this morning i woke up in so much turmoil over the broken heart of our planet. i found an email from one of my colleagues in my inbox asking me to explain what is happening. i became a muslim almost 25 years ago and spent many years delving deep into my religion to understand it and also break apart the illogical things i was seeing and hearing amongst some of my community. i wrote the following response and i want to share it with more than one woman. i need to do something positive every day right now alongside my prayers for humanitys healing. i believe the birthkeeper has always been and will always be also the earthkeeper – we have to be involved in peace keeping.
This article originally appeared in the Scottish Herald – saturday 21st february 2009 and was written by the very talented Vicky Allan
Should you rush back to work after childbirth? Vicky Allan talks to those who prefer to take this post-natal business lying down
WHEN the French justice minister, Rachida Dati, returned to work five days after a caesarean section, she triggered a savage debate.
The impetus to get back in action quickly after childbirth is a relatively new one. Throughout history most cultures have practised the opposite: a period of “confinement” in which the new mother is looked after by family and community, often away from men, fed certain foods and nursed through the early weeks after giving birth. “These customs,” says Tina Cassidy, “were meant to facilitate bonding, establish good breastfeeding practices, ensure that the baby thrived, that the mother recovered and the newborn was kept removed from potentially dangerous diseases.”
Even now, women in much of the world still follow the practice. Here in Scotland, however, it is rarely entertained as a possibility, though a friend of mine was advised by her midwife to remain in bed for 15 days after giving birth to her second child, ringing a bell whenever she needed anything. “Allow yourself to be treated like a queen,” she was told. “It will be your last opportunity given you now have two children.”
Edinburgh childbirth educator Nicola Goodall went further following the births of three of her four children. Goodall, who converted to Islam at the age of 23, opted to follow the traditional Muslim 40-day confinement period. During that time, she tried not to leave the house and succumbed only twice: when she had to take her daughter to hospital and to buy a nursing bra. Other people took her children to school. Friends brought her soup and shopping. Her husband took over many household jobs.
“I would spend as much time as I could in bed for as long as possible. Then I would spend as much time as I could sitting around reading. It was like a honeymoon, the babymoon that Sheila Kitzinger the social anthropologist, writer and childbirth campaigner talks about. Relaxing, eating well and just spending time looking at the baby,” she explains.
This practice isn’t so far from what might have been the norm in Scottish culture a century ago. The oral history book, Scottish Midwives, records the experiences of midwives and “howdies”, the uncertified midwives or “handywomen” who were their precursors and often spent around four weeks in a mother’s home, helping out with chores.
“We had to try and keep the mothers in bed,” said Margaret Foggie, who conducted postnatal home visits in Glasgow in the 1930s. “We would tell the husband to remember the wife was not well, so run the messages and look after the weans’.” Annie Kerr generally stayed with mothers for around two weeks after the birth, and described having “sic a shock” when one woman got up to pick up her baby while she was baking in the kitchen. Another midwife from the Outer Hebrides recalled: “In the olden times the mother really stayed in bed – she didn’t come out at all in the first 10 days. The friends went before she got up, to see the mother and the baby and there is an old Gaelic word for it, bangaid’, which is like a banquet.”
The book includes testimonies from women working in the latter half of the 20th century, including, one, Ella Clelland, who observed the transition from confinement to shorter hospital stays and said: “Mothers nowadays don’t or won’t rest enough. They possibly think they don’t need to. But they get very tired and I think that’s why postnatal depression is more now.”
Was Clelland right? Reports of postnatal depression are certainly on the rise and some people, including Diane Nehme of the Association for Post-Natal Illness, believe that lack of rest may be a contributory factor. “There is no respite care, and women are often discharged in 48 hours, even after first deliveries. There is so much pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations to return to work after short maternity leave and no paternity leave, juggle childcare and raise the perfect baby.”
Japan, which practises a month of confinement, has one of the lowest levels of postnatal depression in the world. “The problem,” says Cassidy, “is that the support system to encourage mums to stay with their newborns has frayed.” The physical distance that strains family ties and the detachment from local communities means many first-time mothers don’t even consider a period of rest. No-one is telling them they should behave like a queen for a week and they wouldn’t know how to find the help to do it even if they wanted to.
Confinement wouldn’t work for everyone and, over the centuries, many women have felt repressed by it. But what matters is that women are aware of it as an option and can make an informed choice.
