December 17, 2011

Sunnah of Childcare: Welcoming the Newborn Part 1

 When a Muslim child is born, welcoming him or her into the world includes certain religious rituals. Some of these rituals are considered obligatory to perform while others are not. And for some others differences of opinion exist. Below is a list of these rituals compiled from various sources. 

1. Reciting the Athan in the Newborn’s Ear
Immediately after a child is born, within the first moments of its life, the athan should be recited into his or her ear. It’s reported in Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, and Ahmad, that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, recited the athan into the ear of Hasan ibn Alee when Fatimah gave birth to him.

Regarding the wisdom of this, Ibn Al Qayyim said, “The secret meaning behind the athaan (in the ear), and Allah knows best, is that the first sound that should resonate in the ears of a human being are these words which consist of magnification and glorification of the Lord as well as the testimony of Faith, which is the first thing that admits one into Islam…”  

--Taken from Raising Children in Light of the Quran and Sunnah

2. Performing Tahneek
Tahneek is the practice of softening a date and rubbing a bit of it on the hard palate of the newborn’s mouth with your finger. This is a recommended sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. 

Abu Moosa Al-Asharee reported, “A boy was born to me, so I took him to the Prophet. He named him Ibraheem, performed tahneek on him using a date, and invoked blessings on him.” –Bukhari and Muslim

Ibn Hajar is reported to have said, “Priority should be given to ripe dates. If one is not able to find them, then he may use moist dates. If not, then something sweet. And the honey of a bee is better than anything else.” – Fat’h-ul-Baaree under “The Book of Aqeeqah’

The benefits of performing tahneek include: 
  • Reviving a Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah
  • Helping a newborn child to exercise his mouth muscles by moving his tongue when he tries to lick and jaw when he tries to suckle, both of which can help to initiate breastfeeding. --Tarbiyyatul-Awlaad fil-lslaam' of 'Abdullaah Naasih 'Alwaan (Vol. i, P. 71)
-- Taken from

3. Announcing the News
It is customary for the parents to announce the good news of the child’s birth. This puts ease into the hearts of anxiously waiting family members and lets them know that they can be happy for the parents, congratulate them, make dua’a for them, and make dua’a for the child. 

The announcement can also be done for the coming of the newborn, as is mentioned in the Qur’an. 

In Suratal Maryam, Allah, subhana wa ta ala, announced to Prophet Zakariyyah (alayhi salaam) that he would have a son. The translation says: “O Zakariyah, verily We give you the glad tidings of a son whose name will be Yahyaa.” –ayah 7

And in Surah As-Saaffaat, Allah, subhana wa ta ala, speaks of Prophet Ibrahim, alayhi salam, when he says (translation): “And We gave him the glad tidings of Ishaaq – a prophet from among the righteous.” –ayah 112

--Taken from Raising Children in Light of the Qur’an and Sunnah

4. Naming the Child
Giving a good name is one of the essential rights of a Muslim child. You can read more about this right in our previous post, Children’sRights: To Be Given a Good Name

It is recommended to name a child on the seventh day after their birth though it is permissible to name them at any time before or after that as well. 

In a saheeh hadith reported by Ahmed, Abu Dawood, and others, the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, said: “Every child is held in pledge for his aqeeqah which is sacrificed for him on his seventh day, and he is named on it and his head is shaved.”

Among the praiseworthy names to give a Muslim child are:
  •  Names that indicate servitude to Allah, i.e. Abdullah or Abdurrahman
  •  Names that belonged to the Prophets, i.e. Muhammad, Adam, or Ibraheem
  •  Names of pious people, both men and women, including The Companions, the Martyrs and the Scholars, i.e. Maryam, Sumayyah, or Umar
  •  Names that have good meanings, i.e. Sarah or Hamzah
Names that are prohibited to give a Muslim child include (but are not limited to):
  • Names that indicate servitude to other than Allah, i.e. Abdur Rasool (slave of the Messenger)
  • Names that are specific to Allah, i.e. Al-Ahad
  • Names that have negative meanings, or meanings that could cause the child to feel humiliated, or meanings that could be offensive, i.e. Fitnah (temptation), Himaar (donkey), or Nuhaad (young woman with raised breasts)
-- Taken from

December 11, 2011

Reflections After A Mother's Passing

Mariam and Anis Hoda are a Muslim couple living in California, USA. Since 2010, they were living with and caring for Anis' mother who suffered from Vascular Dementia. On November 28, 2011 their mother died. This post, which was originally posted on their blog My Mother and I,  is the final post in a series of interviews with Mariam and Anis on their mother's condition (See Living with My Mother's Dementia Part 1 and Living with My Mother's Dementia Part 2). Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon. From Allah we come and to Allah we shall return. 

