Surviving Birth

I wrote this as a submission for the “Dear Sister” Anthology, and though it wasn’t accepted it was still an excellent prompt and writing process for me. I look forward to reading the finished work–insha Allah–and encourage folks to check out Lisa’s site for information about the release as well as resources for healing and writing.

~~~Surviving Birth~~~

Like a cliché from a box office smash, during my first pregnancy I dragged the husband along to a child birthing class. If anything, I insisted, it would be good for him, though really I didn’t have much idea about how the whole laboring thing was going to work for me. By the end of the evening, the birthing instructor leaned against a table in front of the group with a plush toy pelvis resting in her hands. In a semi-circle around her sat eight couples, in various states of repose on firm cushions brought, as instructed, from our homes. We had just finished watching the Brazilian Birthing video in which a seemingly endless number of women labor semi-squatting, leaning on a bar not unlike the one I used to do cherry drops from in grade school. One after another the women approach the bar, lean into it, and birth their baby either into their own hands or the soft pile of blankets on the floor. I was exhausted. And mildly nauseous, and a little hungry and yet still having a ping of indigestion. This was my first pregnancy and I was keenly sensitive to ever minute change occurring in and on my body. I had heat rash in December and another weird rash on my eyelids which made them look dusted with pink shadow. Not a cute look for me. Pregnancy was all consuming; it was all I felt and all I thought about.

The instructor had just asked the group “What do you expect of your labor?” While waiting for my turn to respond I was desperately trying to find something to expect. I hadn’t thought as far ahead as labor. While some of the couples had a great deal to say, all I could hear in my head was “I expect to live” and finally, when my turn came, that is what I said. I expect to live. After an epic pause of silence in which I was studied from head to toe by a room full of strangers, the instructor asked me to elaborate. All I could explain was, “With all the medical technology and stuff, I expect to live.” My husband has my loyal love for even less eloquently grunting out in his turn, “Well, uh, yeah. That.”

What I didn’t expect was to puke. I started puking with the first notable signs of labor–which was simply stronger contractions than the little ones which I had been having for days—and I continued vomiting for hours. My water broke, or later I would find out “partially broke,” but when and how much I wasn’t sure because I was so preoccupied with puking. I had been told to try to eat before coming in to deliver, so I dutifully had my favorite take-out and regretfully puked that right back up. I puked in the car and at the intake and for hours in the labor room and finally after so very long my midwife went against the implicit instructions on my birth plan and told me that she could give me something for the nausea but it would have to be intravenous.

In-between the laboring and the birthing classes, I finally admitted to myself that I would have to go through the actual labor process. There just wouldn’t be an easy way to avoid that. And so I began voraciously reading everything I could find about labor. For the last two months of my pregnancy I read fast and constantly. I spent my evenings online, my days sneaking peeks at books I bought from the big box next to work, and on the train after each prenatal appointment I would read everything that my midwives gave me to take home. I read somewhere that it was a good thing to make a birth plan ahead of time as I would be distracted during the labor process. Care providers could refer to the plan rather than disturb me or force me to make a decision hastily. So I did that and I wrote in it that I didn’t want drugs and not to offer me any incase I should buckle. Perhaps I would have reconsidered my rigid stance had I known that anti-nausea meds may be needed, but in my self-led crash course on What to Expect in Labor I hadn’t read about puking.

In all the reading I did for my labor preparation, I never read anything specific to how being a sex-abuse survivor could affect my labor. In hindsight that makes perfect sense. I was freaked about laboring, but I couldn’t tell you why—because I was freaked out. But now, a dozen years and a few more kids later, I can tell you what was freaking me about anticipating labor. I knew there was going to be a lot of pain and that it would be centered around my vagina. I knew that there was a looming date fast coming up in which things were going to happen to my body that I felt I had no control over. I was particularly worried about the ambiguous “pushing thing” that was about to happen and I foresaw it in my mind as a scene with a room full of blue and white coated people screaming at me to “Push! Push! Push!” Yeah, that could be enough to freak out someone who has previously experienced some form of sexual assault or abuse.

In the years since that labor, my many care providers have given me a whole lot of information related to pregnancy. I’ve been given handouts about the effects of coffee and cat poop on pregnant women and fetuses. I’ve been give information about how to prepare my perennial tissue and my vaginal muscles. I’ve been given fact sheets about the dangers of tuna fish, soft cheeses and vaccinations. But I have never given a handout that told me, “If you are a sex abuse survivor, it is likely that your prior experience may affect you during labor.”

