by Khadijah Lacina
February is a month of birthdays in my family. I was born in that month, as were three of my children. Each birth was special, but the one I want to share with you today is that of my son, Mu’aadh, who was the first of three babies I had in Yemen.
When we moved to Yemen I was four months pregnant. I was worried about having a baby there, due to the fact that I tend to hemorrhage severely after every birth. I found myself in a strange environment, full of strange germs, and dealing with customs that were totally different from my own. I didn’t even speak the language well at that point.
I went to the Mustashfa Um, the mother’s hospital, a couple of times before I gave birth. I found a doctor and an ultrasound technician who spoke English, more or less, and the ultrasound doctor even gave me her home phone number and told me to call her when I went into labor. In Yemen, the custom is for some of the women of the family to accompany the mother-to-be to the hospital, and she was worried because I didn’t have anyone to go with me. I didn’t think I would call her, but knowing she was there was a comfort.
The night of the birth arrived. I hadn’t felt well all afternoon, and was keyed up and full of energy. I wasn’t sure at first that I was in labor, but by evening it became clear that that was the case. I was determined to stay at home as long as I could, as I knew that once I went to the hospital I would be by myself- they don’t allow men into the labor and delivery areas at all, so my husband, who had been present at all the other births, would be waiting downstairs. Finally, around midnight, I decided we had better get going. We walked downstairs, and I crouched on the sidewalk by the buildings while my husband tried to get a taxi in the nearly deserted streets. The first cab driver saw us an opportunity to make some extra cash; the second, however, was reasonable- and when he saw I was really really pregnant, he hot-footed it all the way to the hospital. I remember that trip as a collage of lights, glimpses of men sitting in tea rooms or gathered on street corners, and wild dogs skulking in the shadows.
Once at the hospital I was told to go right upstairs. I tearfully said goodbye to my husband, clutching my walkie talkie in my hand so I could talk to him once I was settled in. I walked up two flights of stairs, and was met at the top by a doctor I had never met, one who didn’t speak English. She smiled at me sweetly, though, and talked to me as if I could understand…and I almost could. Her expression turned alarmed when she checked my condition- apparently I had waited just long enough before coming, because I was ushered straight into the delivery room.
“Bismillah!” In the name of God, she said, and told me to push. The nurse held my hand and said “Bismillah” as well, and I felt comforted, blessed that these women who shared my faith were helping me have the baby. Three pushes, and there was Mu’aadh.
After a few minutes they walked me, with the baby in my arms, to a room to rest for a bit before going home. There were two other new mothers in there, along with an entourage of female companions. They spoke to me, and the first thing I was asked after they wished Allaah peace upon me was, “Where is your mother?” I knew how to answer that, anyway. I told them she had passed away. “Your sisters? Your aunties?”
“They’re in America,” I answered, suddenly feeling very alone, and very young and very far from all that I knew.
“America!” they said. “Miskeena!” Poor girl! Suddenly they were swirling around me, pressing cookies and milk into my hand, offering to hold the baby for me. Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt the kindness and love of these women who were complete strangers to me. “I will be your mother,” said the mother of one of the other women. From her bed, her daughter smiled and waved at me. “Sister!” she said in English.
My walkie talkie beeped. I pressed the button. “How are you doing, Sweetie?” asked my husband’s voice, quiet and reassuring as always. “Fine, alhamdulillah…and you’re a daddy!” He didn’t understand at first, and then he was bursting with happiness. “Are you okay?” he asked.
I looked around at my little impromptu, totally unexpected family and smiled.
“I am,” I replied. “I really am.”
Khadijah Lacina has recently returned to the States after almost ten years living in Yemen. While trying to get over her culture shock, she spends her time homeschooling, writing, knitting, crocheting, playing in the dirt trying to grow things, and messing around with herbs.