January 31, 2011

Aisha Al-Hajjar on Birthing Naturally

Aisha Al-Hajjar is an American-born Bradley Method® Childbirth Educator/Lecturer, Bradley® Labor/Birth Doula, columnist, blogger, and natural mom of eight. She currently lives and works in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  

What is birthing naturally? 
The term “natural birth” was coined by obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read in his book, “Natural Childbirth,” in the 1930s.  In today’s medical birth culture, natural can simply mean vaginal, rather than cesarean.  For me, natural means more than this, it means trusting Allah (SWT) and allowing ourselves to birth as we were created to do.  Birthing as Eve and Maryam (may Allah be pleased with them) must have done…completely drug free, without medical intervention or procedure.  This does not mean homebirth, although I love homebirth; rather to me, it means finding a birth attendant and birth place that will watch over you for complications and allow you to calmly birth without interventions so long as everything is going well.  This involves learning how to cope with labor and birth with natural pain management techniques as well as the physiology of labor so that the woman works with her body, rather than against it at this critical time.

Why did you decide to birth naturally?
All eight of my births have been drug-free, natural births, alhamdulelah.  My first five births were before I’d ever even heard of Islam.  Yet I somehow knew that my body had been created to birth and feed my babies.  Intuitively I knew that the drugs and interventions offered at the hospital would only complicate an event that was perfectly designed to be experienced naturally, subhanallah.

What are the different ways a woman can birth naturally (i.e. at home, in a hospital, etc)?
Natural birth can be experienced in any setting.  Of course, the less medical the environment, the less likely a woman will be pushed or encouraged to allow medical process into the event.  Having a supportive birth attendant is paramount.  But even without such support, a calm and confident mother who is able to be strong in advocating for herself and her baby can accomplish her birth goals, insha’Allah.

Unfortunately, there are no birth centers in Saudi and with homebirth there is the hassle of securing birth documentation afterwards.  My last baby was born at home, alhamdulelah, and only my husband was present to assist me.  It took us four months to get her birth certificate, but we did get it, alhamdulelah.

In your experience, what are some of the greatest obstacles women face when they attempt to birth naturally and how can these obstacles be overcome?
In my opinion, the woman is her own biggest obstacle to completely natural birth.  Unfortunately, in the medical birthing culture that exists today, most women just go to the hospital and turn their bodies over to medical process like a car to the mechanic.  Doctors are used to women who seek to be “rescued” from their births.  Rarely, if ever, do they see a woman who took the time to get educated and prepared (physically, mentally, and emotionally) for her birth.  It takes trust in Allah (SWT) and HIS perfect design of our bodies to calmly and confidently ignore the media’s portrayal of birth as a medical emergency and let the process work naturally.

What are the risks of birthing naturally?
Birth is never without risk, subhanallah.  But frankly, the routine and elective medical procedures we are given (and often ask for) set up a chain of unnatural birthing that require even more medical interventions to manage.
There is far greater risk in any procedure initiated by well-intentioned medical staff than in allowing the natural process to unfold.  This is assuming there are not real complications (about 90% of births would be without complications if left alone) and the woman has learned how to cope naturally with her pain and how to work with, rather than against her own body during labor and birth.

What are the benefits of birthing naturally?
First of all, it’s safer than medically interfering in the process.  Secondly, if we avoid starting elective procedures (pain meds, routine IV, fetal monitoring, inductions, etc) we also avoid the domino effect that these procedures often times cause.

For me, the greatest benefit is the recovery time.  Mothers who are able to birth without any medical interventions usually feel great after the birth, when it counts most.  As compared to women who have undergone procedures and taken medications, who are often miserable, nauseas, and need time to heal and recover.

Personally, I am up and about within two hours after delivery, alhamdulelah.  I feel great and I am joyfully caring for my infant.  I also advocate for delayed umbilical cord clamping to ensure that my baby’s blood is returned to his/her body, rather than lost in the cord when cut quickly.  My baby, who was not subjected to narcotic medications or abnormally strong contractions (brought on by induction or labor speeding drugs) is alert and active and nurses within one minute of birth.  In my opinion, this is what makes it all worthwhile.