I have decided that I will not post anymore after this last post. I have kept myself busy this week after returning to work on Monday to extremely supportive co-workers, with the hope that slowly life will be back to normal. A new normal that is: a normal without mom. It can’t ever be the same normal where I could smell her, poke my nose playfully in her face and watch her laugh. I can’t ever touch her again or hear her call me to sit with her.  
I was craving something sweet and went to raid the fridge.  I saw apple sauce and without thinking took a cup out. Just when I got the spoon, it hit me that during the last stage, we used to crush pills and give it to mom with apple sauce, a trick a hospital nurse showed us.  A couple of cups had remained. I miss her.  Small things make us miss her more, whether it’s visiting the Chinese restaurant and eating walnut shrimp or making carne asada tacos.
Mom passed away early morning on Monday, November 28th, 2011. We were all with her when she gasped for her last breath and her soul left. The breathing rate had been slowing down a lot and there was no pulse for about an hour before that. She started to have gaps in her breathing which kept on getting bigger and finally, it stopped.  Papa checked her heart with his stethoscope; she was still breathing with gaps but there was no beat. After her last breath, I checked it. There was silence, a loud silence.
Islamically, the body is to be buried as soon as possible. Since we had already planned things, we were able to do the burial the same day, later that afternoon. Mariam, my sister and few other relatives gave mom her final bath. We prayed over her body, the final prayer of burial at the local mosque before proceeding to the cemetery. I got down in the grave along with my brother and two other close relatives to lay the body down. I was the last one out.  I made her slant a bit to her right so that she would face the Kaaba in Mecca. She was buried without a coffin, wrapped in white sheets. When I was moving mud around her body, my hand touched her face and could feel her nose. That was the last time I touched my mother. Soon afterwards, she was under piles of mud, on her way to eternity. After her washing, I saw her at the mortuary and she looked as if she was smiling, a slight smile, peaceful face and at ease. It’s been a while since we saw her without pain.
The support from our friends and family was overwhelming. I can’t imagine anything better. Many of mine and Mariam’s friends dropped everything, took the day off work and came over to be by our side. They took care of kids, made arrangements for “A’zza”, the reception for people to meet family and give condolences. The numerous hugs and words of encouragement, teary eyes of these macho friends of mine, it all just over took us. One of my best friend’s dads saw me at the Masjid, gave me a hug and started crying. I had to console him! I met mothers of four of my closest friends, all of them crying. These people whom I am not related to by blood were crying for my pain. They were crying because they are related to me by faith and by humanity.  We do not know how to repay them.
And thank you all for your support and for sharing our journey.
Many of those who called from all over the world could not believe that mom was no more. They broke into tears and some just cried and hung up. They couldn’t talk. Baji was gone. Who would go around in the middle of cold nights with blankets and give them out to the people sleeping in the cold on the streets of our home town in India? Who would stop us from killing even a bee? Who is going to make sure the baby of the girl who lives near our house gets milk? Who is going to teach the neighborhood girls? The list goes on and the void gets bigger.
If I was asked to summarize mom’s legacy, it would most certainly be of charity and simplicity. She lived a simple life with minimal needs and wishes. What she had was for others; she would always be giving. To help was her nature. It would melt her heart to see someone suffer. We have gotten quite a few emails from people who have benefited from this blog. Her disease, her pain became a tool for her to help others. She lives on in our hearts and the hearts of many for reasons we would never know. She is her legacy, even in death.
So long Amma… Inshallah we will see you in Jannah.
Wassalam Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatu
(May Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah be on you)

November 16, 2011

Living With My Mother's Dementia - Part 2

Anis Hoda is an Indian-American living in California, USA. He is the youngest of three children and works as an Energy Engineer. Since 2010, he has been living with and caring for his mother who suffers from Vascular Dementia. This interview is a continuation of interviews conducted with his family (see Living With My Mother's Dementia Part 1about his mother's condition. These interviews were conducted to help raise awareness about this disease and it's symptoms. May Allah make it of benefit, ameen. 

1. What do you remember most about your mother before her dementia?
My mother was fiercely independent. She has a PhD in organic chemistry and had been working as Head of Chemistry department when she retired in 2008. She has been supporting the family always. Before she got married she used to work as a teacher and help provide for her parents and siblings as her father was ill for a while and income was very limited. After she got married she was selected for a Chemistry teaching position in the university she retired from.

My mother was very well known and well respected. Whether its politicians or high ranking officials, everybody knew her for her work. The locals in the area knew her mostly as baji” which means elder sister in Urdu, a sign of respect. My mom was whom the mostly poor locals depended on for extra cash, or Eid clothes, or daughters’ marriage help.  She had a little school in her house where she would teach these poor little girls, daughters of the maids and garbage collectors. She would not come and stay with me in US because she felt guilty that if she did, who would teach those girls, who would make sure that the neighboring locals had blankets this winter?