That shouldn’t be such an implausible thing. I remember being given Xerox copies of stuff that really didn’t interest or concern me and being told, “Oh, you can just pass it on to a pregnant friend.” As much as I think that is a little obnoxious, I also think that maybe some of that stuff was important for me to read and my midwives were optimistic that I might get to it later. How about if they did that for survivors? Considering that up to one out of three women have been sexually abused at some point in their lives, and the probability of a pregnant women having been abused is one out of four, so then it shouldn’t be such a big deal to include in our little bundle packs some information about how sexual abuse can affect the emotional and physical state of a laboring woman. Puking in labor is thought to have a high correlation to sex abuse survivors. By the time I was ready to have my second baby I had learned that with the help of my friend Google. And I am so thankful that I did have a birth plan as I have also learned that for some survivors the labor process can be so distracting or disturbing that they concede all decisions to their care providers, who may not make the best choices for the laboring woman. I also learned about “crowning” and feeling for my baby’s head before I began to push.

Between that first and second baby, I read about sex abuse and how it can effect laboring from first-person survivor narratives, in midwife and medical journals, and on message boards. At a less frenzied pace, I have continued to add to my knowledge of pregnancy and labor as I continue to have kids. I am now one of those people who can breezily say about my last birth that “it was really fabulous.” Even though the nausea medicine that worked for labors #2 and #3 only helped a little, still, each birth has gotten easier and better for me both emotionally and physically. While I continue waiting for that handout—for me or a friend—I have learned so much from other survivors and about the birth process that nearly nothing about it seems ambiguous or frightening to me, not the pain, not the loss of control, and not the reminders to push when I already know when and how to do so. I have survived five births and two miscarriages.

Show Me the Daleel

Since I mentioned it, I am incumbent to demonstrate the proofs: Is Whistling Haram? Well, google is showing me that lots of folks believe it is haram for varing reasons (“My auntie told me not to whistle in the bathroom. . . . “I told my brother whistling is haram and he wants the proof”), but I’m not finding much by way of daleel. So I hate to ask, and know it is in bad form, but if anyone has anything more specific that maybe isn’t available online-please share. Otherwise this is one view that it is disliked, though I have seen others say it is haram for this reason and it isn’t the reason that I was thinking made it haram):

Shaykh al-Islam said in al-Fataawa (11/569):

“I know that in the ‘golden age’, the first and best three centuries, in the Hijaaz, in Syria, in the Yemen, in Egypt, in the Maghreb, in Iraq, in Khorasan, none of the religious and righteous people, the ascetics and those who worshipped Allaah much, would gather to listen to this whistling and clapping and drum-beating and so on. This was innovated after that at the end of the second century, and whenever the imaams saw it, they denounced it.”

both clapping and whistling are disliked

“Their Salaah (prayer) at the House (of Allaah, i.e. the Ka‘bah at Makkah) was nothing but whistling and clapping of hands”

[al-Anfaal 8:35]

The Standing Committee was asked about men clapping when they play with children, or children clapping to encourage their classmates. They replied:

This clapping is not appropriate, and at the very least it is intensely makrooh because this is one of the characteristics of the jaahiliyyah, and because it is something that is done only by women, to draw attention to a mistake in the prayer. And Allaah is the Source of strength.

From Fataawa Islamiyyah, vol. 4, p. 332-333

Children can be encouraged by saying ‘Allaahu akbar’ if they do something that the watcher or listener likes, or one may use other suitable phrases, or raise one’s hands, or raise one’s voice in words of praise such as “Well done!” or “Excellent!” and so on. And Allaah is the Source of strength.


Typical Unschooling Day: Making Pretzels

We made our pretzels last week and they looked nothing like the beautiful, pristine picture below. Well, the first batch was very close, but I’ll get to that in a second. So, the day started out as planned the previous day, followed by a good-sized big blow out amongst some adults, a crying child and 24 hours of angst.

Someone else's beautiful pretzel from allrecipes, click pic for link.

The “planning” had been part of my working a lot lately on helping the kids to recognize time and better plan their days now that they are doing more complicated projects that can take several days/weeks to complete. We are also beefing up people’s chores and responsibilities and living in a small multi-generational home and so people need to be aware of other people’s time, space and needs, such as X always makes ghusul for jummah at Y time on Friday mornings so it’s good for people to recognize when is Friday morning and not try to be using all the hot water then! I’ve got a couple of visual aides (*wink) on the fridge and will try to get pics of those when I find my image software stuff, iA.

Anyway. Yes, I am one of those unschoolers that unschools everything but—the but being Arabic/Quran studies. Language studies has been something we have struggled with for years. See, I have been trying to get The Hub to teach Arabic to the kids (and that naturally involves reciting Quran) because he does speak and read Arabic, but the thing is—it’s not his first language or even his second language. And for some reason that has been very hard for me to grasp until living here and recognizing that Arabic is not the first (or second) language spoken in his family’s home. So whilst I have been nagging him (a horrible habit I am trying to drop) to speak to the kids in Arabic, because you know that is the best way for kids or anyone to learn language, he has been doing the best he can by teaching them to read it when he has had the time to do so. So I have two kids who can phonetically read Arabic, but don’t have much if any vocab.