Of course, some women – particularly those who run their own businesses – cannot contemplate this short holiday from career obligations. A few weeks after the birth of her second child, Karen Macartney, who runs the website informedwomen.co.uk, turned up for a business appointment, but was physically ill with nerves to such an extent that she couldn’t enter the meeting room.
The broadcaster Gail Porter talked, during a recent interview, about doing voice-over jobs within a month of giving birth to her daughter, only to find herself leaking milk into her shirt and sobbing into the microphone.
On the whole, women who run their own businesses seem to be among the most successful at managing the transition to motherhood, perhaps because they have more control over managing their workloads around the needs of their children.
Lorna Pellet, who currently runs Graduates For Growth, recalls that her two pregnancies were creative times in which she expanded her businesses – her original venture was Edinburgh’s Café Florentin. “The best time for planning, for a woman,” she says, “is when she’s pregnant. You can have expansive thoughts because there is a finite timeline. For me the process of being pregnant and having a child was also about reshaping my lifestyle. I think you have to be prepared to go with the rhythm of the child, coping with the changes as opposed to trying to fit the child into your life. Having my first child felt completely natural. I did have childcare and we had a flat above one of the shops. It was very flexible. It’s about having a great infrastructure and this is where community is incredibly valuable, and something that it takes all parties to invest in.”
There is no obvious path back to the days of the howdies and that associated secret world of female knowledge – nor would we want it. Bringing fathers to the birthing bed has been one of the great revolutions of modern times. If we are to create a society in which men and women can operate with freedom and equality, then we need them to stay there. Indeed, we would like them to stick around for longer, ideally with equal paternity leave rights to those afforded to women. They need to hold the baby for longer.
Meanwhile, Goodall believes the idea of lying-in will have its time again. “Not long before I was born, you might have got into problems as a healthcare professional for encouraging a woman to breastfeed. Now the opposite is true. And I can’t help but think that it will come around that way with rest after childbirth.
“We know so much about maternal bonding today, and even breastfeeding is now seen in the context of this whole biological nurturing thing. So I think having a time of seclusion with your baby, a babymoon, will soon be seen as part of that.”
find the original article here
wysewomen workshops hold a very popular motherwarming workshop at different locations all around the country – the motherwarming workshop looks at different ways to keep mum, baby and family healthy in the immediate postnatal period – find local dates near you here
nicola mahdiyyah goodall is a revert muslim who grew up with hip hop based in edinburgh, scotland and london, england. she works with women trying and mainly succeeding to build circles of knowledge and community primarily with birth.
this autumn in bali i met an incredible italian birthkeeper who selflessly travels the earth helping out in the most incredible situations – i asked her if we could hear her news on her travels as i have been so inspired by her and she is most definately a wysewoman – here is her news from afghanistan …please keep her in your prayers and know that there is a small but immensely strong army out there to heal the world one small step at a time….nicola
it has been already 6 weeks in Afghanistan.. time is flying by. I wanted to write you before but it has been really difficult to gather my feelings and write them down in this email. In our daily activities seem that our lives are flat, nothing special happen, just normal activities every day. In these 6 weeks a lot has happened here, many stories to tell..
In this email, I wanna talk about women. It’s my favorite topic… Women are my heros, but here they are nothing, the most ungrateful human being in the world. For some, women are not even a human being.
I am placed in a city in the south east of Afghanistan, close pakistan border. It is a conservative area. Women wear burqa and is not allowed not to wear it because men cannot look at women belonging to other men. When they go out, they should always accompanied by a man. This culture is really sensitive about gender separation, women should not look at men. When we have general staff meeting or celebration, women and men are separated. They cannot talk with men. For us it’s different, we can talk with them, but rarely we are taking into account. Some men don’t even look at you when you talk, if a man say something to a man, it’s a different story that they will take for sure into account. If I say something to a man, often I am just a woman talking. We cannot touch men or even attempt to have a discussion about women or deep talk. Some men are very kind and respectful. I believe, I hope, they are the same with their wives. They live in big family, around 20 people in a house and they share everything.
All this seems strict, very hard .. It is. But I will never try to judge them for this.
