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!
A few months ago I wrote a blog post on what I’d do differently during my first pregnancy. This second pregnancy, I have been learning even more about my body and I find myself re-analyzing my experience with childbirth. In my post about pregnancy, I talked about how I believe lack of movement negatively impacted my ability to birth my baby easily. I still believe that’s true, in my case. It definitely had an impact. Also when I listed what I had been doing to prepare for labor, or thought I was doing, I included tawakkul which is reliance upon God. I have come to realize that in reality, I was relying on God to do what I wanted and not what could come to be. And as I said, it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. At all. But I am nevertheless very thankful as in the end everything was OK, and I learned and am still learning a lot from my experience. This time around, I am a lot more prepared for a wide range of possible outcomes and the matter of fact is… I actually have no idea how my birth will turn out to be. Sure, I found a doctor in Cyprus who respected my wish of not having any ultrasound scans done. I got good feedback from several friends and acquaintances who birthed with her. She is one of the very few ob-gyns in Cyprus who is pro-natural birth, and the private hospital she mostly serves at is at a nice part of the island. But I’m not attached to the idea that I am going to absolutely birth with her, at the hospital etc. I could end up having a very quick labor before I reach the hospital, I could end up with her, or I could end up having a C section. Whatever. And frankly, I am not bothered by any of those possibilities. As long as my baby and I are not hurt in the process, emotionally or physically, and it happens in the best possible manner depending on the circumstances. And that’s what I am relying on God for this time. So I am going to make sure I do my best to prepare my mind and body for the hard work ahead, I will talk to the doctor next time I see her about some wishes that I would like to be respected for during and after labor (what they call birth plan), and that’s pretty much it in terms of tying my camel and trusting in God. At least for now. Before I wrap up this part of my post and get to the part that it was meant to be on (sorry for the initial ramble), I’m going to share with you this article that I read recently. It really resonated with me. I don’t know if it’s expecting too much of caregivers and especially midwives who in my experience are usually more open minded than your modern medical obgyn, but I didn’t feel like I was prepared for the vast possibilities that come with childbirth. Other than caregivers, I think some women and authors on natural birth also forget to at least put a footnote saying that it’s OK if your labor turns out harder or different than you expected for a reason that isn’t very self-evident and you’re not a failure even though birth is a natural physiological process. We don’t live like our ancestors anymore. Unfortunately much of modern living has took a toll on our bodies and what we are naturally meant to be capable of doing from the way we move physically to our emotional and mental state to our eating habits, and things just aren’t as simple anymore. And even then, birth just like any other major event in life can have different outcomes. Birth is not black and white.
So I was told about hypnobirthing way before I got pregnant from people who had firsthand experience with it but I never dwelled into it because I had the notion, from all that I had been reading from natural birth advocates, that birth was just going to happen and I didn’t need anything extra – I had it all ‘figured out’. Looking back at my first labor, I think I had an incredible amount of tension. I didn’t do any controlled breathing, I had a very tense jaw the whole time (a relaxed jaw equals a relaxed pelvis). My midwife reminded me only once to relax my jaw and that was it. And after dilation was over, I pushed non-stop with every pushing surge which was exhausting and in my case, useless. It makes so much more sense that trying to relax as much as possible during labor and at least during the pushing phase helps labor progress more efficiently. Deep and controlled breathing slows down the heart rate, increases oxygen flow into muscles, and counteracts the adrenaline rush that can occur during labor and even lessen the amount of pain that is experienced. Instead of running away from the inevitable process, you embrace it. I am already incorporating some practice breathing into my day which is essential if you plan on trying to relax through breathing during labor.
Another thing that I wish I had done during labor, which is not really major but just a small thing that I think would have helped, is at least having had a couple of warm showers. I am generally physically tense let alone during labor, and I know a relaxing shower wouldn’t have hurt at all.
Finally, tying back to what I mentioned initially about tawakkul and acceptance, I think that’s not unrelated to the labor process. I think even during labor, I had to be more accepting and embracing and hopefully I’ll remember to do that and all the rest this time around. And include some essential oils. Yes.
Also if you appreciate art, check out this page for some gorgeous mixed media birth art that I just came across and found pleasing to look at. This is not an affiliate link, I just happened to stumble upon it.
