I didn’t have a particular issue with fertility but I wanted to share some of the things I learned ever since I got concerned with having a baby.
TMI warning in advance.
Nearly two years ago, I conceived my first baby girl Zaynab. We had been married for a year and a half, and having been one of these women who almost always had a regular menstrual cycle, I found my cycle to change dramatically and never go back to normal right after getting married. My cycles seemed to be longer, and I just never knew how long or short each one would be anymore. No cycle was the same as the previous or next one again. Once I noticed this change, I downloaded a period calendar app to keep track. I also didn’t know anything about fertile mucus, ovulation and so on until after I got married. I thought getting pregnant was a lot easier, just join the two cells any time of the month excluding the days of menstrual flow; but no!
My husband and I weren’t living together for the first 15 months of our marriage, until I finally got my green card and was able to join him in the US. In the meanwhile, he did visit every couple of months for a few days but I still never got pregnant. I experienced three other cycles before I would conceive after my move. I got my first period shortly after the move. I do remember having menstrual camps around the second day, which was typical for me, for a few hours.
After that, I discovered a practice called bajos, which are vaginal steam baths. This practice is found in a lot of different cultures across the world, but I particularly came across an article by Dr Rosita Arvigo. Without wasting much time, I prepared a steam bath using some herbs from my garden and from my herbal apothecary. I did this first bath at the peak end of my second period. I also noticed that this second cycle and eventually third cycle were shorter than my usual cycles for the last few months, and they were also about the same in length, lasting approximately 29 days. God knows best, but I attributed that to healthier eating as I was buying more organic, wholesome foods after moving into my own home, or eating less meat, which maybe didn’t have to do with less meat in general but rather less meat that was full of hormones. I still ate dairy but only organic.
Then I did some more research on some of the practices that Dr Arvigo advocates for, and found out about Mayan Abdominal Therapy. Luckily, I found a practitioner nearby and made an appointment to see her. At our appointment, I first filled out some personal information, followed by a discussion mostly about my reproductive health, and then finally, I was taught how to perform the abdominal therapy on myself.
One thing I remember mentioning to her during the appointment was that I never notice that fertile, stretchy, egg-white, cervical mucus. She told me that having a period doesn’t necessitate successful ovulation. She also told me she felt that my uterus was a little tilted to the right. The Mayan abdominal therapy would help lift the uterus and realign it. Other benefits would be undoing tight knots in the abdominal area, and encouraging improved blood and lymph flow. The practitioner told me it’d be best if I did this therapy every day, excluding a few days before the predicted start of my cycle, and the days of menstrual flow. So I stuck with it.
I did a second steam bath at the peak start of my third and final cycle. Sure enough, this time I didn’t experience any cramping. A few days after the end of my cycle, I felt a tiny pinch on the lower right side of my abdomen. When I went to the bathroom a little later, I noticed blood-tinted, thick clear mucus. This egg-white mucus continued for a couple of more days. I wrote my practitioner telling her about my experience, and I wondered if that pinch I felt was ovulation, followed by a little bit of ovulation spotting.
My fourth period never came and I got my positive pregnancy test on the evening of August 9th, 2015. My estimated due date was April 14th, 2016. I went into labor April 12th, and gave birth on April 14th at 2.15am.
I was 10 days past my estimated due date, frustrated and tired that I was still pregnant, having expected to give birth a very long time ago, when I felt the first contractions around 2 a.m. in the morning. I had gone to bed around 11 p.m. At first I didn’t realize it was a real contraction and I went back to sleep after using the restroom. I woke up again about 15 minutes later and that’s when I realized I was in labor. I texted my husband who was at the time in Istanbul telling him to start looking for tickets. I didn’t want to make the same mistake as I did the first time, not taking the time to rest before the long labor ahead. I texted my mom a few minutes later too informing her I was in early labor and that I didn’t need anything at that moment and that I was going to try to go back to sleep. She joined me in bed not much later. I was able to doze off and on between the contractions, breathing mindfully through them. I used my small Sweet Marjoram sample to help me relax and go with the flow. A couple of hours later, I got up to pray Fajr and felt like this might be the last prayer for a while. After texting my grandmother to ask for her prayers, she decided to walk up to our house to join us. Soon later, everyone was awake except for my 19-month-old daughter.