Once, I was visiting my mother in 2010 in India, her disease had already started then and taken a big toll on her by now, and while my mother was asleep this girl came in with a little baby asking for baji.  Not understanding what was going on, or what she needed, I told her to come back later. She came back about an hour later and met mom. She complained of headache and wanted some medicine. I was awestruck by the first question mom asked her. She asked “When did you eat last?” The girl replied, “I cooked two days ago.” Mom gave her some food to eat and some medicine. She then gave her some money after which the girl left. I asked mom, “what about the child?” Mom said “Oh! The local milk store has already been paid for the whole month to provide milk for her child.” This happened every month for God knows how many children.

When I was bringing my mother over to US this last time, her disease had progressed a lot. While we were leaving there was this crowd of people crying to say goodbye to their “baji”. Religion did not play a role; Muslims and Hindus all came to see off “baji”. Even while she was sick she kept on telling me to give some money to everyone who was there.

This was the kind of work her whole salary was used for. My dad made enough to save and run the house. Mom’s salary was for others.  Her charity is what I remember most and I am sure so do the people whom she helped. The list is countless.

2. What is Vascular Dementia? How is it diagnosed and treated?
Vascular Dementia is a “sister” disease of Alzheimer’s. It leads to loss of brain functions and affects memory, thinking, language, judgment and behavior. Vascular dementia happens due to many small strokes which keep making the brain smaller and smaller. 

There are no treatments for this disease yet.  The diagnosis is usually done by analyzing the behavioral changes and can be confirmed by brains scans such as MRI.

3. When and how did your mother’s dementia develop? 
Though we do not know exactly when mom’s dementia started, we think it began after my parents performed hajj in 2006. It accelerated after she retired in 2008 and had a formal diagnosis in 2010.

Mom has complained of headaches always. Now that we look back on it, it is very much possible that those were microscopic strokes that were slowly killing her brain cells.

4. What has life living with and caring for your mother been like since her disease began?
I have lived on my own since I was 17. I have lived in different cities and moved to a completely new country. At times it was a lot of handle. But it has never been this tough. This is the most difficult part of my life yet. It’s not because it’s physically draining, but the mental effect of it all. Watching my mother suffer, change, misbehave, and get hurt because of this disease has been the hardest part of it all.

It has affected my marriage. Even though Mariam has been absolutely great about all this and very cooperative, it still has affected us, both negatively and positively.

5. What impact has the disease had on your mother’s character, behavior, abilities, and outlook on life?
This disease can completely change a person and that’s what it has done to my mother. Her personality did a complete 180. She gets agitated a lot faster, there has been cussing, extreme anger, even hitting. There are also certain signs of depression.

6. What impact has this experience had on your family?
It has completely overwhelmed us. We have no idea how to deal with it and that fact has brought the real colors out of us all. We have learned new things about each other and learned what we can and can’t deal with.

7. How do you cope with the mental, emotional, and physical stresses of caring for your mother?
I don’t. There is no way to cope with this. We all try to give each other a break for some time to stay sane. I go to work during the day. When I get home, Mariam will go to her friends or I will take my dad out to watch a movie. There is no way to cope. There are only ways to escape for a bit.

8. From where do you and your family seek strength in this situation?
Allah (swt) is perfectly Just. He is also completely in control of any situation and is fully aware of what my mother is going through and the effects it has on us. The strength comes from the simple belief that Allah knows what’s best. Allah is aware of the situation and it is just a test for us.

In Surah Al Inshirah (Chapter 94 verse 5-6), Allah says: “So verily, with hardship, there is relief. (5) Verily with hardship, there is relief (6).” This is sufficient. Not too many people get the chance to care for their ailing parents. It’s tough, but I would rather do it than not.

9. On your blog, you talk about “it” approaching. Can you please tell our readers, what is “it”? How do you know that “it” is on its way and how are you preparing yourself for its arrival?
“It” refers to the imminent visit by the Angel of Death. It is very clear looking at my mother’s constantly deteriorating condition that it can happen any time. Though it can happen any time for any of us, but for her I can see it slowly coming.

I don’t think I can really prepare for it. We have made all the arrangements and plans on what to do when something happens but there is no preparation that can be enough. I have been trying to make myself tough to go through it but it’s not really working.

10. How has this experience brought you closer to Allah?
This disease or similar diseases show the reality of our meager existence. A woman with PhD, who wrote thesis and taught others for 30 years of her life can’t even tell you how many kids she has anymore. It confirms the fact that our existence is only out of the mercy of Allah. Our existence is meaningless, if not for Allah and if we have no legacy to leave behind.

11. What has this experience taught you about being a son or daughter in Islam?
You only get one set of parents. Everything and everyone is secondary. It’s easy to turn away; it’s easy to escape. It’s not easy to try to return even a percentage of what your parents did for you.