We are already on day 8 of this year’s Islamic lunar month of Ramadan. Before I get to the real purpose of my post which is sharing how my experience has been fasting while pregnant for the first time, I would like to write a little about what Ramadan is about. Even if you’re not a Muslim, you have likely heard of this holy month that is welcomed by most Muslims with much joy. The month of Ramadan is when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the final Prophet of Islam, Muhammad ﷺ. During Ramadan, Muslims observe the fast incumbent upon every Muslim who has reached the age of accountability, and who is physically able to do so. The fast begins at what they call true dawn which is the Fajr prayer time, before sunrise, and ends at sunset (Maghrib prayer time). There are two other prayer times in-between Fajr and Maghrib. The fast excludes all liquids and solids, including water. Obviously the days are shorter in colder seasons and the fasts tend to be easier and vice versa during the warmer seasons.
Instead of arguing about whether fasting is a wise choice for Muslim women during pregnancy or not, I’m going to direct you to this link because again, my purpose is not that. I think the wisest choice is for a woman to listen to her body, whether that tells her to fast or not. I find fear mongering pregnant/nursing women that their baby will be harmed if they chose to fast is just as bad as making a woman feel like they must fast while pregnant/nursing.
Last year during Ramadan I knew I wasn’t even going to try fasting because the weather was very hot and I was nursing on demand a 2 month old who didn’t receive any nourishment other than my milk. I asked some friends who tried fasting while nursing older babies (one 6 month old and one 10 month old) and they also told me they tried but had a very hard time. This year as we approached Ramadan, I was still nursing my one year old a few times a day and I happened to be pregnant. So initially I didn’t give it much thought and told myself I was not going to fast. However one day a doula/midwife sister on a Facebook group dedicated to Muslim pregnant ladies asked us what our plans were for this Ramadan. One of the pregnant ladies said she would be fasting while nursing 20 month old twins 2-3 times a day and at 8 months pregnant. She showed so much enthusiasm and even shared her little tip (drinking the juice of half a watermelon every night which she did back when she was fasting last year while nursing the twins at around 8 months old). Others said they would try and fast as many days as possible. So at that point I thought I really should at least intend to try fasting and see how it went and if my body told me I couldn’t handle it, I would stop. Before Ramadan came, I weaned my daughter. So now I was left with the pregnancy and the uncertainty of what fasting would be like while chasing and caring for a mini human. Just a note, I am currently 17 weeks pregnant and therefore in my second trimester.
So the first day of Ramadan turned out wonderful and much easier than I anticipated. It was very encouraging so I decided I would continue. I didn’t have any dizziness during the day. I slept a couple of hours before suhoor the night before (suhoor is the meal that we have just before dawn to prepare us for the day ahead) and woke up about 40 minutes before dawn. My husband and I had a light breakfast style meal. We waited for dawn, prayed, and then I went to bed again until my daughter woke up. In the morning I did the usual and actually a little more than I typically feel like I have time for. I fed her breakfast, organized the kitchen if it needed any organizing, did some yoga, did the laundry, read some Qur’an, took a short walk to the grocery store, took a nap with my daughter, prepared dinner and some walnut stuffed buttery dates for iftar as well as for our next door neighbors. We never met and I thought this was a nice occasion to greet them and congratulate them for the beginning of Ramadan. Our daughter did us a favor and slept without much hassle before sunset so I had the pleasure of sitting down to break my fast peacefully with my husband without any distractions. The moment of thoughtfully sipping on water and biting into a date after a long day of fasting, I wish everyone could experience that at least once in their lifetime. You feel the water rush through and quench your entire body.
Came day number 2, and this time my daughter didn’t sleep until after the call for the Maghrib prayer. That was super annoying and I kept thinking of how I wanted to experience that great feeling at iftar like I did the previous day. I only say this because I had a thought during these few minutes that maybe is worth mentioning. Well, first of all, I was probably easily irritated because it was a long day, I was tired and looked forward to breaking my fast. But I wanted to convince myself that this was really not that big of a deal and I should be thankful that I even have such a lovely child that I am able to put to sleep. A dear friend of mine had advised me to picture a beautiful image (of a flower, for example) and imagine that I become one with that image in moments of frustration. I found that even just imagining something beautiful, at that moment wisteria, was soothing enough because gazing at beauty gladdens the soul. The rest of the days of the first week varied, some days more challenging than others with putting the little one to sleep before sunset. We did end up keeping her up one of the days till after we broke our fast and she still took forever to fall asleep later and so that choice didn’t make things much easier. Some parents decide to flip around their kid’s schedule where they’ll have them sleep later in the night and wake up later in the day so that the parent can get enough rest as Ramadan nights tend to be lively and fasting folk may choose to rest for longer in the mornings. I did that last year even though I wasn’t fasting just to fit my husband’s schedule but I chose not to this year. Anyway. After day 3, generally speaking, the fast got even easier as the body adjusted.