A day earlier, I had had it with the built up emotions. I needed to cry for a long time, and I did. Unable to put my agitated daughter to nap, I came downstairs furiously, left her with my mother, grandmother and sister who were cleaning some dried Moringa seeds, walked out the door and found a spot near the Myrtle bush heavy with her berries, behind our large walnut and olive trees, and let it all out. (I managed to eat a couple of berries as I sobbed too). I tried to reason in my head what I was exactly crying about, and I didn’t have a clear reason. I was simply frustrated, physically and emotionally tired, and scared. I didn’t know what to expect, both in regards to how my birth was going to take place and the postpartum experience. It wasn’t going to be my first time but I knew every time is a different experience. Every time a child is welcomed in to the family, the family gets permanently re-configured. I had, on multiple occasions during my second pregnancy, felt that I was not ready for a second child. I was dreading the unknown. After some minutes of letting my tears flow freely, my grandmother approached me. Long story short, after some discussion, she told me I needed to have stronger faith in that God knew exactly what I wanted and needed as an outcome of this upcoming birth and postpartum and that He would not leave me alone. She told me I should pray that His hands would be above theirs and that I’d be protected by His angels. It was a comforting conversation to say the least. For the longest time during this pregnancy, I entertained the idea of having an undisturbed birth, dreading the idea of going to the hospital. I imagined that I would have to argue and fight during labor and thought of all the unnecessary routine interventions that are done during and after labor. I did not want any of them.
After having a small breakfast around 6.30 a.m., we decided to call the obgyn and tell her that I was in labor. She said she would call the hospital and notify them that I was coming and when I’d arrive, she’d join soon after. We decided I’d be leaving with my mother and grandmother, and everyone else would remain home. We left the house around 7-7.30 a.m., my contractions now much nearer. The roads were open, there was no traffic, and the ride was a lot more comfortable than I was fearing it to be. I sat at the back seat with towels covering the seats just in case my water broke during the ride, (or even better in case I gave birth) facing the back of the car on my knees, holding onto the headrest. I was almost falling asleep between the contractions, and during the contractions I was very careful to let my facial muscles including my jaw to relax. Instinctually low moans were what I found to help me through as well. I was very much in the moment. On the contrary, I was a lot more quiet during my first birth but I was also a lot more tense. During the other half of the ride, I had to change positions because my legs were numb so I leaned against the couch sitting somewhat sideways and held onto the handle above the window. When we got to the hospital I told the nurses and the midwife that I was Dr. so-and-so’s patient. One of the midwives asked if I was even having contractions and I told her yes. I think we got there around 8.30 a.m. A nurse led us into my room, the room I thought I’d be giving birth in. It had a bed, a couch, a wardrobe and a bathroom with a shower. After leaving my stuff inside the room she led me to another room where I thought she’d just have me change into a hospital gown. Instead I was tied onto a fetal monitor and for a short while panicked that I would have to remain that way until I gave birth. The nurse didn’t do much explaining. I was clearly not happy though and after some clarification, I understood that she needed a few pages of a graph reading of my contractions and baby’s heartbeat. Obviously I didn’t think that was necessary and it was not a comfortable position at all, but I was glad it was temporary. After she was done and I got into the hospital gown, I labored in the room I was initially taken to. Soon after the obgyn walked in. I tried to say hello but I was in the middle of a contraction. When she heard the accompanying moans I heard her encouraging me to continue that way. She checked how far I was dilated, and I was surprised to hear her say ‘nearly there’. They did another but much shorter fetal monitoring. I was then told that my membranes would be artificially ruptured once dilation was complete. I was moved into another room, the labor room, a very small room with a laboring couch/bed of some sort that I was not familiar with, two midwives and the nurse in addition to the obgyn. At that point I was fully dilated and the obgyn proceeded to break my water. Then she told me she’d like me to walk around holding onto the IV stand to allow gravity to do its thing and encourage the baby to descend into the birthing canal. They would later transfer me onto the birthing bed last minute when the baby was close to crowning. I started laboring in that way. Soon transition hit me and it was so intense, so much more intense than my first labor – I did not fight it, instead I allowed myself to deal with it however way felt best instinctually. I found myself being very vocal with each contraction and I found that standing with knees slightly bent felt best. I could barely breathe between the contractions because of how fast they came and went. I was so looking forward to the fetal ejection reflex (FER) because during my first labor, that was the most relaxed phase for me. I could talk between the pushing contractions, I was no longer in pain, it was coming to an end. But this time, I wouldn’t be getting a break. When the FER kicked in, I found that I was still overwhelmed with how powerful each contraction was. My body was pushing with full force and I couldn’t help but push along. I couldn’t breathe mindfully through them, I couldn’t breathe my baby out the way I hoped I would. I was overtaken by this incredible force of bringing a soul into the worldly realm.
