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Every time a child is born… the world lights up with new possibilities.
Birth rituals play a central role in the building and establishing of community. Every community had birth rituals that welcomed and integrated new life into the community. For a long time in this country this role has been lost and the focus has been more on getting the baby here by the quickest means possible under the guise of safety.
I was a casualty of this mentality with my first birth and was told that my first son was going to be between 10-13 lbs and because I was past my due date that there were going to be complications if I had him vaginally so it was strongly recommended to his father and I to schedule a c-section. I went back and forth but finally conceded because I felt if anything went wrong that it would be on me. My son ended up being 8lb 9oz and I had a ROUGH postpartum. I fully believe that I would have slipped into a deep postpartum depression if I was not living with my family at that time. I got a UTI from the catheter, breastfeeding was difficult, I was wiped out, I cried for no reason, I felt like I had been hit by a truck mentally and physically. It was rough. I wouldn’t find out until later that my doctor was going on vacation and wanted to deliver me before she left.
My son was born in 1998 and I had not heard of the term doula, they weren’t as known or as mainstream as they are now. Since that experience, I have had two other children; one in a birth center in 2006 with my husband and a midwife; and one at home in 2014 with a midwife, my husband and a doula. It was only after my second birth that I even knew that the term doula existed. My midwife had mentioned it to me and after I saw all the work my husband put in to support me through the three day prodromal labor (I am really NOT exaggerating) I knew that there was something to this support thing. In fact, I would have been lost postpartum if my brother and sister in law had not come to stay with me because my husband was almost as worn out as I was.
Having finally achieved a VBAC with my daughter because I was encouraged to listen to and be empowered by my own body, I knew that I wanted that for my sisters. I considered myself a fairly well educated person, but was extremely trusting of others when it came to birth instead of understanding to trust myself and my innate ability given by Allah (swt) to bring forth my child from my womb. I really felt that with the right support that many other sisters could achieve the same thing. I looked around and didn’t really see any Islamic birth organizations and was bummed. Then I decided that I was going to train and become a doula. After looking at some trainings and being discouraged due to price or location, I stumbled upon a training that was being held by a Muslim sister, Shafia Monroe and her organization, International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC).
In the training, we learned about the history of midwifery in this country, how the Southern Black midwife held the traditions until they were purposefully eliminated by the system when they realized that they could make more money by getting poor women and black women into the hospitals for their births. We learned the dramatic differences that continuous labor support has on labor outcomes. My eyes were opened and I took on the gift of working as a doula in 2008.
Why Muslim Doulas?
Initially while navigating the natural birth world, I noticed that I rarely saw other Black women and even fewer Muslim women. In recent times, I have noticed more non-white birth workers, but still not many Muslims. I have also noticed in participating in group discussions and interacting with the natural birth community that many culturally sensitive discussions do not take place when it comes to Muslim women. There are misunderstandings about Muslim women who might want to fast during pregnancy, circumcision (both male and female), choices on consuming the placenta, and being uncomfortable in various stages of undress. Even the very basic understanding that Muslim women are not a monolith and are diverse in their practice of Islam and how it relates to their needs around birth is something that is not widely recognized.
Having a Muslim doula means not having to explain why you don’t want a man in the room (possibly including your husband), it means having someone who can pray for you and with you, someone who can share in reciting dua with your family, someone who knows to have a bottle in the hospital bathroom for istinja, or someone who says Yarhamk ‘Allah when you sneeze. Some of the smallest things can become a chore to explain when you are in labor. You want someone that you can completely relax and be your natural self with when you’re in labor.
I fully believe that as women we need to reclaim birth and our innate birth knowledge. You do not need to go into being a doula as a profession, but maybe you gain some knowledge or take training and then you support your family members and close friends when they go into labor. Even postpartum, support your sister in Islam and her family by cooking a meal and taking it over, offering to watch her other children, or going over and doing simple chores like sweeping or the dishes so that she can focus on healing. The doula is filling a role that has been lost in this country as birth moved into the hospital and out of the homes and no longer passed down among women. We as women need to individually reclaim that role for our families and communities.
It is such a blessing to go to different religious events and see the babies whose births you’ve attended growing and becoming active participants in our Ummah. It is a humbling act to offer healing comfort to your sister in Islam when she is at her most vulnerable; it gives a spiritual fulfillment that is difficult to match. Attending births is a constant reminder of Allah’s Rahmah that covers all. It is the creation or expansion of family and you have been blessed to witness it. It bonds you to your Muslim sisters and larger community in ways that you could never imagine. It is a gift for both you and the families that you serve.
Muneera Fontaine is the owner of Peaceful Earth Graceful Birth and a professional juggler of many hats. Mother, Wife, Doctoral Candidate in Special Education, Certified Doula (CD-ICTC), Certified Womb Sauna Practitioner (CWSP), sits on the boards of The International Center for Traditional Childbirth (ICTC) and The Matrona Foundation, as well a current Midwife-in-training to name a few. She has worked with families and babies/young children for the past fifteen years. Her driving belief is that if you strengthen the family unit, you strengthen the community. She has had the opportunity to sit at the feet of women during times of major transformation and believes that it is imperative that we change our current social and cultural practices in America to better support women and families during these key times in their lives.[/fusion_text][/fullwidth]