12. How can others learn more about Vascular Dementia, recognize its symptoms and seek help for themselves or someone they know?
There are numerous websites that talk about it. It is imperative that we ourselves try to recognize changes in our working capacity. It is also extremely important for family and friends to notice and note down the changes. Some of the things to notice are:

Change in eating habits
Headaches (try to pinpoint the cause of head ache, like dehydration, etc)
Personality changes
Increase in forgetfulness
Change in cognitive skills

There is not too much actual study on this family of disease and that was one of the reasons why we started this blog. Documentation is a very important. I think others should start documenting their experiences and publish it.

Some websites that are beneficial are:

13. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Make dua’ inshaAllah for my mother’s life here and her life afterwards to be easy. Make dua’ that her suffering washes her of all her sins. And make dua’ that this be our reason for jannah inshaAllah.

To stay updated in his mother's condition, visit Mariam and Anis' blog, My Mother and I

October 30, 2011

Living With My Mother's Dementia - Part 1

Mariam Tohamy is a half Egyptian, half Pakistani sister living in California, USA. Since November 2010 she has been living with and caring for her mother-in-law who suffers from Vascular Dementia. Please note this interview is not being published to exploit a sensitive situation, but to help others who have friends or family members suffering from the disease. Vascular Dementia does not have a cure and it is only by sharing stories of patient experiences that people can begin to track patterns of symptoms and make proper diagnoses early on. May Allah make this of benefit, ameen.

1. What do you remember most about your mother before her dementia?
She had a very strong personality. She was highly educated, and encouraged further study and/or jobs.

2. What is Vascular Dementia? How is it diagnosed and treated?
Vascular Dementia is basically brain damage caused by restricted blood flow to the brain. There are several ways to diagnose it. Mummy’s Vascular Dementia was diagnosed clinically with a neurological exam. He basically checked her balance, coordination, etc. and concluded that she has Vascular Dementia. There are a few drugs available on the market to slow the progression of the disease, but Mummy’s dementia was diagnosed relatively later on, so a lot of the drugs didn’t have much of an effect.

3. When and how did your mother’s dementia develop?
Officially, she was first diagnosed in mid-2010. But we had an inkling that she had it a few years before the official diagnosis. She started forgetting things. By the time I came into the family two and a half years ago, she would forget what prayer it was time for. I remember Papa continuously having to write it down for her. She would also forget how many rak’as in each prayer. We had to tell her Asr was four rak’as, maghrib was 3, etc.

4. What has life living with and caring for your mother been like since her disease began?
Extremely stressful. Since Mummy was living with us for the majority of her disease, we’ve seen the progression from the early stages until now, her final stages. Since it began, we’ve slowly had to withdraw from our social activities and commitments, and spend more time at home. Anis (Mariam's husband) withdrew from practically every extra-curricular activity to stay home with his Mom and care for her.

In terms of her physical care, it’s been a slow progression, unlike her mental deterioration. Up until recently, she could eat on her own. In January of this year, I remember she could go to the bathroom all by herself. She went with Papa to India in February and came back in May. Since May, she has needed assistance going to the bathroom. After Eid-al-Fitr this year, she needed assistance walking, and as of a couple of weeks ago, she now needs assistance eating.

5. What impact has the disease had on your mother’s character, behavior, abilities, and outlook on life?
This disease has made her confidence shoot down. She used to be an extremely confident and capable person, able to do anything she wanted to do. Her personality is less dominant than it used to be, and her depression has increased immensely. She sees herself as someone who has fallen from a high pedestal, and keeps lamenting about how her state is now. She has a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, and her thesis is a book an inch thick. She was the Head of the Chemistry Department at a college in India. Now when you ask her to write the alphabet on a paper, she just draws vertical lines. She can’t even count anymore, and cannot even count how many brothers and sisters she has.  

6. What impact has this experience had on your family?
In terms of Anis’s siblings and him, it has brought them closer, since his parents primarily live with us and they call and visit frequently to see Mummy. In terms of stress level, let’s just say that Anis has more gray hairs now than he ever did when we got married two and a half years ago. This experience is aging us faster than we would like because of the amount of stress that we are under. 

Dementia comes with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety disorder, bi-polar disorder, and severe depression. It’s very, very difficult to deal with someone who is anxious, angry, crying, and depressed all day. To go from a normal, happy family experience to one where everyone is stressed/depressed on some level really brings us down.

7. How do you cope with the mental, emotional, and physical stresses of caring for your mother?
The stresses are extremely high. Anis and I try and individually go out with our friends once in a while. Hanging out and chilling with our minds free from worries for a few hours gives us a little bit of a battery recharge. Sometimes, we hold it inside, and it just boils over into tension between Anis and me. That’s when we know we need to de-stress, and one of us goes out to hang out with friends for a while.  

