This time I was really excited about the upcoming birth of my baby. My Saudi husband had really taken the time to study about pregnancy and birth and was ready to support me in my long-time dream of having a home birth! We worked hard together during this pregnancy and became teachers of natural childbirth classes. I witnessed a transformation in my husband and I can't even begin to explain just how much closer we have become! This story is special because it's from his perspective.
Amani is an Arabic word which means “wishes.” It’s the name we chose for our newborn baby girl (and later became the name of the childbirth education and doula training program we developed). The choice was made Sunday night, the 19th of September, 2010. It was a family gathering and the kids were asking about the name of the baby we’re expecting soon. So Aisha started to read through a list of names on the net. The kids and I were commenting of how much we like or dislike the name as Mom went down the list. Mom stopped at some names and commented that she liked them. At one point, she stopped and said, “Amani, means wishes, it sounds nice and the meaning is warm.” I replied, agreeing to her comments, saying it’s a name that I would like.
We had thought of picking a name a few times during the pregnancy and as it was advancing we knew it’s getting more important to have a name picked. It’d been a while that we were expecting birth to be soon. However, it was only at that moment that Amani was considered to be the name we may use for the baby. But it was just a thought, as we felt we had time to think it over and maybe come back to it. Our due date was still a few more days and we knew birth could even be a couple of weeks away. In fact, an initial visit to an obstetrician on her third day in Saudi revealed a due date by ultra sound of October 8th. This was about three weeks away, so we felt confident we still had some time to go. We never thought it’s going to be much sooner. We had no idea just how soon it would be or that this would be the last time we had to discuss names!
Well, Mom had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions ever since she arrived in Saudi two weeks ago. For a couple of nights in a row she mentioned it, but said they’re mild and eventually they went away. I started getting nervous a few days ago, while we were out driving as she was having them continuous and five minutes apart. That was so strong of a sign that I really got worried and asked Aisha is it that serious and if she’s being funny about it. She said it’s nothing to be funny about; it’s that painful, yet not strong enough to stop our drive and expect delivery. Instead we stopped at a juice shop and got a couple of cups, hoping that would stop the contractions. Thankfully it did. That was the night we had the discussion about names.
On the next day, the 20th, we went out to buy pizza for the family. She was having them again and she looked very hurt. I asked if it’s the time or she’s being funny again. She replied very firmly, “It’s nothing to be funny about; it HURTS that bad!” She made me slow down my driving. The van was hardly moving as I was driving around waiting for the pizza to be ready and stopped to get falafil for Sarah. Aisha was very warm and tired and asked for cold juice again, so we had some that night too.
I knew her contractions were much harder this time when Aisha had to ask me to slow down, slower than I was already; the van was hardly moving. I’m not sure if she realized that, LOL. At one point she cried, “Slow down and don’t go fast over that speed bump!”
That got me really worried and I asked, “Is it time? How far apart are they?”
After a few minutes of silence, she replied, “Three minutes.”
Rayan, our seven-year-old-boy asked, “What’s three minutes?”
Mom said, “Time to pick up the pizza.” We did pick it up and it was after 9 when we got home and ate.
Mom didn’t look well. It seemed she couldn’t enjoy her dinner. She quickly had her pizza and left to bed. I sat with the kids a while and then joined her in the room. I thought her contractions were over now (after birth she told me that they hadn’t stopped at all). I said, “I’ll be busy tomorrow. I am going to the airport to meet my mother for her return from Belgium. I may not be able to bring dinner.” (Note, we just moved into our flat and don’t have a refrigerator or stove yet. We are in Saudi and women cannot drive, so I have been bringing something for dinner each night.) Aisha said that we’d better go shopping to buy some snacks for tomorrow.
It’d been a very busy day and I’d been awake since 4 am. I was very tired and didn’t think I can go out again tonight. I told her, “I must get some rest before going out again; give me 30 minutes to nap, at least, and we’ll go shopping again.” I was worried we might not make it, as the stores close at midnight.
I was so tired and she did let me nap exactly 30 minutes. After that half an hour, I was up again and we were on our way out shopping. It took us some time to find the Panda Mega Store that I wanted her to shop at. It’s the nearest to the new flat we just moved into less than a week ago. When we finally got there, I stayed in the car to rest while she and Sarah shopped for some snacks for tomorrow. It was well after 1 am when we were driving back home.