They transferred me onto the birthing bed, legs up in stirrups, and the obgyn accurately predicted a nuchal cord because she felt the baby was taking a while. (Well, he was actually MUCH faster than my first who didn’t show any signs of difficult positioning or nuchal cord or whatnot). My mother was allowed into the laboring room last minute. She stood behind me and rubbed fresh sage near my nose during every push while she called onto Mary the Mother of Jesus, whose birth story is mentioned in the Qur’an like no other. At around 11.20 a.m. my baby was finally born and placed onto my skin. His purplish face began to change into his pale skin color almost immediately and he let out some small cries. I felt exhausted. I was trembling from exhaustion. I didn’t feel the euphoria I felt with my firstborn. I remembered how my mom would tell us that by the time she was done with laboring, she wouldn’t want to hold us from the amount of exhaustion she felt. I always thought that was so strange because when I saw my firstborn, I forgot everything. The 30-hour labor that left me sleepless, the 5 hour pushing, the transfer to the hospital from my dream home birth. I could barely hold him. I gently rubbed his back before they took him from me to carry out the routine procedures on newborns. I can’t remember if they clamped his cord before or after placing him on me. I do remember my mom attempting to ask them to delay it but everything happened so fast, and I just remember his precious cord blood splashing onto his body.
Fast forward, everything developed fine after that. I managed to avoid an episiotomy and had a second degree tear. The obgyn also allowed me to birth the placenta without manually removing it like they had done in my previous birth. We haven’t had any issues related to hemorrhaging, nursing, milk supply and so on. I left the hospital later in the evening. They had already prescribed me a bunch of medication that I was to get from the pharmacy including antibiotics, pain killers and uterotonics – none of which I wanted to use. I was given antibiotics during labor. Before I could leave the hospital, they injected me with a dose of pain killers and some uterotonic medication. I wanted to avoid getting any more of that. I took Shepherd’s Purse tincture in my water after labor to decrease the likelihood of hemorrhaging. I also took Arnica homeopathy to reduce swelling. I had prepared a combination of Calendula and St. John’s Wort oils with Helichrysum essential oil prior to giving birth and I began using that on the laceration. After a couple of days, I began belly binding using the bengkung method. I started drinking nettle tea and enjoying the broths that my grandmother kept sending over to nourish and restore my depleted reserves. I felt less sore in comparison to how I felt after my first labor but my afterpains which lasted for 2-3 days were definitely more prominent. Albeit not as careful as I needed to be and not as easy as it seems with a demanding toddler, I tried to remain laying down for most of the time and avoided strenuous work.