8. From where do you and your family seek strength in this situation?
Alhamdulillah, our friends, family, and community have been extremely supportive. Even if we don’t seek out help, it’s good to know that help is there when/if we need it. For me personally, my close circle of friends has helped me through this. Same with Anis. We each have a close circle of buddies that we fall back on when we need a break.

9. On your blog, you talk about “it” approaching. Can you please tell our readers, what is “it”? How do you know that “it” is on its way and how are you preparing yourself for its arrival?
The “it” that we refer to on our blog is death. Mummy’s health has deteriorated so much to the point where it would be un-wise to not talk about and discuss the action plan in the case of her death. Logistically, emotionally, mentally, we need to be prepared. We’re already under a lot of stress, and if we’re not prepared for something like that, it will be very hard to recover from it after it happens. Her doctor has given her an official prognosis of less than six months, but we know that it could be more than that or less than that. We’re not banking on that official figure, but we need to be prepared for it. Slowly and steadily, her mind is losing more and more control over her body. She’s succumbing to the pain a lot more than she was before, she’s eating less, drinking less, willing to do less and less.

We are preparing for it in a number of ways. First, we have to make sure that the rest of Anis’s siblings are fully aware that death is approaching soon. Anis always says to them, “Whatever good deeds that you can do now, do it. Your time for earning good deeds by serving your mother is running out. It’s either now or never.” We are also preparing her for it medically as well. We have stopped giving her the dementia medications, because of the side effects. She’s only taking medications for pain and anxiety at this point. Since her dementia is so advanced, there’s no point in giving her the medication for it.

10. How has this experience brought you closer to Allah?
For one, we take it as a blessing from Allah that we are allowed to serve our parents. A lot of people don’t get a chance to be with their mothers or fathers in their last days, so it’s a mercy upon us that we can be with her in her last days.

11. What has this experience taught you about being a son or daughter in Islam?
It has taught us that you never know what condition your parents will be in when they are old, but whatever it is, you have to be there for them. Even if some things might seem gross, or disgusting, they have done that for us, and we should be ready to do whatever we can do for them.

12. How can others learn more about Vascular Dementia, recognize its symptoms and seek help for themselves or someone they know?
Since it can happen earlier than you think it can, it’s very important to get tested, checked, and up to date with all your tests and to know everything about your medical situation. Some people avoid being tested or checked for things like cholesterol, diabetes, etc… out of fear of knowing the result. What they don’t realize is that it is better to know and control it, than to wake up one day and suffer from it in its end stages.

As far as the symptoms of Vascular Dementia go, in Mummy’s case it started out as confusion and forgetfulness. There are many types of dementia, so it’s best to research it online and speak with professionals about the different symptoms. The best thing to do is to get yourself (if you suspect you have it) or someone you know checked by a neurologist.  

13. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I initially responded to these questions a couple of weeks ago. Since then, Mummy has deteriorated even further. She has now stopped eating. She doesn’t know how to open and close her mouth. When we ask her to open her mouth so that we can put food in, she just says she doesn’t understand, or she doesn’t know how. We try and feed her through a cup instead, telling her it’s water that she should drink. Sometimes she understands better that way. 

We have stopped giving her pain medication, she no longer complains of pain. Actually, she no longer complains at all. She has stopped talking, and constantly has a serene look on her face. The Dr. has advised us that “it” is nearer than we think. Her condition deteriorates more and more literally every two days. First she couldn’t chew. Then she couldn’t swallow. Now she can’t open her mouth. She has stopped talking for the most part, and doesn’t call out for anyone anymore. It’s going so fast, and planning for things at the end of the week seems like such a big question mark. 

Keep her and our family in your du’aa.

To stay up-to-date on Mariam's mother's situation, visit their blog My Mother and I

October 20, 2011

Beautiful Reminders: Paradise by Any Gate You Wish

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him said: "When a woman observes the five times of prayer, fasts during Ramadan, preserves her chastity, and obeys her husband, she may enter by any of the gates of Paradise that she wishes." --Narrated by Anas ibn Malik, related in Tirmidhi

September 24, 2011

Umm Yusuf on Birthing Vaginally After Two Cesareans

Umm Yusuf is an American, currently living in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. She is a happy wife and homeschooling mother of three.

Ever since I was a young girl, I always knew that when I grew up I wanted to be a "mom." I loved children and wanted a handful. I wanted a home that was full of life and a mini-van filled with kids and all their soccer gear. The dream of a home filled with laughing, loving, smiling children was beginning to seem impossible.
And here is the story of my vba2c...

My first child was born via C-section at 35 wks. It all began when I went in for the normal monitoring of contractions and fetal heartbeat, and after 4 hours of monitoring doctors declared that my child was in fetal distress. He was not handling the contractions well, and his heartbeat was dropping significantly low and on two separate occasions they lost his heartbeat completely. Doctors rushed into the room and said I had to have an emergency C-section right then. I was terrified, I asked Allah to protect him and within fifteen minutes Yusuf was delivered. A few hours later, I was wheeled out of recovery and I was able to see and hold my son. Alhamdullilah, he is a healthy handsome 6-year-old today.