When we got home, I was so exhausted! I went straight to bed knowing I needed to be up again in 2 hours for our Fajer (morning) prayer. That little nap was not enough to bring me back to full awareness as it was the only rest I had for the last 24 hours. Thankfully, I was able to get up for prayer, but as soon as I returned to bed, I was out again.
Aisha told me after the birth that she had been having contractions all night long. They were strong but she said she was able to get a couple hours sleep. After our morning prayer, she said I was passed out! She was lying with me and having very strong and steady contractions. She tells me that she was asking me to get up and be with her. Apparently, I had my back to her and kept saying that I was tired and cold. At one point she says that she told me, “I don’t care how tired or cold you are, I need you!” She also says that she poked me and hit me on the back and said, “You’re not being a good dad! You’re making me labor alone!” I really can’t recall any of Aisha’s requests to get up and help her to cope with any of the contractions she says she was having.
Apparently, they were strong and continuous and wouldn’t go away no matter what she did. Her attempts to wake me up were hopeless. Getting upset, I heard her say, “You’re not helping me at the time I need you most!” I was still out of it and didn’t really understand what she meant.
Later, she told me that she couldn’t get back to sleep so she tried to get distracted writing emails. I didn’t even realize she had left the room. A check back at her email log indicates that was enough to get her to around 7 am, but didn’t work any further.
I have no doubt things were very different now as she must have been wondering if it’s the time she’s going to have Amani. She tells me that she honestly wasn’t sure if this was “it” or if they were just stronger Braxton-Hicks. At one point she did say, “I am not sure if you should go to work today.” But she says that even as she said it, she wasn’t sure I should stay home either.
She says the sun was just beginning to shine as she came back to bed after emailing and tried to rest. I do recall her saying that she wanted to go to the bathroom after this contraction. I was barely aware of her words and I didn’t even realize she was having contractions.
It seems that visit to bathroom was the last she could do alone. That’s when I heard her crying loudly and calling for me to help. It was loud enough to get me up and running to the sound. She had locked the door and was locked in. I couldn’t do anything but beg her to please unlock the door. The only reply I got is, “I CAN’T MOVE; I HAVE STRONG CONTRACTIONS!”
I kept standing by the door and trying anything to get it open. Nothing worked and all I could do was hope she’ll open soon and be able to get back to bed where we have things ready for delivery. I was so concerned as she was locked in the bathroom and all our supplies were not there; they were in the next room. I knew that Aisha really needed to move quickly now to get back there.
Suddenly I heard her cry, “My water broke!” Amidst all of her cries, those were the only clear words she said. Apparently, she was crawling through the bathroom to unlock the door. As soon as I heard the click, I rushed to open the door to find her kneeling on the floor in the showering area, just inside the bathroom door. It seemed she was in the best position she can be, as she didn’t respond to any of my attempts to move her to any other place or position. I asked her if she wanted help to move to the bedroom; she just shook her head. I asked if she wanted me to bring a mat for her to lie on; again she just shook her head. I asked if she wanted a chair; she said, “NO! Just put a clean towel under me so the baby doesn’t land on the tile!”
So I ran to get a towel to slide under her and also brought her a chair so she can lean on, as I was afraid her shaking hands would soon give out. I guess that was a good idea, as she did begin resting her upper body across the chair. She was in a half kneeling/half squatting position. I knew she was having strong contractions as she was crying loudly and praying to Allah to make it easy and smooth, “Ya Rabee, Ya Rabee,” she cried. Her cries were coming faster and louder. I tried to hush her as I was afraid she’d wake the kids; at which point she screamed at me, “YOU CAN’T TELL ME TO HUSH!” Then she suddenly shouted, “THE HEAD IS COMING!”
OMG, I really wasn’t expecting it to happen now! I was thinking it’s only first stage labor and we’ll have a chance to get her to the next room and in place for second stage. She never said she’s pushing!
I quickly began to wonder if it’s not going to be the way we planned. It was a split-second thought, as my mind switched to concern for the safety of Aisha and the baby. I rushed to be behind her as she cried for the head. I was shocked to find she was RIGHT! Amani’s head was already out. I reached as quickly as I could to place my hand under her head so she can land on it, praying for everything to be smooth, safe and quick. It seems my prayers were accepted, as placing my hand under her head was the only thing she wanted me to do. Little Amani turned a little and slid her whole body out to rest in my hands.