As a final word, it’s important that a fasting person does not push their physical limits. I normally wouldn’t take naps with my daughter during her nap time but during Ramadan, I think the nap really helps me re-energize mid-day so it’s an important adjustment. Make sure you rest, enjoy this spiritually uplifting time, and nourish & hydrate yourself after sunset.
I hope everyone including mamas who weren’t able to fast still benefit from this blessed month and feel the spiritual benefits it brings forth.
I apologize in advance for a long & unstructured description of our weaning journey, but here’s how we did it.
When I found out I was pregnant at 10.5 months postpartum, I knew I wouldn’t immediately wean my daughter. Luckily she wasn’t a picky eater and liked food but I believed she deserved to be nursed until she was at least a year old. Also, she didn’t even get teeth until she hit 11.5 months, around the same time she took her first steps. Anyway, weaning my child cold turkey would be very difficult. I thought trying to night wean first would be the best option. At that point she was sleeping in her own crib one part of the night and then she was co-sleeping with us the second part of the night. So I think when I was less than 8 weeks pregnant, at one point, I decided I would only nurse her that one time when she went to bed and then would not feed her for the rest of the night and would offer some water instead. Our first attempt was a disaster. She cried for about an hour and even when her dad took her away and she was finally falling asleep from exhaustion, she would still wake up crying. She was clearly hungry. So I gave in and nursed her. Earlier that day she really hadn’t eaten well. It was one of my days out with her at my art lesson. So I decided I wouldn’t try again till a while and I would start to incorporate proper meals into her daily schedule with a final filling meal before bedtime.
In the meantime I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on gentle night weaning. These three (one, two, three) are what appealed to me the most. I didn’t actually end up following Dr. Jay Gordon’s night weaning schedule but it gave me an idea of what I could do. Before this, I had already watched many videos on gentle sleep training (with some crying included). Most guides suggested developing a bedtime routine, placing your drowsy child in bed and walking out, then walking back in if your child needed comforting, placing them back down in their bed, repeat, until your child figured out how to fall asleep. We already had a bedtime routine. Even if that simply included washing hands and face with warm water, bathroom time, and changing clothes and finally nursing to sleep. Zaynab knew it was time to sleep the moment I would start changing her clothes into Pjs under dim light. However, the whole walking out thing never worked for us. Some days she would end up sleeping on her own after a couple of minutes of crying, but after she figured out how to stand AND turn on the bedroom light that was close to her crib, that seemed almost impossible. So I like how especially in the first video I linked above, the mom talks about Baby Aware Parenting, how crying is OK and something babies need to do just like adults (who hasn’t used the bathroom as an excuse just to get a moment to cry?) and the most important thing is that the parent remains with the child comforting them as the child releases tension through some needed crying. The second thing that I liked about the other two videos is that the suggested method included co-sleeping. I found that with my daughter, sometimes she fell asleep better beside me (or on top of me, as I will later describe) without nursing rather than with me placing her back in her crib when she appeared asleep only to wake up again.
So how did it actually happen? I don’t have a clear answer to tell you the truth, but it happened. It began with her sleeping through most of the night. I think the main reason for that was that she was eating well before bedtime and she wasn’t actually hungry. If she woke up once in the night I knew she just needed to pee, or she heard some loud noise, and it wasn’t because she was hungry. Actually it never necessarily meant that she was hungry after a certain age, but I couldn’t quite be sure. At least with her eating proper meals before bed, I knew I could rule out hunger. Occasionally I would offer some water or herbal tea. Sometimes she’d accept it, sometimes not. So this first point helped greatly in the night weaning process. It was a gradual process, going from nursing her to sleep once, sometimes nursing her if she woke up mid-night and nursing her again once in the morning after sunrise and before rising from the bed. Was there any crying involved? Yes, of course. But it didn’t feel quite bad as I would be holding her the whole time, rocking her to sleep, and singing to her. It just took some patience on my part and eventually she fell asleep. Some days she wouldn’t cry as much and some days she would cry a reasonable amount and I only embraced that and took it as her releasing tension and frustration and getting ready for relaxation. I didn’t perceive it as something bad. Of course I obviously made sure she wasn’t experiencing anything else like physical pain and all her needs were met.