At the time I wondered what was the wisdom behind it and why was Allah putting me through this. I knew that Allah puts us through trials and sometimes may give us a thing that we perceive as bad, but in truth, if we have patience that trial is a blessing.  

Almost two years later, my husband and I were getting ready to welcome our second child into this world. I had everything set for a vbac, unfortunately I went into the doctor’s office on my due date and discovered my baby had turned. He was no longer head down, but breech. I wasn't in labor or having regular contractions but the doctors said it was in my best interest and my baby's if I just had another C-section. The doctors insisted that it wasn't a good idea to wait and see if the baby would turn again, because there may not be any time and that delivering a breech baby with a prior C-section was asking for uterine rupture. I wasn't well equipped with knowledge about vbacs and a breech presentation, and I let the doctors scare me into another C-section. Adam was delivered later that day, and again I was able to see and hold him a few hours later. Alhamdullilah, he is a healthy handsome 4-year-old today.

Fast forward to the last few nights of Ramadan in 2010, early one fajr morning I found out that Allah blessed my family again, and I was expecting my third child. My husband and I wanted this delivery to be different, we didn't want it to end with another C-section. So, we read up and we researched the birthing process, vbacs, and uterine rupture. We continued with the same healthcare provider we had with our other two children, but insisted that we would not being having another C-section unless myself or the baby's lives were in jeopardy.

I had a healthy pregnancy and my midwife said that I was definitely a possible candidate for a vba2c, but she needed to send me to an Obgyn specialist, who needed to approve of it as well. Alhamdullilah, I was the perfect candidate. (I had a healthy pregnancy, my age was under 35 yrs, my last pregnancy was over 36 months ago, a tendency to deliver small-average sized babies, the placenta was attached to posterior wall, a low transverse incision, etc. etc. etc.)

At 38 wks, I went in for extended monitoring at the hospital and sure enough a doctor and med students came in saying that my child was not reacting well to the minor contractions I was experiencing. My husband and I questioned the doctor over and over. What should be happening on the monitor? How should our baby's heartbeat react? Is she in danger? Her heartbeat was low and not experiencing any accelerations during a contraction. We explained to the doctors that it was likely due to the fact that I have been hooked up to the machines all morning with nothing to eat for the past few hours. The doctors pushed that we just have another C-section while my stomach was empty. We continued to question them about the fetal heartbeat. Is it stable? Is it normal? That was very important, if she was healthy and doing well, and her life was not in jeopardy than there was no reason we would opt for a C-section. The doctors said that the baby was indeed fine, and had a stable heartbeat. We weren't going to be bullied or forced into another C-section. We said we wanted to leave the hospital and after a couple of talks with the doctor and a little paperwork, we finally were able to leave.

During my ordeal at the hospital, my husband called our nearest natural home birthing center and arranged an appointment a few days later. We knew that there was no way that the hospital was going to adhere to our wish of a vaginal birth. All the doctors saw was my previous C-section history and a chance to educate their med students on the process. So, at 38 wks we decided a home water birth with Andaluz in Portland, OR was our best option. We had appointments about twice a week to get my new midwives up to speed with my pregnancy history.  We also had all the home birthing gear ready to go at our place since this baby was coming very soon. It was during these last few days while talking with my midwives that my apprehension about a natural birth was beginning to fade, and that I was realizing this was indeed something I truly wanted. 

This natural birth would end the cycle of C-sections I was having at the hospital. It would keep me away from all the risks that come with being repeatedly cut open. With a natural delivery, there would be nothing stopping me from having more children in the future if Allah willed. It was the answer to my prayers.

On my due date, my contractions started to really pick up and I was having them every 15 minutes. The next day, the contractions were 10 minutes apart and growing stronger. The following day, with very little sleep now, the contractions started to get even closer. I was following all my midwives instructions on how to ease the pain during this prolonged stage of early labor, and it was quite painful. It was early in the morning, before fajr, that I noticed the contractions were finally 6 minutes apart, it was time to call my midwives and have them come. I called my main midwife from Andaluz, she told me to stay strong and to call back when the contractions were 4 minutes apart, since my child was in the posterior position and my progression would be slow and steady. I hung up the phone. I was in a tremendous amount of pain. I was crying. I told my husband that I just couldn't do it. He encouraged me that I could do this, and that I didn't want to go back to the hospital and have them tell us some bogus reason why they would have to cut this baby out of me. I cried. I prayed. I asked Allah to help me.

In all cases we should be praying, but there are instances in life when there is nothing else you can do but pray. When Allah puts you in a difficult and painful situation, where all your trust is now in Him and all you can do is ask. And it is that asking and calling on Him that draws you nearer to Him. 