“I’ve got her!” I cried to Aisha. At that moment I felt so warm and touched to have my little baby girl in my hands. I knew I had witnessed the miracle of a new human life starting right before my eyes. Even more than that, I was in shock and awe. Here she was, whole and perfect, and resting in my hands. I was so thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of it all!
“Alhmdulelah!” (Thank God!) she replied.
But now what?!? We were both stuck! Aisha was on her hands and knees with the cord between her legs and couldn’t move. I was behind her with my slippery little daughter wiggling in my hands but couldn’t go far as she was still connected to Mom! I was trying to hand her around Aisha’s legs but she was saying no because the cord was tugging and too short. “Can you take her?” I asked, not knowing what to do. I knew the baby needed care and attention. I wanted to give her to Mom. This is the first time I’ve been involved in birth and have never had a baby in my arms who’s still connected to Mom!
“No, not really, try passing her under my tummy,” she said as she let go of the chair to raise her upper body. I was so relieved to pass her to Mom! “Help me take my shirt off,” she said. It was not easy, but I helped her take off her shirt as she juggled the baby. “Get me a clean towel.” I immediately ran to the bedroom to bring a towel and a mat for them to rest on.
I gave her the towel and placed the mat in the doorway to the bathroom. Aisha carefully placed the baby on the clean towel and crawled while dragging the towel to the mat. Finally she was able to sit in a normal position and hold our beautiful baby. I don’t recall what she was saying, but she was talking to Amani and I could feel the love and adoration in her voice.
Aisha had the baby in her arms now and was sitting on the second towel. She asked for another to cover and clean the baby. I ran for the third towel and grabbed the camera. I was surprised and warmed to see they were already nursing when I got back. They rested there for quite a while as I took the first photos.
I began to get nervous that the kids may wake up and find them there. The bathroom needed to be cleaned up and I didn’t want the kids to see the mess. I asked Aisha if she was ready to move to the bedroom. She told me to get a disposable bed pad from the room. I went to the room and prepared a place for her to sit and came back with the disposable pad. She stood up and stepped back into the shower area and asked me to help her clean off her legs. I took the shower hose down and carefully hosed her off. She had the bed pad under her, much like a diaper, as she walked the few steps with the baby to the room.
I was so relieved that she was finally in a safe place. Then I remembered to check the time on my mobile. “8:20,” I said, “she must’ve been born around 8 o’clock. Should I call an ambulance?”
“An ambulance, are you nuts? What for?” Aisha replied, “Do you really think I want men up in here? I’m not cleaned up or dressed!”
I didn’t know what to do. “Let me call the doctor at my office,” I said. I tried to call, but he didn’t answer.
“Let me have the phone,” she said. I handed her the phone and went to clean up the bathroom. I tossed the two dirty towels in a big black trash bag and proceeded to hose down the entire area. I was quite glad it’s all tile in there. We hadn’t planned to deliver in the shower area, but I quickly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t such a bad thing after all!
I stopped by the kitchen to get an orange juice box and tea biscuits for Aisha. When I came back, she was just finishing a call to Dr. Hana, her teaching partner in Alexandria, Egypt. She was nursing Amani again too. She smiled warmly at me as I handed her the juice and cookies. I was thankful that I had gotten up to take her grocery shopping a few hours before! I took some more photos as she nursed.
Faris, our seventeen-month-old woke up. He had been sleeping near where Aisha and Amani were sitting. He was a bit groggy as he stumbled to Mom. His eyes lit up with wonder and he squealed with delight, pointing at the new little bundle in Mom’s arms. He was trying to kiss Amani and climb into Mom’s lap with her. “Please bring the kids to see Amani and have them take Faris until we’re cleaned up,” Aisha said.
I got another towel and helped her cover herself and went to find the children. “The baby’s here!” I told the girls. They shouted in excitement and tumbled over one another as they rushed to the boys’ room to share the news. All of them ran to find Aisha and Amani.
When they reached Aisha they were all talking at once. I don’t know who said what but they were asking, “What’s her name? Can I hold her? I thought you said you’d scream; how come we didn’t hear anything?”
Aisha announced, “Her name is Amani. She’s still attached to me; you can hold her after the placenta comes. Please take care of Faris and keep him and Haider for me until I’m cleaned up.” We were both relieved to realize the kids hadn’t heard the screaming!