To whom would you recommend natural birthing and why? 
I recommend natural birth to any woman who has the confidence and determination to learn and prepare for it.  This does not mean birthing without the watchful eye of experienced birthing professionals.  Complications, although rare, may require the skilled hands of rescuers for mothers and babies in need.  My advice is to prepare for normality until true abnormality strikes.  In this way, we maintain a balance between nature and technology and only employ procedure when truly needed.

To whom would you NOT recommend natural birthing and why?
I cannot recommend natural birth for women who have no interest in preparing for their birth and who do not believe in their body's design and ability to birth naturally.  I feel sad for such women, but not everyone is able to ignore the media portrayal of birth as an emergency, nor see past the hospitals’ and medical communities’ views of birth as a business.

What has natural birthing taught you?
Alhamdulelah, the miracle of natural birth is really a confirmation of my trust in Allah (SWT).  HE is the perfect designer and creator of our bodies and our ability to carry, birth, and feed our babies.

What advice can you give to women who may be scared to try natural birthing?
Seek as much information as you can.  There are tons of resources on the internet, alhamdulelah.  If they can find childbirth classes (I offer such classes in Riyadh), enroll and go to all the classes offered.  Enlist someone to be their coach (husband is my preference, but mother/sister/aunt work well too).  Hire a doula to assist them during their labor and birth; doulas have a lot of knowledge and can help the woman understand the process and decipher the medical world of birthing during the heat of the moment.  Discuss their preferences with their doctor well ahead of time to ensure that he/she will support their choices in birth.  Don’t wait to the last minute and don’t be afraid to change doctors or birthplace if they are not satisfied with the support they will receive.

Any final comments?
Obviously, natural, non-medicated birth was the way of Mother Eve (may Allah be pleased with her) and all women until just this past century.  Knowing this fact, I can confidently state that natural, non-medicated birth is Sunnah, as this is all there was at the time of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him).  Many medical procedures save lives, alhamduelah, but in the end, it’s all Qadr Allah and regardless of where we are or what we plan, HE is the master planner.  If our births are meant to go smoothly they will, if they aren’t they won’t, subhanallah. Trust Allah, tie your camels with education, preparation, and  birth where you feel safest (be it home or the hospital).  May Allah bless us all with healthy easy pregnancies and births and may our babies be pleasing to HIM and his/her parents…Ameen.

To read more from Aisha Al-Hajjar, visit her blog at www.saudibirthstory.blogspot.com and her Motherhood column on Saudi Life at www.saudilife.net/motherhood 

January 27, 2011

Sunnah of Childcare: Seeking Protection

MashaAllah, parents go to great lengths to try and protect their children. They stake out neighborhoods for potentially dangerous elements, interview school yard friends to weed out negative influences, and cover every sharp corner of the house in plastic to lessen the hurt from the falls their children may take.

But in this great effort to provide protection, a parent's ability can only go so far. After all, we're only human. And as humans, we can never know what the future will bring or what dangers of the unseen lie waiting for us. To truly protect our children from the evils of this world, both seen and unseen, we must continuously seek the aid of Allah, azza wa jal. Like the Prophet, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam taught, "Wa laa hawla wa laa quwwata 'illaa billaah." There is no power and no might except by Allah.--Ahmad, with an authentic chain

In the Qur'an, we are given examples of believers supplicating to Allah for their children's protection and right upbringing. In Surah Al-Imran, we are told of the dua'a that the mother of Maryam made.

