Next up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making I talk to Maha who is half English, half Egyptian and had her children in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Here is her story:
Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are your children and where did you have them?
I’m 28, half English half Egyptian born in Dubai, lived around the middle east but went to school and University in England.
I have a 4 year old daughter. I had her in Dubai at a private hospital. My 23 month twin boys were also born in Dubai but at a Government pediatric and maternity hospital.
Why did you have your children abroad?
My husband is from Dubai and my family live here also so with my first delivering here was the obvious choice. Also I didnt want to be away from my husband who wouldnt be able to travel because of work.
My experience delivering my daughter was not one i look back on happily.My doctor was an older indian woman who was quite a ‘hard’ person and always very rushed. I was put on bed rest at the beginning of the pregnancy due to bleeding so I just wanted a good and experienced doctor. I guess thats why i over looked her harsh nature. I enrolled in antenatal classes at her recommendation and when the midwife heard who my doctor was she told me “you’ll by induced my 39 weeks and be strapped to monitors” – not what i wanted at all! I used the guide from those classes to draft my birth plan and insisted we went through it together. I didnt want anything unusual. Majority of my requests were simply “to be informed before rupturing membranes / performing a sweep / starting internal monitoring” etc and also for internal examinations to only be performed by the same person (subject to shift changes – i was being realistic). In short, not one of the points on my birth plan , that she even signed off on, was followed. From the start i was told they were just going to “check” me and then i had excurciating pain… because she performed a sweep. The next time she just wanted to “check” me I burst into tears because I thought I lost control of my bladder. In fact she had burst my water. And did i mention this happened at 39 weeks because she told me that if i didnt let her induce me then my baby would be too big to deliver naturally and i’d have no choice but to have a csection. I also requested that only the necessary staff be in the labour room and guests be limited to immediate family but 18 hours into my labour i noticed random nurses coming in and out of the room. They would stand, look at us, smile and walk out. My husband ask why they keep coming in and out and the midwife giggled. Her answer? “They’ve been told you are a cute couple. they wanted to see”.
After the birth I was very happy to see that the hospital listened to my request that my new baby be exclusively breastfed and they put a big sticker on the bassinet. On day 2 they gave her a nice warm bath and she slept and slept…and slept! After 3 hours i tried waking her for a feed but she was too sleepy. An hour later we stripped her off and tried again but still she slept. They told me that they would need to check her blood sugar level to make sure she wasnt sleeping because of low sugar levels. I agreed. They pricked her heel and of course she cried. While they tested the blood i tried to nurse her but she didnt want to latch on and the blood sugar test was fine. Since the test was fine I refused the nurses suggestion of a “top up feed”. 20 minutes later another nurse walked into my room and in front of my guests announced that i was starving my baby and that i was cruel. she said that they would need to give her formula with a syringe. I was so upset and very embarrassed. In hindsight i wonder if i was alone in the room if i would have stood up to her. But i gave in. Tears streamed down my face while they gave her the formula not because it was formula but because I was worried about the knock on effect – her full tummy means she wouldn’t nurse for even longer and i was desperately trying to establish my supply, and most importantly my wishes were unnecessarily disregarded yet again. Thankfully we were able to figure out breastfeeding ourselves and with the help of some amazing lactation consultants and I nursed her until she was 21 months.