This time I favored postpartum help over choosing the birth that I prefer and feel safest with. Yes, it’s possible that just like last time, I would have arranged for the birth that I want and ended up not experiencing it. Some things in life are not in our hands and I had to accept that. I was forced to accept that twice in regards to childbirth and to let go of hard feelings. That’s not to say that I don’t advocate for women to demand what they want and feel safe with most in regards to their birthing experience – I do whole-heartedly – or that I find it acceptable for professional care providers to violate women’s bodies, that of their newborn’s, and their wishes. I didn’t want to be on IV fluids that left my hands swollen and pierced at three different locations, I didn’t want the antibiotics, I didn’t want to be deprived of water and food during labor, I didn’t want my water to be broken, I didn’t want the fundal pressure they applied while pushing, I didn’t want to have to change positions in the middle of pushing, I didn’t want to be coached to push, I didn’t want my baby’s cord to be clamped prematurely, I didn’t want any of the drugs I was given following birth. But it is what it is, and I also had to get over this idea that our birthing experience – both as the mother and the child – is what shapes who we are primarily. It is an important experience that plays part in who we are, but it’s one out of many. I also want to mention a few notable positives, other than the obvious such as the fact that I had a healthy, beautiful baby that I’m increasingly falling in love with every day and can’t wait to watch grow up and become friends with his older sister and that I also am in ‘one piece’. The doctor, midwives and nurse were all cheerful during the labor. For the most part, they let me be as vocal as I want and get in whatever position I wanted without making me feel like I was being watched. They didn’t say anything hurtful to me during labor, which should not even be a matter of concern for a laboring woman but unfortunately happens often. I also heard the doctor and one of the midwives ask the nurse if this was her first time witnessing a natural birth i.e. one that didn’t involve an epidural or one that was not a C-section. She said it was her second time and that the first time she actually left the laboring room before the birth ended. Later when I called her into the room to tell her that we were preparing to leave the hospital, she told me she thought my labor had went by very well. I laughed and asked if she wasn’t traumatized, because it might have appeared too intense for her liking. She told me, not at all. It made me happy to hear that, especially since it was pretty much the only natural birth she had experienced (as natural as could be in a Turkish Cypriot hospital with the craziest C-section rates of all time).
Having said that, I still hope to experience a home birth some day… They say third time’s the charm 🙂
A few weeks ago, I was listening to Maryn Green’s livestream on Facebook where she talked about prenatal care. She concluded her video by asking what prenatal care means to you, the expecting mother. This is my second pregnancy and I am past 40 weeks right now. Last pregnancy, I was in Michigan and I had two midwives whom I saw regularly. Their prenatal care consisted mostly of just chitchatting about how I felt, if I had any concerns, questions, and they offered me different assessments I could take at certain stages as the pregnancy progressed. I did a few blood tests at the very beginning of pregnancy to check for blood count, whether I was Rh positive, iron levels, and Hepatitis B I think. These were all blood tests that I decided to do from the list my midwife read out and explained to me. I could have done more or less. In addition, we listened to baby’s heartbeat both with a fetoscope and a doppler throughout the pregnancy when it was possible to do so, and I had a GBS test done later in pregnancy which I tested positive for. No scans and nothing else.
This second time around, I happened to be living in Istanbul. It took me a while to settle with one care provider. Most care provıders in Turkey, no matter how ‘natural’ leaning, seemed to be adamant on me having at least a few scans which I did not want to do. While I was still looking for someone, my mom convinced me to have the baby in Cyprus where my family is because I’d be getting a lot more help postpartum IF the one obgyn a few of my friends had their babies with would be OK with me not having a scan and if I liked her. So I accepted to meet this doctor. Anyway, long story short the first meeting with her was short and pleasant. She seemed chill and didn’t care about me not having a scan. She asked for a lot of blood tests, if I agreed, weighed me and took my blood pressure and sent me off. It was a rushed appointment though, to say the least. The feeling I got was that she didn’t even care to see me throughout the pregnancy unless I wanted to which I was totally fine with because I lived abroad and felt healthy really and didn’t see much benefit in going in to check my blood pressure and weigh, pay about 200 Turkish liras and walk out. She didn’t say anything about having a scan later in pregnancy and from her attitude I assumed she wouldn’t ask for one. Fast forward, I made an appointment at 36 weeks because I wanted to at least pop in to say hi and make sure that when I called her during labor, she would at least have a clue on whom I was. So I thought this appointment would be very similar to my first and last one back at 10 weeks pregnancy. I was also planning on telling her a few wishes I had in regards to labor and after labor. I tried to limit my list to four things, two during and two after labor so I wouldn’t sound like a control freak and so that she wouldn’t end up, rightfully, telling me to go find another caregiver if I didn’t want to go by her rules. During the appointment, I didn’t even finish telling her exactly what I wanted. I didn’t feel comfortable or confident. I ended up having to do a scan because it seemed very important to her. She wanted to check the position of the placenta to rule out placenta previa, and obviously the position of the baby. She had me take an appointment for 10 days later for a cervical check, and I walked out the clinic wanting to cry. Later I called and canceled the appointment for the cervical check.