There were times where I had her dad come in and put her to sleep instead of me if I was too tired or had been trying for too long. She seemed to cry less with him because she didn’t expect to be nursed by him. I also somehow discovered that she slept best in two positions other than the cradling position which we had to forgo because it would make her think she’s about to get nursed. Ok, think of the position a baby would be in in a carrier, with legs wide apart, and facing the parent. Back when I used to wear her, she would fall asleep in the carrier without getting nursed. So I thought this position would be helpful, and indeed it was. The second position is with me laying on my back (which is getting harder now with my growing bump but still possible) and her laying on me chest-to-chest. Before I completely night weaned her, I would nurse her once before bed, and just before she fell asleep I would unlatch her and just hold her in that baby-carrier position until she dozed off before placing her in her crib. Some nights she fell asleep while nursing before I could unlatch her and that was fine.
So just to wrap up a very messy overview of how I weaned my little one: our schedule went from once before bed, sometimes once the night and sometimes not, and once first thing in the morning after sunrise, and free nursing during the day, to once before bed, once in the morning, and only at nap time, to none in the night, once in the morning, and at nap time, to once in the morning and none other than that, and finally to no nursing at all. I didn’t keep a record but if I had to take a guess, this whole process took about 1.5 months. I also forgot to mention that my main reason for weaning my baby wasn’t simply the pregnancy but because it was getting difficult and at times frustrating especially with feeling more sensitive (both physically and emotionally) and it hurt me to feel irritated towards my innocent baby. If I could and if I didn’t end up getting pregnant, I would have loved to nurse her for longer. However she received mother’s milk for more than an entire year, she didn’t consume one drop of formula and I try to feed her wholesome foods as much as possible. Now we just have to be content with extra cuddles and lullabies and kisses as a replacement… and of course good home cooked meals.
Fire cider was initially a recipe shared by Rosemary Gladstar. Over the years fire cider became a generic term among the herbal community referring to spicy vinegars. A few weeks ago, I shared the traditional recipe in this blog post. Today I wanted to dedicate a post just for it. I know it’s nearly spring time and maybe a different topic was more befitting, but I’m sure there’s still some people out there who could be fighting off sinus infections and colds. Also fire cider is a remedy that stays for a long time, so you can have it made now and ready for winter time.
Fire cider is ideal to ward off colds, respiratory infections and thin out & expel excess mucus in the case of sinus congestion. It also boosts circulation in the body with a spicy kick. It’s taken by the dropperful or spoonful, depending on the person’s palette or the strength of the vinegar. If you experience gastrointestinal inflammation, heartburn and peptic ulcers, you might want to limit your intake or stay away from it.
The traditional base remedy includes ginger, garlic, onions, horseradish, jalapeño or cayenne, apple cider vinegar and raw honey which is added after the vinegar is ready and strained. In addition, you could add whatever herbs you like.
I added olive leaf and powdered turmeric in addition this time. Olive leaf and turmeric have immune boosting properties. Olive leaf is an antiviral. I like to use olive leaf in fire cider especially because I feel there is a sacredness to it in Islamic tradition. In a section of Dalail al-Khayrat, which is a book of litanies dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad, the author Imam al Jazuli pleads to God with ‘His name that is written on the olive leaf’. Likewise there’s mention of the olive both in the Qur’an and narrations of our master Muhammad. According to tradition, the three gifts that were presented to the newly born ‘Isaa (Jesus) were myrrh, frankincense and actually turmeric, rather than gold.
As was the case last time I made fire cider, I didn’t have horseradish in hand. I don’t think one can find that in Istanbul. Also instead of jalapeños I used hot red peppers in dried form. I did not de-seed them so I am a little worried about the level of heat! I threw the onion, garlic cloves and ginger in the blender instead of chopping them up by hand.