We were blessed with a healthy baby girl at the end of it all so thats all that matters but the experience there was dreadful. When i fell pregnant again and knowing i was due in the summer I straight away said i would deliver in England… but then we found out we were having twins, and the pregnancy was a bit bumpy from the start so we decided that it would be best staying here. I definitely didnt like the idea of flying back with 3 kids under 3! As soon as i told anyone i was having twins i was told csection and of course exclusively breastfeeding isnt even worth thinking about. I chose the government hospital because they have the best NICU unit and no other hospital was able to support babies as premature as this government hospital could. As soon as i mentioned delivery to the doctors there, the idea of a natural labour was completely normal. They carefully explained the possible situations that i needed to keep in mind but said if both babies were head down then 100% i could attempt a natural delivery. In the UAE doctors are not allowed to deliver a breach baby naturally, however, in the case of twins my doctor told me that even if Baby B was transverse, which he ended up being, or breach natural labour is still an option. The twins were born naturally and thankfully Baby B turned himself head down during the labour. It was the most empowering moment of my life. I wasnt poke and proded, put in unnatural and uncomfortable positions. As for feeding, breastfeeding was very much encoraged. unfortunately one of my twins needed some nicu time and his brother was with me wanting to nurse endlessly. when i called the nurse in the middle of the night i was expecting her to offer formula and i was ready to say yes! Instead she told me if i was too tired to keep nursing, i could express some milk and she would give it to him with a cup or syringe while i slept. Without that support i dont know if i would have had enough milk for the both of them and continued to exclusively breastfeed them. They’re 23 months and still nursing 🙂
What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
The private healthcare here is usually very good and since everyone (or most) have health insurance, it makes it accessible to all. However, for me the government hospital was truly incredible. Theres no bells and whistles, long waits in the antenatal clinic and standard ultrasound equipment but when it came down to whats really important, I could not fault them. A huge benefit this year has been the access to hired help! Live in helpers are the norm and is an affordable luxury.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
l read a LOT of forums and blogs when i was pregnant with my first but then avoided them in my second pregnancy. I envied the mothers who were able to have home births, water births, whose birth plans were respected!
Part of the local culture here is visiting when someone delivers. we visit in the hospital so typically the new mummy wears a pretty nursing gown and will have organized a hairdresser to come an blow dry her hair in the hospital. She will take a hospital suite to accommodate all the guests and have organised canapes, juice and tea to be served. The suite will be decorated in a particular theme and gifts will be given to each person who visits. On top of preparing for the new baby this is a lot to plan for too! Typically you receive a lot of guests for your first baby – we served 100 coffees on the first day after having my daughter. Hospitals set visiting hours but when you have a private suite they don’t really enforce it. I was receiving people from 10am until 1030pm. It is hard and tiring but its also lovely to really be celebrating the new arrival 🙂
I was so lucky to have my mother with me throughout and the support of my husbands family.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
I didn’t realise until I had my daughter just how pro-breastfeeding I am. It has been incredible seeing the support you get here in a culture that encourages mothers to nurse their children until their 2nd birthday. When feeding the boys I really had to trust my gutt as with all big families and communities there’s support and theirs a lot of ‘advice’. Many told me that it was too much work for me to breastfeed both of the boys (i tandem feed with the help of the EZTwin nursing pillow) and that i should nurse one, and pump for the other and then give in a bottle. This seemed like waaay too much work for me. When the boys started becoming colicky, which we later discovered was silent reflux, i was told that boys were hungrier than girls and that they were fussing because they were hungry. I trusted my gutt, asked my midwife and my milk supply, or possible lack of it, wasnt the problem
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
Have a plan but be flexible. Noone knows whats going to happen when you go into labour. Yes, it would be amazing to have candles, nice music, oil massages and be rocking on a ball through the labour but sometimes that just doesnt happen… and if it doesn’t thats ok. In hindsight i was so upset not because of what was actually happening. Why would i be? My dream came true – a healthy baby. I was upset because what i imagined didnt happen
Trust your gut! Advice from others is always well meaning advice but can lead you on the wrong track or really make you worry that youre doing everything wrong as its usually the complete opposite of what the person before said!
Stand your ground. Insist that the doctor listens to you and respects your wishes (as long as they dont jeopardise the health of you or the baby of course)
Get help with breastfeeding! I took a package with a midwife to come to my house once a week since we dont have health visitors like in the UK. Each time she came she would check the boys latch just to be sure. the minute things started to go off track i’d call her. Get the problem sorted early and then its easy to deal with. Problems with breastfeeding can be so painful for mummy. Don’t suffer!
Get a nursing cover! You don’t need to be stuck at home just because you’re breastfeeding…and you definitely don’t need to sit in the public toilet every time baby gets hungry. As a muslim woman wanting even more modesty and also feeding an older baby i found that most nursing covers weren’t wide enough so started designing my own. Feeding my babies when out and about has never been an issue.
Want to share your story? Get in touch
Maha is the founder and creator of Little Farasha (“Farasha” meaning butterfly in Arabic) is a collection of hand crafted, Middle Eastern inspired accessories for trendy babies and glamous yet modest mothers.
Check out her stunning Keffiyah dribble bibs, nursing covers and ghitra bags!