The kids took Faris and went back to their rooms. Amani was sleeping peacefully in Mom’s loving arms. I began to get worried about the placenta. It’d been about forty-five minutes since the birth. “Is it normal to take this long for the placenta?” I asked.
“It’s okay,” Aisha replied, “but let’s go ahead and cut the cord. I’m ready to shower and clean up now.”
In the weeks prior to birth, I had been nervous about this whole cord cutting thing. In fact, I was nervous about the whole home birth thing! It didn’t help matters when Aisha had mentioned she was praying for everything to go well and listed so many abnormalities (meconium staining, prolapsed cord, maternal hemorrhage, etc.). I was relieved that the birth happened so quickly, as I really didn’t have time to think.
“Get the placenta bucket,” Aisha said. I got the blue bucket Aisha had purchased for the placenta. Inside was a small purple bag with sterile belly cord clips, individual alcohol prep wipes, a bulb syringe, a digital thermometer, lanolin breast cream, vitamin E tablets, and special round placenta scissors.
“Do we need all this?” I asked.
“Just the alcohol preps, clamps, and scissors,” she replied as she pointed about an inch from the baby’s belly and told me to clamp there. I was relieved that she knew what to do and I did as she advised. Then she pointed about an inch and half further from that point and told me to clamp there. I did. Then she instructed me to clean the scissors with a rubbing alcohol pad. I did that. “Now, cut between the two clamps,” she said. I hesitated and looked at her, then made the cut. I was surprised at the deep red blood that squirted out. Aisha wiped the blood off the baby’s legs with a tissue and then placed her gently in my arms. Amani was still gooey and naked, but wrapped neatly in a towel. Now that she was free, Aisha said, “Please take her to the girls while I shower.”
I held Amani close and recited the adthan in her right ear and the iqama in her left (calls to prayer). Then I went to give her to the girls, but first I let Haider, our three-year-old son, hold her. He was so proud as I took his picture. Then the girls each took a turn holding her as I took more photos.
When I returned to Aisha, she said she had delivered the placenta. Sure enough, there it was in a heap on the disposable bed pad on the floor. She had another bed pad between her legs and was gathering her towel and clothes to head to the shower. I decided to take a picture of the placenta as documentation of the birth then I slid it into the blue pail and set it aside as I cleaned up the towels and pads in the room.
Soon after, Aisha called for me to bring Amani to the shower. I got her from the girls and took her to Mom. She quickly cleaned her up and I took her back to the bedroom in a clean towel. After dressing herself, Aisha put a diaper and pink pajama on Amani. It was good to see them both cleaned up and dressed. I went to take my shower while they rested.
Once I was dressed, we headed to the car. We brought the placenta bucket with us in case the hospital would want to examine it. We hadn’t driven far when the doctor from my work returned my call. I told him the situation and asked where to take them. I explained that mother and baby were both fine and didn’t need hospitalization, but we wanted the baby checked and needed a document from a hospital to get her birth certificate. After several calls back and forth he directed me to go to Obeid Hospital where our company has a health care contract. When we arrived it was almost 11:30 am. We went to the emergency department but they decided we were not an emergency and sent us to the pediatric floor. During the half hour wait Aisha was feeling very hungry and thirsty. I was only able to get her water.
When we got to see the doctor, I told him our situation and he asked, “Where’s the mother?”
“Right here,” Aisha replied. He seemed shocked that she was there after having just delivered a baby.
“Who cut the cord?” he asked.
“Baba,” (Daddy) Aisha answered.
“Was it cut in a sterile manner?” he asked.
“Yes, we cleaned the scissors with rubbing alcohol first,” she said.
“Aisha is a childbirth instructor,” I added, trying to ease the confusion he was having.
“She’s fine,” he said, “we’ll give her the hepatitis and tuberculosis vaccines now and she can go home.”
“What’s her weight?” Aisha wanted to know.
“3 kilograms,” he said.
“What is that in pounds?” she asked me.
After a quick calculation I said, “6.6 pounds.”
I asked him about the paper for registering her birth. He said he wasn’t really aware of the procedure and we’d have to come back after five o’clock to see the concerned department. We left the hospital and drove through Hardee’s Restaurant to get lunch for the family. The kids were thrilled to see us. We ate and Aisha and Amani went to rest.