"Then when she gave birth to her child (Maryam), she said: 'O My Lord! I have given birth to a female child,'--and Allah knew better what she brought forth,--'And the male is not like the female, and I have named her Maryam (Mary), and I seek refuge with You (Allah) for her and for her offspring from Shaitan (Satan), the outcast."--3:36

In Surah Ibrahim, Allah tells us how Prophet Ibrahim, alayhi salaam, sought refuge for his sons' safety and adherence to the religion:
"And remember when Ibrahim said: 'O My Lord! Make this city (Mecca) one of peace and security, and keep me and my sons away from worshiping idols.'" --14:35

"O my Lord! Make me one that establishes the prayer, and (also the same) for my offspring, our Lord, and accept my invocation." --14:40

Prophet Zakariyya, alayhi salaam, also sought Allah's aid in raising his children:
"He says: 'My Lord! Grant me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You, and make my offspring good. Truly, I have turned to you in repentance, and truly I am one of the Muslims." --46:15

From the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, we see that he sought refuge in Allah for his two grandsons, Hasan and Husayn. It's recorded in both Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet used to supplicate, saying: "I seek refuge in Allah for the two of you through the perfect words of Allah from every devil and poisonous pest, and from every evil (envious) eye." 

MashaAllah, such beautiful examples from the best of believers in Allah. Alhamdulilah that Allah gave us the ability to do what we can for our children, so inshaAllah we'll continue buying the knee pads, the play mats, and bicycle helmets. But let us also never forget that there is no power and no might except by Allah.

Wa laa hawla wa laa quwwata 'illaa billaah. 

January 24, 2011

Sunnah of Childcare: Showing Mercy

SubhanAllah, as mothers, it's in our nature to love and nurture our children. Often times, the responses we give to our children are more motherly instinct than anything else. But if we reflect, renew our intention, and follow the example of our beloved Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, we can easily turn those everyday actions into actions of mercy and, inshaAllah, be rewarded for it too. 

Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Messenger of Allah, salallahu 'alayhi wa salam, kissed Al-Hasan while Al-Aqra ibn Haabis at-Tameemee was sitting near him.  Al-Aqra said, "Indeed I have ten children and I have never kissed any of them."  The Messenger of Allah looked at him and said,  "Whoever does not show mercy will not be shown mercy." --Saheeh al-Bukhaari, 426/10

Merciful Act #1: Kissing Your Child
'Aa'ishah, radiAllahu anha, said that a Bedouin man came to the Prophet, salallahu alayhi wa salam, and  said, "You (people) kiss the children and we do not kiss them."  So the Prophet said, "Is there anything that I can do once Allah has removed mercy from your heart?" --Saheeh Al-Bukhari 426/10

'Umayr ibn Ishaaq said, "I was with Al-Hasan ibn 'Alee when we met with Aboo Hurayrah who said, "Show me where I might kiss you in the place where I saw the messenger of Allah kiss."  He replied, "Al-Qameesah" (shirt or upper garment), He said, "So he kissed the front of his stomach."  --Ahmed with a hasan chain

Merciful Act#2: Carrying Your Child in Prayer
Abu Qataadah said that the Prophet, salallahu 'alaihi wa sallam, came out to us with Umaamah bint Abeel-'Aas on his shoulders.  Then he prayed.  When he bowed, he placed her on the ground and when he rose from bowing, he lifted her back off the ground." --Saheeh Al-Bukhaari

On the authority of Abu Shaddaad, from his father, who said that the Prophet, salallahu 'alaihi wa sallam, came out to us for one of the 'ishaa prayers carrying Hasan and Husayn.  The Messenger of Allah stepped forward and set them both down.  Then he prayed and prostrated between their backs a single prostration that was lengthy.  My (Abu Shaddaad's) father said, 'Then I raised my head and the child was on the back of the Messenger of Allah while he was prostrating.  I then returned to my prostration.'  So once the Messenger of Allah had completed his prayer, the people said, 'O Messenger of Allah, certainly you have prostrated between two backs in your prayer.  Certainly the length of this prostration led us to believe that something had happened or that revelation had decended upon you.'  He, salallahu 'alaihi wa sallam, said, 'None of that occured, rather this child moved around me and I didn't wish to disturb him until he had finished.'  -- collected in An-Nasaa'ee, authenticated by Shaykh Muqbil