I added all the ingredients into the glass jar and added raw apple cider vinegar all the way to the top, covering all the ingredients. This needs to sit in a dark, cool place away from direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks. Don’t forget to label it with ingredients and date like I did 🙂 but I know I made this on February 26th as that’s when the pictures were taken on my phone so this needs about another week or two to go. Every now and then, give it a gentle shake. Once the infusion time is over, strain it using a cheesecloth. Add honey to the final product according to personal taste.
I grew up in a family where soup was the staple dish of dinner nearly everyday, even in the hot summer days of Cyprus. After getting married, I didn’t insist on cooking soup as often as we did back home especially because my husband wasn’t big on soup either but now that I have a baby who is fed easier that way and who – mashallah – loves soup, I’m more motivated to make soup and I try to shoot for at least twice a week. If you make a large amount, it could last you for a couple of days, or you can freeze some and thaw it later at another date.
Last week I made some nettle & spinach soup which I think is also a favorite of mine, but I decided on these three for this post.
VEGAN RED LENTIL SOUP
2-3 small to medium carrots
1/2 cup red lentil
1-2 tsp tomato paste
approx. 4-5 cups water (guessing the amount off of my head right now. You might have to add more later as the water will lessen as the soup cooks, or you might leave it as is. Your call)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon
red chilli flakes
Chop up the onions and carrots. The shape is not important since you’ll blend this soup at the end but if you cut them up small they’ll cook faster. Rinse the lentils. Now you could start this off in two ways: either add everything all at once along with the water, minus the olive oil OR you could add the olive oil and the spices and then the vegetables and tomato paste, gently fry for 2-3 minutes, then add the lentils and the water. Once the vegetables are cooked through (usually the red lentils cook earlier, at least in my case. If the lentils you have take long you can try soaking them prior to cooking) blend the soup using a hand blender. Add more water if necessary. Salt & pepper to taste.
VEGETARIAN GINGER PUMPKIN SOUP
1 pound of pumpkin
piece of fresh ginger root size of half a thumb or 1/2 tsp of ginger in powder form
1/2 tsp cinnamon
heavy cream or full fat milk (optional)
For the little one
Normally I give the onions and pumpkin a quick fry and then boil them till they cook thoroughly and finally give it a blend, but this last time, I roasted the pumpkins instead. And I actually didn’t have any onions or ginger in the house (shhh) so it was definitely missing something BUT let’s assume I had onions and ginger, and this is how I ‘did’ it. Place the pumpkin on a baking tray, add some coconut oil and butter over it. Adding dairy to this recipe is completely optional. You can omit the dairy and have it vegan. You could also add nut milk for creaminess if you prefer that, up to you. Sprinkle some thyme, cinnamon and salt. Bake it until the pumpkin is cooked completely. In the meanwhile fry some onions with turmeric and some more coconut oil or butter (or olive oil) for a couple of minutes, add the baked pumpkins, add some water, blend until smooth and adjust the water to your own taste. Once the water comes to a gentle boil you can let it simmer for a bit and then finally add your cream. If you’ve noticed, I left out the amount for cream and water, because you’ll decide on the water according to your desired consistency, and the cream is added in small amounts usually (less than the water.) It’s really up to you.
TURMERIC CHICKEN SOUP
1 whole chicken
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp rosemary, dried
thumb sized ginger, shredded
2-3 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cinnamon or 1-2 cinnamon sticks
Squeeze a lemon over the the chicken and rub it clean using the lemon pieces. Put everything (excluding the lemon) into a large enough pot, cover the chicken with water and bring to a boil with the lid covered. Lower heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked thoroughly. This usually takes about an hour. Remove the chicken and sieve the stock into another pot. Now you can decide what you want to do with the remaining vegetables. I discarded it. Actually I do usually feed the cats, dogs and seagulls outside my kitchen window but I didn’t this time. Anyway, back to the recipe. I ended up cutting the chicken in half and baking one half with potatoes until nice and crispy at the top, and the other half is what went into the final soup. Just to clarify, we didn’t have two meals consisting mainly chicken in one day – we had the baked chicken the first day, and I prepared the soup the next day. Remove the chicken meat and shred it using your hand. Discard bones (now the cats and stuff came into play). I chose to save 1/4 in a glass container in the fridge to make into wraps or add to salad. The rest I threw into the stock which by the way is full of nutritious gelatin. You know that jelly when your stock gets cold? That stuff. You can also add some grains to your soup like barley or oat flakes. I added some small organic alphabet pasta lol. Adjust the salt & pepper if needed and once the grain is cooked the soup is ready. Squeeze some lemon and you’re done. This is a great choice if you’re trying to beat a cold too.