There is something amazing I wanna talk about with you.. It’s inside the hospital. It’s a women environment, there are no men, they are not allowed to enter. Everyday I walk through the door that connect the compound with the hospital, when I enter the hospital is like entering into a special place. Midwives love the hospital, is the only place they can behave how they want, they don’t wear burqa and you can see their beauty. They are beautiful with long black hair and that smile… Everyday I receive so many hugs. I have never received so many hugs in my life! They are so tender, affectionate with us and amongst them too. This is probably because they don’t receive love in their lives, And you can tell that they are happy to be in the hospital to be themselves, without being checked by men.
When I am around the hospital, they often call me to have chai, tea, with them. We sit together, we talk about our cultures and of course they ask me if I am married or if I have got some children.. I ask then the same question to them.. They are all young, most of them married with already 2-3 children. One day I asked to the postnatal supervisor if she was married and she told me that she is single because men are mean and she doesn’t like them. I understood that something happened to her.. I didn’t dare to ask more.
I think I am falling in love with this group of women, gathering inside the hospital and sharing that bit of love they don’t receive out of this environment..
I want to end this email telling you a story of a young girl of 12-13 years old. She has been raped and got pregnant. She has been hidden the pregnancy for 9 months. When she started labor she is obliged to come to the hospital. She said to the parents that she has a myoma and needs to go to the hospital. The mother then understood that she was pregnant, the father has some doubts and said to her that if she is pregnant and give birth he will kill her. According to the culture a woman cannot bear a child if she is not married and should be killed if happens. SO she came to us, had a very difficult delivery. Unfortunately the baby died during birth. . She stayed all day in the hospital but the day after the birth, smiling, she said she needed to go back home. The father was outside waiting for her. We don’t know what happened, but the midwives said that for sure she will be killed.
I want to tell you that I am happy to be here, because I am finding out that is some part of the world women are not living a life but a nightmare. I am happy to witness that and to share with you. I cannot change a culture but I hope to bring a bit of love in this hospital. I have seen so many births in my 6 years of midwife, but never seen a birth without love like in afghanistan. I hope a bit of kindness, love for these women. If I will achieve that, I don’t know if something for them will change, but worth it to try.
Merry Christmas to all, if you decide to have some presents under the Christmas tree, do not forget to make a wish for these women!
i have no idea how it must be to be a mother in gaza right now. whenever i’m faced with a tragic human on human conflict like this my first thoughts go to the women. i know like all other women i’d find a way because i am a mother and that’s what mothers do. the average age in palestine is 17 – thats an awful lot of children for mothers to be loving.
i’d find a way to do my absolute best to provide safety, love and faith. i would make the decision whether to sleep all my four children in one room with me or spread them out so that if we were shelled at least some of us would survive. my husband and i had this discussion yesterday – he was for spreading them out. i was for keeping them together with me. it was a disgusting discussion and it was only hypothetical.
how must it be to provide a home that can become the grave at any moment. to try and console the family that are aware of death at every turn; family members, the woman in the local store you shopped in for the last ten years who kissed all your babies as they were born, the classmates of your children, the sanctity of your place of worship and your local hospital shattered by rockets. no more playing at the beach, running around the corner to grannys house, staying with your friends or late night prayer and quran recital for ramadhan at the masjid. thank God it is ramadhan; a time for mothers all across the world to remember that our children are given to us as a test of safe-keeping a gift from God. a trust to love, care for and raise to our best abilities. a time for faith and hope – a time to read the words “do not despair” and inhale them deep into your being and let them be your very oxygen.
how would i feel? impotent to physically protect my babies during this “shooting fish in a barrel” season. my youngest is still impacted and mourning the death of his pet finch a year ago on eid – how on earth would he cope?
i cannot fathom – my heart is bleeding for the mothers but it is also swelling when i see their strength, their ability to continue, to go forward, to birth and feed their babies, to make do.
so lets send them our love and our prayers. lets march and protest and write and boycott and sign petitions and educate and cry and do whatever ever we can to send the mothers of gaza our protection as limited as that may be. lets support the people that are out their making a difference like the midwives for peace who are an israeli/palestinian collective of midwives who no doubt are working the hardest they’ve ever worked just now. click on the link below to read about them and how you can help.
nicola mahdiyyah goodall is a revert muslim who grew up with hip hop based in edinburgh, scotland and london, england. she works with women trying and mainly succeeding to build circles of knowledge and community primarily with birth. she is also the director of wysewomen publishing and facilitates wysewomen workshops and red tent doula courses.