I tried to just slow down and think, but the contractions just kept coming and I was in pain. I called my mother and told her that I wasn't sure about the homebirth and that I wanted to head to the hospital because the pain was incredible. My mother understood, told me there are blessings in everything, and that maybe the hospital is a good idea. And then I told my husband that I couldn't bear the pain any longer and that I needed to go to the hospital. My husband hesitated and wanted to be sure that I understood exactly what I was saying. We both knew that if we left for the hospital now, that I would more than likely be having my last child cut out of me. I cried and thought about my dream of that home filled with tons of children, and then a contraction. The pain was so great that I asked to be taken to the hospital. On the ride to the hospital, I began to put all my trust in Allah and I prayed desperately that I'd be able to deliver this baby vaginally there. I prayed and I prayed.

We arrived at the hospital and my previous midwife was there, and she told me that there was an excellent vbac doctor and vbac staff on-call this morning. ALHAMDULILLAH!!! I was extremely happy to hear this and then thrilled when I realized it was an all female staff. ALHAMDULILLAH again!!!! My husband was also very relieved. And so I labored a few more hours at the hospital but with an epidural. The epidural worked wonders for the pain, and I was able to get some much needed rest. When I woke I began to make du'a to Allah that this delivery would go smoothly and she would come vaginally and be a healthy baby that would grow up to be a righteous beautiful muslimah inside and out. I made du'a to Allah about all the dreams I had for my family and this new little baby.

I remember reciting Surat al Mulk (Al-Qur'an: Chapter 67: The Dominion) over and over in the hospital room, it calmed my heart and helped me focus. I hold this sura very close to my heart now because I was constantly reciting it and memorizing it with my halaqa sisters while my little baby was growing in my womb and up until the day she came into this world. Inshallah, the sura will always remain there.  

"Blessed is He in Whose Hand is the dominion, and He is Able to do all things. Who has created death and life, that He may test which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving;  (Al-Qur'an, Surah Al Mulk, Ayahs 1-2) 

Here the verses are reminding us, that Allah is the Lord of all the creation, and that He is always in control of what happens. So regardless of what the doctors had to say, Allah is ultimately in control and that eased my worries. 

Everything was going smoothly and the vbac staff were pleased with all the progress the baby and I were making, and shortly afterwards I could feel the baby drop lower and lower. And when it was time to push, I pushed. 

I was doing it, I was having this baby vaginally. I was ending the cycle of C-sections. I will never forget the moment I pushed her out, and her being put onto my chest. I held her tightly and looked down, and all I could see was this cute little purple bottom. I kept saying "She is soo warm. She is soo warm." I will treasure that moment for the rest of my life, Sarah is my vba2c baby!!! Alhamdullilah, she is a healthy beautiful 4 month old little girl today.

I thank Allah for letting me deliver our little girl vaginally. It was such a wonderful experience. There is definitely wisdom in everything, and Allah truly is the best of planners. The fact that I did have the two C-sections prior really allows me to cherish this delivery so much more. And I feel that it was from this experience that I truly understood the concept of tawakkul. Tawakkul or putting all my trust in Allah is a concept that I feel resonates with my vba2c experience. Putting absolute trust in Allah and relying solely on Him, and realizing that the outcome (whether it is a vaginal birth or another C-section) is from Allah, and that there is always wisdom behind it.

"And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things." (Al-Qur'an, Surah At-Talaq, Verse 3)

Remember that trust in Allah must be accompanied with action. One must put sincere effort and strive to accomplish one's intentions but also trust that whatever Allah has decreed is of benefit to him or her. This baby  and my vba2c experience made me fully grasp the meaning of Tawakkul. I did all that I could to ensure that this baby was delivered vaginally by having a strict birthing plan where a C-section was not an option. I endured as much as I could, but ultimately AIlah is the best of planners.

This birth brought so many possibilities and blessings, and I discovered that I am very interested in midwifery, birthing rights, and educating mothers about asserting their rights in a modern day system that doesn't support them. If I had the time, I would definitely pursue an education in midwifery and try to help other mothers that are dealing similar situations.  

As mothers, we want the best for our children in this life and the hereafter. We will gladly give up our own freedoms and sacrifice for the sake of our children, but we also cannot neglect ourselves. We have to treat ourselves well, take care of ourselves physically, emotionally and above all spiritually. A third C-section is not a risk I wanted to take unless I knew it was the right thing to do. I encourage all pregnant women to do research and understand their rights when it comes to a C-section, and be aware of the benefits of a natural and vaginal birth over a C-section.  