I should mention that in Istanbul, I saw one other obgyn for an actual prenatal rather than to meet her – she was respectful of the fact that I wanted to avoid scans. She checked for positioning with her hands, we listened to baby’s heartbeat and we did the usual body weight and blood pressure. She said she wanted to see me again before I left to Cyprus and asked for a few blood tests. She didn’t feel happy about my skin color which is very pale and gives off the feeling that I have very low iron although I have never suffered from major symptoms of anemia, pregnant or not, and my blood tests have always come out borderline to low iron levels but never alarmingly low. I had already done all the tests she wanted me to take. I was planning on taking them again anyway because frankly, I was just hoping she’d give me an OK note for traveling in case they asked at the airport at 35 weeks pregnancy. I was too tired and busy to get the blood tests done and schedule another appointment so I never did, and no one asked anything at the airport.
So Maryn made so much sense during her live session and talked about how prenatal care should really revolve around what the mother considers prenatal care to be. What she feels like she needs whether that’s physically or emotionally or spiritually. For example, I always felt like a regular massage during pregnancy would be such a bliss but I never placed it in the category of prenatal care. I had the blessing of knowing a professional massage therapist in Michigan who offered her services inside your own home. Personally I would be making use of that opportunity if I were to have access to it throughout my pregnancy, more so than a frequent trip to an obgyn’s or midwife’s office for a weight and blood pressure check which can really be done at home. If you can only afford or have access to very limited massage therapy, you can make sure you practice some self-massage with sesame oil before a shower, followed by a relaxing 2-minute facial gua sha.
In addition, I saw an osteopath on three different occasions during my current pregnancy and felt relief each time from some hip issues I was experiencing. Some expecting mothers frequent osteopaths and chiropractors on a regular basis. Another practice that moms can benefit from is prenatal yoga, either at home or in a group setting. I had established a routine habit of practicing yoga in the mornings especially during Ramadhan and it was a great start to the day. Eating mindfully and taking regular walks is another essential part of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Despite how constipation is seen as a normal and expected part of pregnancy, I never seemed to have an issue with it in relation to pregnancy but rather I realized that tension during my day and an inability to relax and take a break for at least 15-20 minutes with deep breathing is what causes me trouble. I need to put my mind to it. I like to include an essential oil into the breathing session too, sweet marjoram being my personal favorite. You can intend for the deep breathing to relax & benefit your womb and prepare you for the upcoming labor too. It’s a good habit and needs to be practiced prior to labor, if you are planning on using breathing techniques during labor. I tend to experience restless leg syndrome some nights especially if I’m going to bed late (which is best avoided!) so a 10-minute soak in a small bucket of warm water with epsom salt does wonders and is a great treat. Massage your feet with raw Shea butter or olive oil after drying them with a towel.
As other women, I’m guilty of sometimes feeling like pampering myself is selfish. I’m still young and maybe don’t experience the aches and pains and the struggles of life that older women do, I feel, but I need to remind myself that I am a full-time mom, wife and homemaker. I need to acknowledge that I do work hard; I’m trying my best to keep up and sometimes I have very high expectations of myself. If I expect myself to function as a sane humanbeing and avoid going out of my mind from exhaustion so that I could continue doing what I have to do, my body and emotions need to be taken care of. And so do yours.
So these are some things that I consider to be essential parts of prenatal care for me i.e. what a pregnant woman needs and really, what a non-pregnant woman needs. Another mom could feel that she needs that extra blood test and frequent blood pressure and weight check, as well as the many other routine checks that modern obstetrics and some midwives have to offer. Others might have things to add to the list of practices I mentioned. Maybe a warm cup of herbal tea or milk with honey before bed or while reading a book, meditation… I’d love to hear comments from other moms!