Article 4: THIS IS IT
For most first-time mothers, the prospect of going through labour is pretty anxiety-inducing. In our first article on this series for mothers-to-be, (add link here) we talked about how pregnancy is like a marathon, with labour being the final stretch to the finish line. Talk to any marathon runner and they will most likely say the same thing: the final stretch is always the hardest and the time when you feel like giving up the most.
Hence it is crucial to not just prepare for it physically – through exercising and eating clean, so to speak – but mentally too. Be warned though that the rate of C-sections being performed on women even without any medical-based evidence is increasing worldwide, and this has its own repercussions: increased risks of maternal death and disability, among many others. And while many medical experts worldwide agree that a natural birth is better for both the mother and the baby (provided there are no complications), the numbers just keep increasing over the years because for doctors, C-sections make the flow of patients through a maternity clinic easier to manage and they are less vulnerable to legal action if they choose an operation over a natural birth.
That’s quite a lot to take in, so let me rephrase that for you: some of the C-sections that you have heard of are actually totally preventable, but because doctors do not want to wait or get sued, they tend to push for C-sections. What this means is that it is time for you and your husband to get educated on what to expect during labour so that there is no panicking or unnecessary scare in the labour ward.
The importance of mental preparation
In the movies, whenever a female character is about to give birth, she will shout every time she feels pain and everyone around her will tell her to push. The baby then comes out with a few short pushes. False. If you base your labour on movie experiences, then chances are, you will tire yourself out much earlier than you should. You will check into the hospital much earlier than you should, get strapped to the bed, “push” unnecessarily and get so exhausted that by the time the baby needs to come out, you will have no more energy.
The truth is, labour is a gradual process. You will feel the contractions even very early on, but it does not mean it is time to go to the hospital just yet. If you feel light contractions (much like menstrual cramps but slightly stronger) but they are not very regular or more than 10 minutes apart, you are still not in active labour. You don’t need to go to the hospital just yet; staying at home where you can stand and walk around is much better than being strapped to wires on a hospital bed.
A lot of mothers that I’ve spoken to talk about how they wish they had known better about the difference between early and active labour. Most first-timers will get over-excited at the first sign of contractions and get to hospital too quickly, where they exhaust themselves from being deprived of food and water and lack of movement, to the point where being induced or worse, getting wheeled off to the operation theatre, becomes a necessity.
During early labour, it is best to continue walking around as you need to activate those muscles that you will need later on, plus it does not take a scientist to tell you that standing aids in bringing the baby down due to gravity.
There are no specific supplications or du’as mentioned in the Quran to ease labour pains, but during early labour, repeating something that is easy to remember would be more practical than reciting an entire Surah. Some scholars would recommend Surah Maryam, so you can have that surah played on your phone or any other devices. As for you, the labouring mother, it might be easier to recite the following zikr:
- Ya Lateef (O Gentle One!)
- Zikr Fatimah (Subhanallah x33, alhamdulillah x33, allahuakbar x33)
Continue reciting these adhkaar to help you get through the pain, along with any other breathing techniques that you have learned either from your doula or birth class or YouTube videos.
The real deal comes only when you can no longer talk or smile; that is when you know you are in active labour and it is time to go to the hospital. (Of course, if other complications arise before active labour kicks in that you are not sure about, then please call your medical provider or head down straight to the hospital.)
Once you have reached the hospital, you will most likely be wheeled down to the delivery or labour ward. Some hospitals are a lot easier to negotiate with in terms of adhering to your wishes than others, but even so, you need to have a birth plan that is written down in black and white so that the team of nurses and doctors that is handling you knows exactly what you want.
Some couples will include things like wanting only female medical professionals to enter the labour room or not giving anything to induce labour, et cetera. Again, all these things should have been discussed beforehand with your obstetrician and prepared way before the pregnancy reaches full term. You cannot suddenly decide that you do not want any male nurses or doctors in the room on a whim without having the informed the hospital first.
That is why it is called a birth plan – you need to plan first before going through with it. But as the name also suggests, it is just a plan. Remember that no matter how much you plan, at the end of the day, Allah is the Best Planner, so it is also good to be aware that sometimes, things might not go your way. Some situations will be out of your hands, so there will be moments when you need to surrender to the outcome that has already been decreed by Allah. It is better to come prepared and aware, of course, but always remember that in Islam, we need to be able to show tawakkal, especially in such an important event in our lives.
You might want to find out more about birth plans by looking up some books or videos online. Here are a few that I can recommend:
(What is a birth plan?)
(What is the most painful part of labor, and how can I manage the pain?)
It is important to note that after labour, your body has been weakened and will require a lot of care and nourishment to nurse it back to full health. It is also worth noting that there will be a lot of blood coming out post-partum (nifas) and so you, the new mother, will not be able to observe your prayers or recite the Quran in the days and weeks after birth. In Islam, we believe in the presence of the unseen, and hence it is crucial that you are kept in a state where you are free from spiritual disturbances.
Here are some ways to take care of yourself spiritually and mentally after birth:
- Ensure that you are always clean and that anything that has been stained with blood is immediately washed and changed.
- Play verses of the Quran in the background for both you and baby to listen to.
- Have someone prepare nourishing confinement food for you and ensure that you have enough to eat and drink so that you can keep up a healthy supply of breastmilk.
- Have someone to accompany you so that you are physically not alone, but at the same time, make sure it is not someone who is known to be too intrusive.
- Have someone else take care of the household chores while you get your much-needed rest and bonding time with the baby.
Take care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually to avoid situations where you might become stressed out and project your stress on the baby or those around you.
A lot of hormones, including oxytocin, are released during labour, which is why most mothers cannot stop crying once they see their baby and cannot keep their eyes off of them. The hormones that kick in will help mothers feel an extra sense of love and protective instinct towards the baby. However, for some women, they might experience some hormonal imbalance and this, along with feeling overwhelmed by new and sudden responsibilities expected of a new mother, might be the trigger for post-partum blues or post-partum depression.
Postpartum depression is a type of mood disorder that is associated with childbirth and symptoms may include extreme sadness, low energy, anxiety, crying episodes, irritability, and changes in sleeping or eating patterns. If you recognise any of these symptoms in yourself, it is important to seek medical help so that you can get the necessary treatment.
Having postpartum blues has nothing to do with not being religious or having low iman; just like any mental illness, it is not an indication of weakness or lack of religious faith. I think of it as more of a test from Allah, and just like any other test, has to be dealt with patiently and with the utmost faith that it is ultimately to help us grow into better Muslims.
Wallahualam. For Allah knows best. See you again in our next and final article in this series!
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