For as long as I can remember, I have always believed in having as natural a birth as possible. It may have something to do with how I came into this world – I was a homebirth in London over 30 years ago. My mum went on have one more homebirth after mine out of a total of 7 births and I was old enough to remember the second one. I remember there being not a single sound of discomfort, but I always dismissed it throughout the years as my mum being my mum. Up until my own homebirth 2-years ago, I underestimated the power of giving birth on one’s own terms, in one’s own space, and allowing one’s body to guide the birth.
In very simple terms, we are mammals. We prefer to give birth in dark, cozy, and private spaces (have you ever seen a cat give birth?). I remember reading once that privacy during birth helps the mother’s body release the hormones necessary for labour and birth, including oxytocin. On the other hand, adrenalin -which the body produces when fearful or stressed- actually stalls labour. This means that if the mother isn’t comfortable or if she is stressed/nervous/scared then the adrenalin produced by her body works against her. Think of how the bright lights in the labour room, the unnatural, sterile, and impersonal environment all work against the mother feeling calm. Think of how ‘relaxed’ the mother must feel while being exposed to a throng of medical staff. Consider how unfamiliar faces and uncomfortable positions must make the expectant mother feel. Worse still, an unfriendly or intrusive staff member can induce a great amount of stress which will slow down labour.
My beliefs around birthing children being as such, I approached the birth of my son Uthman feeling a little apprehensive. Hospitals where I was living at that time are not known for encouraging natural birth and medical interventions are common, if not standard procedure. Long story short, I had natural births with Uthman and Aalia but they were extremely painful and I was constantly fighting the medical staff despite having an ‘approved’ birth plan. I was fighting to be allowed to move instead of lying down on my back, the staff kept on changing, there were so many different doctors and faces in the space of a few hours, and I was fighting against the 100 medical interventions they tried to recommend (read: shove down my throat). I could not focus on my labour because it was a hostile environment and the adrenalin my body was producing was working against me. I was forced to lie on my back which is the worst position for giving birth but they were natural births with no medical inventions. For that alone I am grateful alhamdulillah.
Fast forward to my pregnancy with Dania. We had just moved to Ireland and a dear friend encouraged me to go for a homebirth. We knew that the hospital will only approve a homebirth if there are no complications whatsoever, so I went ahead and requested a transfer. I was given the green light later on and despite my excitement about giving birth at home there was also a sense of trepidation. My fear was natural. After all, we have been conditioned to believe that hospitals are the safest place for birthing – that hospitals are THE place to be when giving birth. But giving birth is not an illness, an expectant mother is not a patient, so in most cases she really doesn’t need a hospital.
The fear of my decision began to disappear as a I approached my due date. There were only 5 homebirth midwives in the city I am living in, and I got to know all of them in the comfort of my own home during their visits (antenatal checkups are carried out at home for homebirth mothers). We would sit down over a cup of tea and some dates and discuss my fears and concerns. The conversations were personal, comforting, and friendly, and after meeting all 5, I made duaa to Allah that I would have Catherine and Vicky as my midwives on the day.
On the morning of my 41st week, I woke up with contractions. Instead of diving into a state of panic about leaving the house and rushing to hospital as I had done with my other deliveries, I was extremely calm. My husband rushed off to get some fresh croissants and food for the children whilst I called the midwife.
An hour later, who should walk through the door but Vicky and Catherine! I have no words to describe the relief I felt when I saw them and I knew in that moment that Allah would grant me even better than the birth I had imagined. Whilst the birthing pool was being set up, I was walking up and down the stairs and pausing for each contraction. As the contractions became more intense, something remarkable happened. In the absence of any form of tension or stress, I could focus on laboring and my body began to guide me into positions that would help me embrace every contraction and ease the pressure! I just had to go with the flow! SubhanaAllah! The clarity, focus, and control I had throughout my labour was due alone to Allah’s fadhl and then to the environment I was in. Being in the comfort of my own home, allowing my body to guide me through labour, knowing that the kids are with me, the dimmed lights, Surah Maryam playing on repeat, having two brilliant midwives, and the smell of warm croissants are all things that helped me power through. Fresh warm croissants will always remind me of Dania’s homebirth.
Once the contractions intensified, I went into the pool. The warm water carried me and eased the pressure of the contractions that were coming in fast. Whilst on gas and air, I embraced the contractions and focused on meeting my daughter. I had realized that during my hospital births I would try and resist the contractions because of how painful they were (I was forced to labour on my back). The midwives stayed in a corner and spoke very softly when they had to so that they wouldn’t disturb me. Then it was time to push.
All this while my husband had been with the children. Once I needed him downstairs, he turned on something for them to watch (screen time is extremely limited in our house so it was a real treat for them and the best part of their day!) and then came down. In the meanwhile, the midwives called the ambulance to tell them that baby is on the way. This is standard procedure for homebirths over here.
Dania came out swimming. She was born underwater and it took me a few seconds to locate her. Once I scooped her out of the water she started feeding immediately and was very calm throughout. In case anyone feels nervous about baby swallowing water, remember that baby has been swimming in amniotic fluid for 9 months. Also, Allah SWT has equipped babies with a muscle reflex that stops water from entering the lungs. This reflex disappears at around 3 months. So don’t worry, water birth babies aren’t going to drink any pool water!
Dania was with me the whole time and nobody took her away to be weighed, rubbed, washed, or wrapped. An hour later, my husband cut the ambilocal cord and we all traipsed upstairs to welcome our newest little member.
Giving birth alone with no family nearby is hard, and we were new in Ireland. But Allah SWT sent us beautiful souls who helped us and cooked for us. The same very dear friend who encouraged me to go for a homebirth drove across the country with her young family to be with us. She looked after the children so that I could rest and my husband could work.
We named her Dania after the description of fruit in Jannah being close/within reach (قطوفها دانية). She is close to our hearts, our little Dania. Aalia’s name came from Allah’s description of Jannah in the verse before this one (في جنة عالية). She was the most blessed gift Allah bestowed upon us that year, and her birth was no less beautiful. It is a birth story I hope I will remember for years to come. And the rest is history.
(I do know that I come from a place of privilege. Homebirth for many women around the world means unsanitary conditions and sometimes even death. My homebirth was legal, assisted, and took place very near a hospital. There was an ambulance on standby and the midwives had brought medical equipment with them in case there was a need. This isn’t the case for many women around the world and for them, the hospital is a safer place.)