Having a baby is a pivotal moment in every sister's life, regardless of whether it is her first or her tenth, she needs and deserves to be able to recover and transition into motherhood without having to fulfill the demands of cooking for herself and her family. Something so simple and easy for those sisters who are able to volunteer, can bring such an immense relief to the new mother.
A meal train is basically a roster shared between sisters, who commit to cooking and delivering to the new mother and her family a nourishing home-cooked meal in the first weeks after she gives birth.
If the mother has engaged the services of a doula, she will most likely organise this for her.. However if she doesn’t have a doula, she can ask a close sister or family member to organise this for her when she gives birth inshaa'Allah.
They may send a message out to the sisters close circle, who can fill in the roster days that suit them, then the final roster is sent back to the mother, and there we have it – the essence of sisterhood and love for Allah’s sake, granted to our sisters at one of their most crucial times.
Hold up! If you are a new mother or mother-to-be and reading this, don’t feel bad (as we women tend to feel when help is offered!). Realise that in this perfect religion of Islam, going out of our way for a sister, helping her in her time of need, relieving her burden and assisting in her recovery; are ways to attain the pleasure of our Lord. Would you really deprive your sisters of the opportunity to gain rewards?
Of course, it’s not necessary for every mother. Some have very helpful families, in-laws and friends who already make sure the mother is resting, and that her and her family are fed well while she recovers.
Our aim is to make this a reality for all sisters when they give birth, and strengthen our bonds of sisterhood in as many aspects as we can. Who better would understand what an immense help this would be, other than another mother?
I've noticed that with meal trains there is a chain reaction; the mothers who received them, become the most eager (once back on their feet) to return the favour to those sisters who give birth after them.
Let’s get this happening! Start a meal train for a sister you know who has just given birth or plan one for a sister due to give birth soon! Bismillah!
Here is a generic message you can use to copy and paste:
Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh, as you know our dear sister (name) has given birth to her new baby (boy/girl) Alhamdulillah!
We are so happy for her Allahumma barik feeha and wish to help relieve her during this precious time of recovery and bonding with her baby.
Inshaa'Allah we are hoping to organise a meal train for (name), where we each choose a day from a roster that suits us and we prepare a wholesome meal for her and her family (specify number of other children) and deliver it to the doorstep. (Note any allergies here).
If you would like to put your name down: please copy and paste the roster, insert your name on the date you would like to cook, and post it back to the group/send back to me, Please don't feel obliged if you are unable, we understand every sister has her own personal and family commitments.
May Allah reward you for helping your sister in Islam and help you in your time of need Ameen!
Birth has always been, intrinsically, women's business. From a young age we yearn to become mothers, we are curious about pregnancy and birth and motherhood; we instinctively understand it is an amazing, transformative, and transcendent process and rite of passage. Suddenly as we grow into young women, and we are exposed to images of childbirth as a panicked, emergency situation, as we listen to stories of traumatic birth experiences and descriptions of the horrors of the 'pain', we begin to doubt our ability. We doubt our bodies, we doubt our strength, we completely hand over our autonomy in birth; and become full of fear. What a great disservice we have done to ourselves, even though unintentional. As an introduction to the 'Sakinah Birth' class, we present a brief history of childbirth to facilitate a broadened understanding of birth; in order to be able to analyse our own views of childbirth, in a context that is not limited. Following is an excerpt from the class.
"Historically, birth was considered to be a natural and normal process that is part of a married woman’s life. Birth usually took place in the home, especially in Islamic history due to the modesty of the mother, and in other parts of the world women often gave birth in a secluded outdoor area or field. Birth was exclusively a female event, attended by a traditional midwife, a traditional helper, and 2 or 3 more female relatives. So, during the course of a woman’s early years, she would have been exposed to a number of births, and as the years passed by she would have become knowledgeable and skilled in pregnancy and childbirth, passing those skills and knowledge onto her younger sisters and daughters. Mothers-to-be during this time often knew what to expect, from their bodies, their caregivers, their environment, and their babies; and they had a visual expectation of what this would look like. This preparation caused mothers-to-be to approach their impending births with little fear, which in return caused for more cases of straightforward births.
This scenario of childbirth was the norm throughout history, until the 1800’s when analgesia for childbirth was introduced, and birth was moved from the home to the hospital where the analgesia was available. The only people who were allowed in the birthing room were the physician and his assisting nurse, and the analgesia caused the mother to be very sleepy and meant she needed to be confined to a bed for duration of the birth. Most of the time the mother was so sleepy she was unable to wake up enough to push and give birth to her baby, hence the increased use of forceps to assist the babies to be born. Another effect of the analgesia at this time was that the mother would often forget her birth experience altogether! So as this practice started the spread throughout the world, women, especially in civilised societies, began to lose their understanding and knowledge of childbirth and what to expect, until it became something that was feared by almost all women.