At four thirty, I took them back to the hospital. We went to the Obstetrics Department and had Aisha examined. Alhamdulelah (thanks to God), everything was fine. We asked about the certification for the birth record. After a few calls to administrators we were informed that normally, “emergency” births come in dirty and with the placenta still in tact. They are admitted to the hospital and third stage labor is handled there. In such cases a paper is given. However, in our case we came in cleaned up and “finished.” They said they were not able to give the document and we’d have to approach the government for procedures in such a case.
Unfortunately, there will be a lot of “red tape” and it will take a lot of time and follow-up to get her birth certificate. However, we are thankful for our special home birth and feel it was worth the extra effort it will take to register her.
This has been a special pregnancy as we really worked hard together to learn as much about birth as we could. I really want to give extra thanks to our childbirth education teacher, Janet, who spent special time with us. She took us to tour a natural birth center and gave us wonderful and practical advice that helped us to be prepared for our birth. Especially about having lots of towels and making the bed “twice” with a plastic shower curtain between the layers. She was definitely a big part of the process for us, even from half way across the globe! I really feel that she went out of her way for us and I can’t even begin to express how much it means to me.
I’m also thankful to our two obstetricians for their care and concern, although they didn’t necessarily agree with our choices. I feel especially endeared to Aisha for introducing me to this opportunity. I had never even considered, nor desired, having a part in bringing my daughter into the world. I really didn’t know what I was missing! Aisha really worked hard to bring me into it as well as preparing for the birth (physically, emotionally, and logistically) and spent many hours finding necessary information about home and unassisted birth on the net.
Additionally, Grandma and our seven children (Khalid, Sarah, Amina, Salman, Rayan, Haider, and Faris) have been a great support as Aisha and I spent many hours studying and learning about birth. The older children helped care for the younger as I attended childbirth classes to become a birth instructor with Aisha. Without their loving support, we may not have had this wonderful experience.
I also want to mention that the teacher training that I attended with Aisha was really a life changing experience for me. I was surprised that even in America, men are not usually into being there for their wives. In fact, I’m thankful to Mark for attending the instructor training with his wife, because if he had not been there, I wouldn’t have stayed with Aisha.
Alhamdulelah (thanks to God), we are so thankful to Allah for His blessings upon us. I can’t begin to explain just how much closer Aisha and I have grown through all of this. We’ve been caring and preparing for Amani all throughout the pregnancy. Although the birth is over and my story finished, it’s just the first day of the story of her precious life. We are full of love and commitment to provide her the best care. We pray she has a blessed, healthy, happy, long life with continuous love and care.
I feel obligated to share what I’ve learned. I never realized just how important natural, unmedicated birth is to the health of the mother and baby. It didn’t occur to me that we had a role, as parents, to ensure our babies have the best start in this life. I had always just entrusted that responsibility to medical staff without giving thought to the many choices or potentially lifelong consequences. I could never have imagined what I was missing out on or how strong the bond is between husband, wife, and new baby when the father stays involved and does his part to support his wife throughout her pregnancy and birth. It’s really a rewarding experience.
I’ve been blessed by this experience and am excited to share my story. As a childbirth teaching couple, I’m thankful that Aisha and I now have an opportunity to teach others and help them prepare for the up coming births of their babies (although we do NOT recommend unassisted births by any means). I’m blessed to be able to teach with Aisha and know that I will now be able to speak from personal experience.
I was very touched and warmed when our first childbirth student, Raul, called, man-to-man, to congratulate me about Amani. I pray that he and Nessrin have a wonderful birth experience and I’m happy that Raul is stepping up to be there for her. In fact, I pray for every man to take the opportunity to be involved as I have. It’s a growth experience in manhood that I could never begin to understand before passing through it.
DISCLAIMER: Although Amani was born at home as an unassisted birth, we do NOT advocate for nor recommend unassisted birthing. We really want parents to get educated, prepared, and shop for the most supportive care provider they can find, even if that means they have to interview many before they are satisfied with one. Birth is a natural life event and most times everything goes fine...but we would never want parents to birth without the support of a doctor or midwife in case a complication did arise. Be wise, be informed, and work with your care providers for the best birth possible...even if that means a cesarean section for complications. Birth is beautiful, no matter how it happens and even the most medicalized birth can be empowering when the parents are able to make informed decisions.