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I just realized all three soups have similar color tones! Enjoy. ♥
Note: I do not use refined salt in my recipes. I do not use processed oils. I try to use only pasture fed organic chicken and pasture fed organic dairy.
Perhaps this isn’t the season for violets in your part of the world if you’re still experiencing cold weather, but I decided to reserve this post about violets this month as my sister sent me some photos of violets from Cyprus a few days ago. It happens to be warm enough in Cyprus right now for the appearance of violets.
I remember walking towards the lawn in our house in Michigan for the first time back in May 2014, awestruck at the sight of violets that had taken over the land. I loved violets in Cyprus, and it was a delight to see them so widely spread in our new home in Michigan. When I picked one and brought it closer to smell its pleasing sweet aroma, I was surprised that there was nearly no fragrance. Later, I found out that the North American violet (Common Blue Violet) does not have the distinct aroma of the European Sweet Violet. I was not aware of the distinction. Nevertheless, this Common Blue Violet was still a medicinal and food herb.
Violet, just like Stinging Nettle, is an alterative herb which means it is a blood cleanser. Alterative herbs are especially useful in treating skin conditions such as acne and eczema. They also optimize liver function and cellular metabolism and so are helpful during fasts/detox. Traditionally it is used to treat dry hacking cough, and recommended for bronchitis and whooping cough. For this treatment, it’s best combined with marshmallow root. Violet also has cooling and soothing properties, as well as anti-inflammatory properties. This can deem it helpful in treating insect bites, hemorrhoids, cuts and varicose veins. There’s also traditional use of it in treating swollen lymph nodes. In order to benefit from this beautiful herb, the flowers and the leaves are made into tea, used in the form of infused oil, poultice, salve, and are consumed raw in salads, pesto, wraps or cooked in soups, sautés, or steamed . The flowers are usually more preferable as a food if used raw because the leaves may not always taste pleasant especially if they’ve become too fibrous. Finally the leaves contain mucilage (soluble fiber) which is helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, and in restoring beneficial gut flora as the flora feed off of it. Harvest violet only if you are 100% sure of it and when the flowers are present as violet has some poisonous look-alikes.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended as substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to apply this information.
Last year on February 19th, I wrote a few sentences on how I was preparing for labor. I wrote, “I’ve been watching a lot of home birth videos, drinking nettle, raspberry leaf, oatstraw, bone broth, pelvic rocks, exercise, trying to get a feel of the baby’s position with my hand to familiarize with where is what, completing birth kit and list of supplies, trying to keep consistent with daily awrad especially at fajr (dawn) time, connection with baby, positivity and tawakkul (reliance upon God)…” What was missing was movement, walking… lots of walking. Even the exercise I was referring to was not enough. I could count the number of times I ‘exercised’ during pregnancy. A few weeks before I gave birth, a lady who is dear to my heart advised me to walk everyday. She said that her first labor was very smooth because she walked frequently, whereas her second birth was nowhere near as easy because by then she had started working at a desk job which meant that she couldn’t walk as much. I had planned to walk once or twice a week, which didn’t really happen. I was in Michigan at the time. I was alone most of the time and so the chance to go for walks was very rare.
Funny enough, the day my labor began (two days before the estimated due date), I went for a long hike with my mom, sister, and a friend. Up until that day my baby hadn’t even lowered herself into my pelvis. My midwives were predicting I wouldn’t give birth until much later from the EDD. I don’t think one of my midwives even took me very seriously the evening I felt something different and thought that the sensations would subside by the morning light. But there I was, in labor.