Merciful Act #3: Playing With Your Child
Umm Khaalid bint Khaalid ibn Sa'eed said, "I came to the Messenger of Allah, salallahu 'alaihi wa sallam, along with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt.  The messenger of Allah said, 'Sanah, sanah!' (this means 'good' in the ethiopian langauge)  Umm Khaalid further said, 'Then I started playing with the seal of Prophethood.  My father admonished me, but the Messenger of Allah said (to my father) 'Leave her.'  The Messenger of Allah then addressed me saying, 'Ablee wa akhliqee, thumma ablee wa akhliqee, thumma ablee wa akhliqee.' (Trans. note: This phrase 'ablee wa akhliqee' is used by the arabs to supplicate for an extended life.  Its meaning could be conveyed in the following expression: 'May you live so long that your garments become worn and ragged.')  So she (Umm Khaalid) remained this way until (this supplication for her became actualized and subsequently) she would be mentioned by the people," meaning that she would remain until her garments became old and ragged. --Saheeh Al-Bukhaari 425/10

Merciful Act #4: Placing a Child in Your Lap
'Usaamah ibn Zayd said that the Messenger of Allah, salallahu 'alaihi wa sallam, used to take me and place me on his thigh and he would place al-Hasan ibn 'Alee on his other thigh, then he would come close to us and say, "Oh Allah!  Please be merciful to them, for indeed, I am merciful to them." --Saheeh Al-Bukhaari 434/10

Note: All cited information provided in this post was taken from the English translation of Umm 'Abdillah Al-Waadi'iyyah's book, My Advice to the Women. You can find the original online posting of this article entitled, Showing Mercy Towards Children is a Means of Achieving the Mercy of Allah at http://abdurrahman.org/

January 23, 2011

Sunnah of Childcare: Playing with Children

Ok, so I haven't been a mom for very long. But it doesn't take very long to learn that our children want our attention. They want to be held, hugged, kissed, talked to, tickled, and played with. But for us moms, it's easy to get bogged down with other things to do. And while a simple solution may be to plop our children in front of a television screen, leave them alone in their car seats, or hand them off to the nanny, I say get down and PLAY!

"...Do not trivialize the act of playing with children for you will be clashing against their natures and the dispositions upon which they were created. Instead, participate with them in their games. Play with them and have fun with them to the point that they love you, enjoy your company and heed your advice and guidance." --'Abdus-Salaam bin 'Abdillah As-Sulaymaan from his book, Raising Children in Light of the Qur'aan and Sunnah.

The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was a very busy man. He was a Prophet, a teacher, an imam, a community leader, a husband, a father, and so much more, mashaAllah. Yet even he made time to play with children.

Abu Hurairah said: "The Messenger of Allah would stick his tongue out to Al-Husayn bin 'Alee, so the boy would see the redness of his tongue and become ecstatic." --Sahih of Ibn Hibbaan

'Umar said: "I saw the Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn on the shoulders of the Prophet, so I said, 'What an excellent steed you two have below you.' And the Messenger of Allah said, 'And what excellent riders they are!'" --Al-Haithamee

MashaAllah, what a beautiful sunnah playing with children is and what power it can have in building our child's affections and trust for us. Playtime can also be prime learning time for our children. For babies, playing simple games such as stacking blocks or rolling a ball around can help a child understand important concepts like cause and effect, and build essential skills like hand-eye coordination. For older children, games can be a fun way to teach moral values like tawakkul (trust in Allah), honesty, and sharing.

So the next time our child is flashing that wide, two-toothed grin, or tugging at our abaya for attention, let's just put what we're doing to the side for a few moments, get in touch with our inner child, and indulge in some quality playtime. Not only will our child be happier, but we just might be too.

January 22, 2011

Opening Short Story

I suppose I could have started this blog off by jumping on the attack of Amy Chua bandwagon, but I decided to share a short story from the life of the Prophet Muhammad instead. Enjoy!

'Abdullah bin Al-Haarith, radiAllahu Anhu, said: "The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, would line up the children 'Abdullah, 'Ubaidullah and Katheer, of the Tribe of 'Abbaas and say to them: 'Race towards me, and whosoever reaches me first will get something (i.e. as a reward).' So they would race towards him and jump on his back and front and he, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, would kiss and hug them." --Reported by Ahmad in al-Musnad (3/335, no 1836)