Friday, June 29, 2012

Eat, Drink and Be Content - My Birth Story

The gray area of when labor starts is rarely heralded by a neat "5 min apart, lasting 1 minute, for at least 1 hour", otherwise known as 511, but, shhh, don't tell my midwifery clients.  As a midwife, I can tell it in the puffed faces of my beautiful mothers, their mental desperation and physical distress at a state that is starting to feel timeless. As a mother, I recognize it in myself when I start to burn things in the kitchen, consistently, each meal is somehow derailed, for days.  My mind is incredibly present, but not.  It is the outward manifestation of the internal contradiction, in the the invariable discomforts of late pregnancy, I somehow find myself yearning for escape though the rhythmic pain of contractions.

I have just felt three contractions in a half hour.  They squeeze my middle, forcing me to sway my hips and breathe.  The baby even pauses its passes at my ribs, seeming to wonder at the new sensations too.  I call my husband at work, wanting him to be on alert in case he has to come quick.  The kitchen is inside out with half finished projects, coconut date balls need to be rolled and dipped in coconut, salsa needs to be chopped and bottled, there's milk cooling for yogurt, beans bubbling for tonight's enchiladas, and a sink full of the evidence.  It's at least an hour or two of work, and my labors rarely last that long.  My mind is swimming between before and after. Now, I'm a pregnant mother preparing her family for her postpartum rest. After, I'm on the other side of this great battle called labor.

I've been advised by many to listen to Surah Maryam (the Chapter of Mary) during labor.  It is what fits right now.  I plug in my phone to the speakers.  "Kaf Ha Ya Ain Sad" rings out of the dainty speakers and reverberates through my entire being on such a physical level, that I  grab the counters edge and sink down to the kitchen floor.  The soothing words and rhythm continue to wash over me melding the before and after of this fragile expectant mother.  I am reminded that if I die, I am a martyr, receiving the same spiritual status as a holy warrior.  I weep for a forgiveness I didn't know needed forgiving. It feels like the shedding of a self, one that needs to yield in order for a momentous event to occur.

My son overhears the weeping and asks, "Are you having contractions?"  Yes, I answer him, noting mentally, that no, I haven't felt them since I called my husband half an hour ago, but there is no other explanation for my unraveling in the kitchen, so I do what most mothers do and opt for expediency.  I hear him tell his sister that the baby is coming.  I am once again grounded by my sweet children.  The dates need to be pitted.  I hit 'translate' on the Qur'an app on my phone.  The ayah (verse) that is playing at that moment, that pops into my phone's screen, is like a Divine answer to my misgivings, "So eat and drink and be contented".  My heart swells with belief, and I am back on the staircase weeping.  Allah is al-Hayy, the Living, I am not alone in this undertaking.  The kitchen can wait, I finish listening to the surah before resuming my work.   I imagine that this is what a soldier feels like before battle, humbled ego, and steadied heart.

After having three labors, there are some individual patterns that can be etched out.  I can now say that not only does my water break before my labors, but that it does so at the beginning of the morning prayer.  It's an odd pattern, but I like it.

I'm lying in bed as my husband is rousing for fajr, when a contraction hits me so hard, I reach out for his arm.  And then with a great release, the soothing warmth of amniotic fluid gushes between my legs, a message from the other side, my babies habitat for the past nine months revealed.  Instantly,  I am shivering and moaning through contractions.  It's odd to be a midwife and a mother in labor.  The contrast between the head and the heart is somehow clearer.  I'm noting from a distant place, that I am in transition, right now.  I tell my husband to call the midwife, but tell her not to come, the heart is wanting privacy.  I am playing that mind game that mothers in labor play.  We tell ourselves that this is only the beginning in order to have mental stamina for the end, and in some ways, labor really is only the beginning.

The morning prayers are said, and we are descending the staircase so these moans of "Ooooopppppeeennn" do not wake the sleeping children.  By the time we make it to our living room, the birth room, I am nauseous and hot.  I want a wet washcloth, and a woman's knowing touch.  My beloved midwife lives less than a mile away.  "Call her", I tell my devoted husband who is fumbling with the birth tub pump.  She answers and says, I'm already on my way, did we think she was waiting for another call?  Oh midwives, the good ones capture that difficult place between knowing and unknowing with such skill and wit.

I am sending each contraction into circles of movement, from hips to cervix.  I can't imagine not circling my hips. "Ya Latif", O Gentle One, I mutter weaving this sentiment into these circles.  I am connected to my Muslim sisters from Afghanistan to Senegal, who have uttered this Divine name through their contractions for centuries.  They become my companions through these giant, urgent waves.  I can do this too.

The birth tub is inflated, but dry, as I am feeling the first urges to push.  There is no time to fill it.  I have never done this without the tub and I am nervous.   How do I push outside of the tub?   The answer soon becomes clear, you just do.  Twenty minutes later, my nine pound baby boy is born.  We have named him Ya Sin, a name without direct meaning, yet fraught with Divine mysteries and meanings.  It is what I felt throughout this pregnancy, and the earliest twinges of  labor, a knowing beneath the surface, that if trusted and sought, will open up worlds of understanding.  May Allah bless him, and all babies and mothers everywhere. Our children truly are here to teach us, from their conception, to adulthood.  I am grateful to learn.