I felt early labor kick in around 8.30pm on April 12th. I couldn’t sleep that night for more than a couple of hours because I was already feeling some back labor that would wake me up every time I dozed off. She visited in the morning, shortly after sunrise and joined us for breakfast. I was still having mild but regular contractions. I wanted her to check if there was any dilation and she estimated 2 cm. That was the first and last time she checked the rate of dilation throughout the entire labor that was about to follow. Fast forward, I think my pushing phase started around 9pm, April 13th. I wasn’t really aware of the time. I didn’t give birth until 2.15am, April 14th, exactly on my baby’s estimated due date. I had a long, tiring pushing phase. I was so excited when the painful dilation contractions were finally over and I could feel the pushing sensations overwhelm me. I thought this is it, the end is so near. I wasn’t patient, I pushed very hard along with each contraction, until I hit exhaustion. My midwives kept feeding me date molasses by the spoonful. They had me try different positions. I drank herbal tea sweetened with a lot of honey. About three hours in, they decided it was best for me to transfer to the hospital where they could make sure everything was ok and maybe put me on some IV fluids to increase my energy. When I was told that there was a chance I could still have a natural labor, I didn’t object or try to fight it. There was still some hope. This was something I didn’t prepare myself for at all throughout my entire pregnancy. I thought there’s no way I’d accept a transfer. That was too embarrassing and disappointing, being such a strong supporter of natural childbirth, someone who believed that birth was supposed to be easy. But I managed… I did it, and I feel stronger, not weaker. That’s one more thing I know I could get through in life. Of course I’m thankful to God first and foremost for a positive outcome, for a healthy child, for the strength He granted me through that humbling experience, and for such loving and supportive family members and caregivers who were with me throughout my labor. When we got to the hospital, they couldn’t find anything wrong with my daughter’s position. She was in the perfect position, and everyone was so supportive as I pushed and pushed. One of the obgyn’s was eager to see if she could use forceps or vacuum suction despite telling me that I was very close to meeting my baby and I was doing just fine. Thankfully the only thing they did was carry out an episiotomy. My daughter came out screaming right away and she was placed right into my arms. A few minutes after, I was already telling my midwife who was there with us that I’d be glad to work with them again for my next pregnancy. My family who was there with me still find that funny. I was laughing and happy.
A few days in, and I started to question what happened. What went wrong? Why couldn’t I push out my small baby? Wasn’t childbirth supposed to be a normal physiological process of bringing into being and coming into being? What did I do wrong? I was told that maybe I was just small and that my next birth would be easier.
No one told me that I wasn’t active enough during my pregnancy, that I did repetitive tasks for too long, and that I had a terrible posture with my pelvis tucked in most of the time (because a misinformed yoga instructor that I followed for a while had said that tucking in the pelvis strengthened the core). Heck, I didn’t even know what a neutral pelvis is. What started this hours of research and reading through different blogs and articles was when I began questioning my midwife’s instructions to ‘kegel’. I don’t believe kegels are even useful in general but for the sake of the argument… weren’t kegels supposed to be helpful for peeing your pants? Well, I wasn’t peeing my pants and actually, I was having trouble urinating altogether. I developed a self-diagnosed urethral prolapse postpartum (the symptoms appeared just as I began kegeling), and I was also experiencing hypertonicity of the pelvic floor muscles. Contrary to popular belief, kegels don’t help prolapse but worsen it. I don’t want to get too deep into this because I’m not intending on writing about my postpartum healing. I will write about that in a different post, but right now I want to just focus on what I believe I was missing during pregnancy that impacted my labor.
I should mention that I didn’t have a problem with my diet during pregnancy. I think I am generally a healthy eater. I didn’t gain a lot of weight. I was still at 110 lbs by the end of my first trimester, and I gained about 30 lbs by the end of my pregnancy. I had a relatively easy pregnancy with no nausea. I did experience fatigue during the first trimester and slept a lot. And as I said, I was not the active person that I normally was prior to moving to Michigan pregnant or not. I stood a lot and sat a lot, and that was about it. I remember experiencing this pain in my back on the right when I was about 5.5 months pregnant that would prevent me from sleeping restfully. At about 6-7 months of pregnancy, I was visiting family in Cyprus and I also spent the last week of the 4-week visit in Istanbul where my husband and I walked quite a bit. The pain was gone within a few days and it never came back again. I attributed it to the walking.
What I believe I needed for an easier labor may not apply to everyone. There might be people who don’t move an inch and experience smooth pushing stages, I don’t know. But I know lack of movement didn’t help me. It didn’t help me emotionally either. I’m so happy being able to walk here in Istanbul and not need a car. I try to walk as much as possible every time I visit Cyprus too and benefit from the clean air. I learned a lot about myself and my body from my first pregnancy, labor & postpartum, and I hope that next time will be different.