By the 1950’s, there were many professors, doctors and midwives worldwide who were expressing their concerns regarding the way childbirth was being handled in the hospital. Research was beginning to uncover the damaging effects of the unnecessary interventions on mothers and babies, and women began to instinctively feel the need to have more information and choice during the births of their babies. And so, the natural childbirth movement began, with women reclaiming the knowledge and skills that had been lost, and midwives moving back into the forefront as the caregivers for women during childbirth, while physicians or obstetricians focus mainly on women with high risk conditions."
Seeing as fear has been such an ingrained aspect of childbirth over the past two centuries, it makes sense that it could be something we need to consciously address and challenge.
Understanding birth is not something that is an 'extra benefit' or a simple 'interest' for those women who choose to gain this knowledge. It is a vital, essential, part of being a woman, a mother, a sister.
The Nakhlah Childbirth doula training was developed to gather those sisters with a common passion for this vision of educating women and changing the birth experiences of women all over the world.
The Sakinah Birth classes were developed to offer all our sisters (pregnant, mothers, newly married, sisters, daughters, grandmothers) an opportunity to understand the intricacies of birth in a way that can change the way we approach birth, experience birth, and essentially alter the way the newer generations of mothers view birth as whole.
This question came up earlier this week with one our doula clients. The sister asked, "How do Muslim doulas support a woman whose husband will be attending the birth. Do the sisters have a policy on this? How do they generally navigate the situation?"
"Muslim doulas generally adhere to Islamic guidelines when supporting sisters during childbirth. They will avoid staying alone in a space with the birthing woman's husband. They also won't invade the husbands space when he is interacting with his wife. Muslim doulas have also observed that husbands maintain space between themselves and the doula when she is closely interacting with the woman.
Of course in birth, the environment is very different to a normal environment, as all attention is on the woman and her needs; and this tends to eradicate any discomfort that would normally be experienced by non-related Muslims of the opposite gender.
All energy revolves around the woman, and doulas is mostly very skilled at being able to pick up on when the woman is in need of her husband, and when she is in need of her doula.
So when the woman is interacting with and being supported by her husband, the doula will disappear into the background and tend to the birth environment, and other external factors that serve the woman and her birth.
When she notices the woman's need for her, she slips back into the her immediate space and the husband tends to step back at that point. This gives him time to have a break to refresh, perform his prayers, update family members etc., whilst knowing that his wife has a professional Muslim doula supporting her. The cycle usually continues in this way for the duration of the woman's labour.
During the last moments of birth, when the baby is born, the woman usually needs all of her support people's attention directly on her; and this is often the only necessary time that the doula and the birthing woman's husband may be within the same immediate space.
Once the baby is born the doula takes a big step into the background, ensuring the new mother and father are not interrupted during the precious moments while they are meeting their baby.
The unspoken understanding between Muslim men and women is quite beautiful. Most sisters say their husbands reported feeling very comfortable having a Muslim sister attend the birth of their baby in a professional capacity. There is no such thing as "awkward silence" when the brothers are dealing with Muslim women. As we know, some brothers may feel uncomfortable engaging in "awkward conversation" (which occurs with the purpose of building rapport), and they appreciate the doula politely fulfilling those moments by conversing with the staff and facilitating the indirect rapport building that may be more culturally appropriate."
We thought we'd share this explanation here to help those sisters, who are considering engaging the services of a doula, understand how we navigate our role in birth as practicing Muslim women. Hope it helps!
Allah has created the woman and her body to be capable of amazing things. All is from Allah, and we are there to remind our sisters that Allah never burdens a believer with more than they can handle.
Birth is not a punishment, and can be one of the greatest, most exhilarating moments in a woman’s life. Doulas are there to help the woman embrace this reality and to guide her in working with her body and her mind during this incredible experience; while creating a stronger relationship with Allah.
Witnessing life coming into this world has a profound effect on the heart and soul, and when women are in a calm, nurturing environment it allows them to experience the blessings that surround birth.
A doulas job is to remove the chaos, allowing the woman to tune into her natural instincts. After the woman has birthed her baby, we can ensure she is not interrupted, as she embraces those precious first moments when she meets her baby.
Doulas also remind her to perform all the Islamic rituals that are prescribed in the Sunnah, and offer her honest and sincere breastfeeding advice and support.
We often set up a meal train for the woman so that she may recover well, giving other sisters in the community the opportunity to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood by providing nourishing home-cooked meals to nurture the mother in the first weeks after birth.
Sumayyah (Umm Omar)