Motherhood is definitely a miraculous journey. Carrying a child in one's womb for nine months and then being able to push it out and bring it into this world is a beautiful event. An event that can only reaffirm one's faith in Allah and His infinite ability/power. Motherhood also entails everything that comes afterwards, the nurturing and raising of that child in Islam and with manners and characteristics of our noble Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). I ask Allah to grant me guidance and patience to fulfill those obligations and rights to Him and my family, and to earn a place in Paradise. I cannot thank Him enough for my three children, and if Allah blesses my family with a fourth child, I pray that I will have the strength to bring that child into this world naturally.

“Say: Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our Protector: And on Allah let the believers put their trust.”(Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-Tawbah, Verse 51)

September 20, 2011

A Mother's Milk: Overcoming Sore Nipples

Umm Layth is an American mother of two, currently living in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She is a WHO/UNICEF Breastfeeding Counselor and a member of the Riyadh community breastfeeding support group, Circle of Nurturing.

Having sore nipples is never fun. It can be uncomfortable, tiresome, and if left unchecked, very painful. Unfortunately, it’s an ailment that many breastfeeding moms suffer from, even after weeks or months of pain-free nursing.

There are many reasons why a breastfeeding mother may experience soreness in the nipple area. In order to effectively remedy the problem, it’s important to identify the correct cause. You can try doing this on your own with the symptom guide below but don’t hesitate to contact your local breastfeeding counselor or La Leche League leader if you have any questions or need help.

Common Causes and Symptoms of Sore Nipples
Ineffective Latch
Soreness on one or both sides, pain and/or discomfort while nursing, baby doesn’t seem to be satisfied after feeds. Is baby in a good position to effectively suckle? Is baby trying to nurse in new positions?
Over Cleansing the Nipple Area
Dry or irritated skin at the nipple area before a feed, discomfort and/or pain while nursing. Are you washing your nipples before feeds?
Hormonal Changes
Increased sensitivity while nursing on one or both sides, soreness after a feed. Are you ovulating? Could you be pregnant? Does baby seem to suddenly dislike the taste of your milk?
Skin Irritation or Trauma to the Nipple Area
Soreness is usually on both sides, visible abrasions or irritation on the nipple and/or areola. Is baby teething? Are you using any new soaps, perfumes, or detergents? Has baby been playing with your nipple while nursing such as biting, pulling or scraping it with his teeth?
Soreness and pain that last throughout the feed, soreness and pain does not get better with improved latching, nipples itch and/or burn. Are there cracks or abrasions on the nipple area? Is your pain sudden after a period of pain-free nursing? Could you have a vaginal yeast infection? Is your baby showing symptoms of thrush (such as white patches in the mouth that can’t be scraped off, a diaper rash that doesn’t get better, excessive gassiness or fussing at the breast)?

If the cause is an ineffective latch, go back to the basics of latching and do what you can to get it right. Having a correct latch will not only make the nursing experience more comfortable for you, but it will allow your baby to get more milk out of the breast and be more satisfied, inshaAllah.

For a good latch, make sure the following things are happening:
1. Baby’s body is facing you with his face facing the breast.
2. Baby’s mouth opens wide to take the nipple and most of the areola into his mouth. When he latches, his chin should be touching the breast, both his lips should be flanged out like a fish, his cheeks should be rounded, and his nose should be close to the breast. As he feeds, you should be able to hear him swallowing and see his chin lowering and pausing as he takes in milk before he swallows.

Visit Dr. Jack Newman’s website for videos of good latching and drinking (Warning: videos contain partial nudity of breastfeeding mothers).

For dry and/or irritated skin, stop the use of any new soaps, lotions or detergents, especially those that you may have been applying to your breasts and/or nipple areas. Also, don’t worry about cleansing your nipples before a feed. Your body naturally secretes oil onto your nipple and areola area to keep the skin soft and supple for nursing. When you wash the nipples before feeding, you wash away that oil and dry out the skin unnecessarily.

For other irritations or trauma, check out these tips from on healing nipple cracks and abrasions.

If after trying these remedies, you still experience dry skin, try expressing a few drops of breastmilk and applying it onto the nipple and areola areas before feeds. Your breastmilk contains natural antibiotic properties that can provide relief, moisture, and healing to any damaged areas.

For hormonal changes, there isn’t much that you can do to remedy the situation other than ride it out. For many moms, increased sensitivity and soreness from ovulation or new pregnancies often subsides on its own. In the meantime, there are a couple of ways that you can make yourself and baby more comfortable.

1. Try nursing from the side that isn’t sore first.
2. After a feed, seek relief from the soreness by dabbing a bit of 100% lanolin cream to the nipple area after a feed. The lanolin will provide both soothing and healing for the skin of the nipple and areola. A little bit of lanolin goes a long way. 

For detailed questions about nursing during pregnancy, check out the Kellymom FAQ.

For thrush, the steps to remedy the situation will depend on how severe the infection is and whether it’s something only the mom suffers from, or both the mom and the baby. To identify which stage of thrush you may have, and for treatment options, see the Candida Protocol Sheet by Dr. Jack Newman