This week we go to Egypt and Saudi Arabia as part of the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making. Aisha, who is originally from the USA, talks about the difference of having babies in the USA, Egypt and Saudia, her role as a natural birth lecturer (amongst other things) and the importance of being informed. 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 originally from the United States, but I’m married to a Saudi and live in Saudi Arabia.
I have a myriad of roles:
• Founder of AMANI Birth (Assisting Mothers for Active, Natural, Instinctive Birth)
• Childbirth Educator and Lecturer
• Labor/Birth Doula
• WHO/UNICEF Certified Breastfeeding Counselor
• Columnist and Editor for Saudi Life Motherhood and Parenting pages (www.saudilife.net)
• Saudi Birth Story Blogger (www.saudibirthstory.blogspot.com)
• Freelance Journalist for Arab News
• Home Schooling Mother
It’s not as busy as it seems. I’m blessed to do most of that from home and with my children around me all the time!
My first five children were born in California: Khalid 15, Sarah 13, Amina 12, Salman 10, and Rayan 8. My sixth was born in Egypt, Haider, 4. My last two were born in Saudi: Faris 2 and Amani 9 months.
Why did you have your children abroad?
It just happens to be where we lived at the time of their births. Since my husband is Saudi, we eventually migrated across the globe to his homeland.
What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
First and foremost would be the birthing culture’s understanding of Islamic practice. I find it uplifting and refreshing when medical staff make dua (prayer) or say, “Bismallah (for Allah),” before any exam or procedure.
Also, respect for modesty in the Muslim countries during labor and birth; which was lacking in the first five births in the States. Not to mention, not being treated strangely for making dua (prayer) in Arabic during labor and birth.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
With the first one (sixth birth), I was very nervous about the quality of care. More than that, I was concerned about the high level of medical interventions routinely performed in the Egyptian birthing culture.
I found a doctor who respected my birthing experience and who basically allowed me to dictate what I did or did not want done. As a natural birth mama, this really was a blessing, especially since Egyptian protocols are not normally so “hands-off” for birth.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
Absolutely! First of all, there is simply no such thing as “informed consent” here. Once you admit into the hospital for birth, it’s as if you’ve handed your body over like you would your car to a mechanic. Questioning the doctor, or asking to be informed about what is going on and why, is often met with annoyed resistance. Patients and their families are met with an attitude that portrays that the doctor is “all-knowing” and whatever is happening is “beyond anyone else’s level of understanding.”
Sadly, it’s common to hear about women who have been “put under” for no reason and without warning just as their baby is about to be born. This and other unnecessary procedures and protocols are carried out without a word or explanation before, during, or after the event.
This is extremely disturbing and frightening for those of us from the West. We realize our birthing culture there is too medicalized. However, in the States we expect some level of respect and information and overall control over decisions made with regards to our care, unless a true life or death emergency arises.
As for parenting, most locals in Saudi and Egypt have no concept of home schooling. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. I could probably write a whole post (or more) just on the cultural differences in parenting.
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
Knowledge is power. Get educated, be prepared to advocate for yourself and your baby as well as to make your case (and educate your care provider along the way) for what you want/don’t want done during your birth.
More importantly, don’t assume that the type of care or respect for your decisions is at the same level as your home country. Constant and detailed communication with your care providers is imperative. Also, shop around and ask other expats for their recommendations and don’t just go with the provider your insurance covers. When it comes to birth, it’s better to pay more for the experience you desire, then to regret it later.
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Aisha, I really enjoyed reading your account of having babies abroad. In Japan, where I had my daughter, the concept of informed consent is similar to what you described: once in the care of the doctors, they make all the decisions.
In order to face this reality without making myself too crazy, I found two doctors who had training and experience in the US and who were more natural-birth friendly, and then I just had to trust them. I found that resisting and questioning everything about my care too exhausting and too stressful. I wanted to focus on having a calm and safe delivery.
I agree with you 100 percent that investing in knowledge and advocating for your baby is so important. My experience in Japan (albeit a developed country) taught me that the best way to put this knowledge to use is to find a like-minded doctor in whom I could put my trust, and so I could just focus on my body and my baby. My birth experience wasn’t perfect (I had interventions that probably wouldn’t have been performed elsewhere) but it was wonderful, pain-med free, amazingly empowering, and it brought me my beautiful girl. And I couldn’t ask for more than that, really.
A lot of my friends, who have had babies in the middle-east, have described a similar feeling of losing control. Apparently, natural child-birth is not given much of a chance.
My mom gave birth to my brother in the U.A.E, 27 years back and she had to insist on a natural birth, even then. I was lanning to have my baby in Dubai, as my parents live there, however, at the last moment my husband couldn’t make it and we decided to have her in India.