeeding, these hospitals tend to support natural births, and offer less interventions. Here are the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding:

1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all healthcare staff.

2. Train all healthcare staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.

3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.

4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within an hour of birth.

5. Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.

6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.

7. Practice rooming-in - allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.

8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.

9. Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.

10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.

Sounds an awful lot like what we do at a home birth!! Maybe that's why our exclusive breastfeeding rates this past year were 99% at 'discharge' and 85% at six months, well above the national average. Enjoy the rest of the week and pat yourself on the back if you're breastfeeding. Way to go mom!!