After a few months break while The Hub was away we are now ready to resume Arabic/Quran studies with The Boys. And in trying to do that fresh start/clean slate/turn the page/begin the begin thing, we talked a lot on pretzel-making eve about how and when we were going to do it before we began doing it and then somehow that all got tossed and we were right back to yelling and crying. Gah. New habits ARE hard to form!

As much as I wanted everyone to cease and dismiss immediately, I have been working on my control issues and I have learned that in the moment is not the best time. I was angry, he was angry, the kids were—well one kid was crying and one kid seemed to be enjoying his brother’s discomfort—so I walked away. This dragged out for a total of about three to four hours and then their little “session” disbanded and everyone was on to other things, except the anger, resentment and hostility were still there—oh here’s where I should mention that it was the day before Ashura and we were fasting and I had to exclaim “I’m fasting, I’m fasting, I’m fasting” several times that day.

Amidst much whining and huffing we began making pretzels. Now, I practice “fake it til you make it” which in this case meant that I was pretending like I was Betty Crocker and didn’t want to stab people, but not only does The Hub hate it when I do this, the kids have started commenting too that I seem to be “enjoying” everyone’s pain and discomfort. So I very, very briefly explained that I was not happy with current events in the house and I could act like an angry bitch or I could whistle while I work!! Not literally of course because I never learned to whistle and it’s haram anyway.

Back to pretzel making. Oh. Two of the boys were sent out for flour and butter. I hate this. I like to have my supplies on hand, cuz ya know, see above where I talk about time and space constraints. Though I tried to be prepared, someone else(s) does the shopping, so the stuff wasn’t here, kids went to get it, this cut into kitchen time and now we are making pretzels while another displeased-to-be-sharing-the-kitchen and fasting adult is trying to make pancakes for iftar. Actually, two trips to the store had to be made. Remember, “I’m fasting, I’m fasting, I’m fasting.”

The kids have baked with me a lot—I was both a baker and a children’s art facilitator long before being a mom so I’m pretty good at some of the technical stuff, alhumdiAllah—so the actual mixing, rolling, patting and all that is pretty easy and fun. I only work with two kids at a time because that is as outnumbered as I can handle in the kitchen with boiling water (we did the float method for the pretzels, it’s described in the second comments of the recipe which can be found by clicking on the picture above) and knives and exactish measuring and stuff. So I had two bowls of dough mixed, swapped those kids out to form the first batch after it rose, at one point another kid snuck in and got their hands all messy and got yelled at and got thrown back out, and then I was boiling formed pretzels and “slipping them onto a greased pan” while older kid was showing younger kid how to “roll and twist” and that’s when the butagas ran out.

Unschooling like a well oiled machine run by a raccoon.

Butagas translates to “camping gas.” Our gas for our stove is not piped in, we have to go to the corner store and ask for a big tank to be delivered whenever we run out. We could be one of those families that keeps a second tank on hand so that we never run out, but *cough, cough*…so, anyway. The pancakes were just finished, I have three dozen pretzels READY to go into the oven, another batch of dough being formed, and the butagas runner and I have not been communicating for a few hours and though I try, I cannot get an answer to my demand, “Are we going to get butagas RIGHT NOW!?” The air is thick. Basically, what happened is-the husband didn’t want to go get it, the son didn’t want to go get it because it is a complicated task to maneuver on limited language skills, the son finally went to go get it but came back empty handed, the husband went to go get it and was gone for a very long time and it turns out that no butagas was delivered anywhere in the city today WHICH IS UNHEARD OF, but before the running had begun I already spilled over, threw a tantrum and huffed off to play with the baby (she is so cute and generous with her sadiqa smiles, masha Allah) and I had left all the pretzels where they lay. Many little voices were chirping in the background about “The pretzels, the pretzels and the butagas.”

A couple hours later I went back to the kitchen to try to salvage the mess. The formed pretzels, though not as beautifully shaped as the ones below,  still looked ready to pop in the oven, so I shoved them in the freezer—after moving aside a ton of lamb and goat leftover from eid. The pre-boiled pretzels and unshaped dough were huge, mutinous blobs that I ultimately shoved into the fridge to worry about later—and just then the butagas arrived. So, after heating the oven we baked off the first two trays and then I “transferred” the blobs to the baking sheets and we called this “an experiment” because that is what homeschoolers do. We experiment and we persist. And sometimes we have great success. If you closely follow my methodology here for pretzel making, you will see how that second batch came out exactly like rustic, artisan $5-8 a loaf (depending on where you live) pugliese bread. Delicious with butter, olive oil or homemade chocolate spread!