Post Note: We wanted to say a special thank you to our other stellar midwife Lael, who not only made the birth hours before leaving on vacation, but brought us a dozen eggs from her chicken to nourish us and continue the cycle.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Prophet Muhammad as a Baby

Photo Credit

In honor of the Islamic lunar month of Shaban, traditionally touted as the month of the Prophet (peace be upon him), I am sharing some really sweet notes on the development of the Prophet Muhammad as a baby.   These notes are from a class I attended about six months ago with  Ustadha Eiman Sidky.  I wish I could find the book from which she took these pearls, but alas, my notes are lacking the text. If anyone knows, please leave it in the comments, so I can add it! They detail his development from turning over to talking, and as always he was exemplary and above the curve.  I love thinking of his blessed babyhood, and how he was as an infant.  Enjoy!

  • At two months of age he was rolling over already.
  • By four months he was cruising, as in cruising along tables, and other furniture to move from one place to another.
  • He was walking at five months. Can you imagine!?
  • At nine months he was speaking Fus'ha, the elegant and elevated form of Classical Arabic. It is the form that the Qur'an was revealed in. 
  • At ten months, he was able to accurately shoot a bow and arrow, a sign of his piercing intelligence and unwavering focus. May Allah bless him!!
  • And always, before he touched anything, even as an infant, he would utter a 'Bismillah"
Enjoy this month, may it bring you closer to the Prophet and prepare your heart for Ramadan!  Remember all the babies of the ummah in your du'a!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What Gets the Baby In...A Birth Story

"What gets the baby in, gets the baby out"
-Ina May Gaskin - founder of modern American midwifery

"...sexuality is a whole.  The same hormones are involved in the different episodes of sexual life such as intercourse, childbirth, and lactation....The final phase of each sexual event is always an 'ejection reflex': sperm ejection reflex, foetus ejection reflex, milk ejection reflex. 
-Michel Odent from The Farmer and the Obstetrician

I was awoken at around 2 am by a phone call from Kim (you can read her awesome rendition of giving birth here)  Expecting her second baby any day, I was waiting for her phone call.  

"I couldn't sleep so I had sex.  After we were done, my contractions started coming every five minutes.  I swear, I wasn't trying to bring on labor!"  Kim laughingly told me. I listened through a couple of contractions then told her to change positions, maybe try a shower and call me in half an hour to see if things slowed down, or picked up, or what.  I was thinking that things would peter out after her hormones calmed down.  Oh, how I love to be proven wrong.

My somewhat rule is that if the dad calls you during labor, it's go time.  About twenty minutes later, the phone rang.  Mike's Irish lilt turning serious told me that things were picking up and it looked like labor.  I could hear Kim moaning through a contraction in the background. Wonderful!  I told him to call the doula, and that I would get myself and my things together and head over.   

As  I was approaching the lights and wonder that is crossing the Bay Bridge in the wee hours, the doula called.  My other somewhat rule (because can birth really have rules?) is that if the doula calls, I better step on it.  Britt informed me that Kim was indeed active and that they just wanted to make sure that I was on my way.  Yes, I was, ten minutes I said.  I went as fast as feels safe over a bridge and through city streets.  

It was a lovely night to be born, a chill, crisp March evening.  Entering Kim's birth space was truly magical.  Kim is an artist. She makes each and every thing she does an act of beauty, creation, and meaning.  From our first visit her birth space and how it looked was of utmost importance to her and her husband.  She came through.  The tub had been moved into their living space. Candles, with inspiring collages and quotes from Kim's myriad friends, filled the room with love and light.  Music, which I never would have pegged as birth music, but suited the moment perfectly livened the mood.  Kim was on the bed hands and knees.  I threw my things down to say hello and have a quick listen.  As soon as I did that Kim let out a deep, sonorous yet guttural sound signalling that the power of birth was moving through her. My midwife ears heard it and I peeked at her perineum, indeed it was bulging with a soul determined to take it's place in the family, and soon!  

Kim made it clear that she wanted in the tub.  She was so relaxed and in control, yet totally surrendered. She had a vision of her birth, and she was going to make it happen if at all possible.  We moved her into the tub with the head sooo low! It was the perfect ending to a whirlwind labor.  The contractions slowed a wee bit, just in time to wake big sister.  Kim moved to hands and knees in the water.  With a couple of pushes, her son's head was out, witnessed by all in attendance, including her two year old pajama footed daughter.  I reached down to help with the body and sweep him through to mama's waiting arms.

And just like that, it was done, a circle of love completed.  Truly Kim's birth was an illustration that birth is not separate from sexuality, that it draws from it, and intimately relies on it.   It was an honor to see, and a privilege to so clearly observe a truth about women's bodies and their hormones, we are indeed vessels of love.