The husband and I did finally communicate the next day (the day after pretzel making)—in private. And we are still tinkering with our method for Arabic/Quran—one thing we agree on is that Islam is perfect and it shouldn’t be painful to learn it!!! Oh, and since no one bought any bread (a staple in Morocco!!!) for suhoor, alhumdiAllah, we had our delicious pretzel pugliese to eat before a day of fasting on Ashura.

Oh, and we started to dip the buttered pretzels into cinnamon sugar (which the four year old always enjoys making) but then quickly ditched that when I realized that I didn’t need to end the day with sugared-up kids! We have also brushed them with herbed/garlic butter–yum!–plain ole salt and you can sprinkle cheese on them just before baking too. Insha Allah I am going to try to learn how to make cheese dip soon–and maybe I will share my findings with you 🙂

Letting Go of More Reluctance

"Bismillah Sculpture" by Shahida Ahmed (carved cube that reads "Bismillah" click image to see more from the 2010 Global Peace and Unity Islamic Art Exhibit

Bismillah al Rahman al Raheem

Something I would really like to start writing and talking more about here is some of the unschooling stuffs my family does, not just activities but also some of the process stuff we go through. There are several reasons I have been reluctant to share/discuss this aspect of myself and my family–so let’s start there 🙂

No doubt a big ole deterant is the over arching negativity thrown at homeschoolers and my not needing anymore negativity hurled at me for any of the various choices I have made in my life–there are so many areas of my life (homebirthing, home-educating, being Muslim, living overseas, staying-at-home, not vaccinating on schedule, not giving my kids much milk, preferring cotton clothes and natural fiber toys, allowing my boys to play with dolls, allowing my daughter to be shirltess and so on and on) that become subject to judgement and attack that I didn’t feel complelled to open a blog account and attract more. So, I’ll just delete any such spamminess as it may come up. 😉

Another couple reasons I have been hesitant to “publicly” discuss our processes kind of go hand in hand–the appearance of showing off and also my not wanting to contribute to this sort of picture perfect Happy Productive Homeschoolers stuffs which you can see so much of on the web. I think a lot of those latter type–Cleaver Homeschoolers–may actually be hurting some of us, so maybe I am attempting here to counter act some of that. And of course if you breath a hint of some of the struggles of home-educating your kids, the negativity anti-homeschoolers are so ready to jump in and scream at you to throw in the towel.

But it has been during times of searching–not do to self-doubt as I continually pray and ask for guidance about home-educating and I always feel very confident that it is the best choice for my family, *snort* my kids refuse to “get on the yellow bus” anyway, so I guess I’m stuck with them–anyhoo it has been during difficult times and not even so much difficult but also just adjusting and redesigning our style(s) that I have found so much help on the web through blogs, websites and private groups–and that is why I have decided to start talking here about our experiences more, so as to pay it forward so to say–insha Allah/God willing.

And of course now that I have decided to go public I can’t find the freakin software disc I need to download the pictures off my cell phone. :/ Bismillah.

My Hijrah Diary in SISTERS Magazine

I’ve been meaning to tell ya’ll that my Hijrah Diary is being chronicled in SISTERS magazine (The Magazine for Fabulous Muslim Women). It started up in November and should run for several months insha Allah. Here’s a lil’ excerpt from last month:

January 27:  We have 840+lbs of luggage allotment—nearly a ton! — and I can’t decide whether to take the bake ware or not. And I still don’t know if we will be living in the north or south and whether or not to pack for winter or spring! I HATE stuff. If Hassan asks me one more time “not to take too much, but be sure to take ____”, I’m going to a mountain top with my sheep BY MYSELF! Well, I’ll take the baby too, of course. And I’m so mad at myself for being attached to all this glittery distraction, though the bake ware is hardly glittery anymore. I know almost all of it is available there. And if it’s not, then surely I don’t need it because Moroccans don’t need it. Right? Except for the kids’ paperbacks. I need those. And the half dozen books about and by Muslim women that I have bought and not yet read. And the Legos which I can’t afford to replace there. And my mini Pampered Chef spatula. AstagfirAllah.

Really, I know it’s not about stuff. I finally cried a bit today and I couldn’t blame it all on hormones. And I can’t blame it all on stuff.  The reality is that I’m leaving home and I feel like a big baby about it.

SISTERS went monthly last month (congrats Sisters!) and are regularly adding new content to their site, where you can read some articles, so check them (us!) out.