Nothing is holy in the Holy Land. Dina Awwad has learnt this early. As a Palestinian woman in the Westbank, she faced the two layers of occupation: from Israel and – as a woman – from the patriarchal society. In the age of 30, she married a Palestinian from Israel, and moved to the other side of the separation wall. With her marriage not fully accepted by the authorities, without permission to work, to drive a car or to study she found herself to be “only” a housewife. However, Dina discovered that there is indeed something holy in the Holy Land: the sheer force of a woman during birthgiving, when she is supported by her community. She found out: a birth is not only the birth of a new child; it is also the birth of a new mother on earth. By Dina Awwad, Bethlehem/Eilaboun, Palestine
She came into the room, and checked my dilation. I had eight centimeters. Mariam, the midwife on shift, spoke to her assistant, put on her robe and began making her preparations. I asked her “What are you doing?” She said, “I am getting ready; we are giving birth now.” Those words gave me the power so that in one hour I had two more centimeters dilation, and I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
I was in a different space and time zone. I was so much connected to a huge wild power I have never touched in myself before. At that moment, nothing came from my head; my body knew what it had to do. I was in complete power and surrender at the same time. I did not care if anyone heard me screaming or not, all that I wanted was to have this baby out, and I did.
When he came out, he was silent, observing the world around him. Mariam put him on my chest. I was shaking; my whole body was shaking. I could not believe that this baby, this being had all this time been inside of me. I wanted to hold him but I was afraid and I did not want to make him feel my fear. Eventually I held him. He was looking at me; and I at him. I started singing for him. I sang “Silent Night”; a song which I love very much and which I prepared to sing for him when I first saw him.
Then I started crying. This moment I will never forget, even now while I am writing about it tears come to my eyes. It is a moment where something is deeply touched in the heart and the soul: when after such a long, deep, and physically tiring process a being is in your arms and you say ‘hello’ to him, you welcome him into this world.
This is my birth story, and I wish to share it because labor and pregnancy are one of the few places in our lives as women, in which we get in contact with our power. Such a stage in life allows us women to see how powerful we are without our ego and without any definitions. Unfortunately, we live now in a system that does not allow us to get in contact to this power. We also become afraid to get in contact with it because it is a huge power and we do not know how to hold it.
I got to know that I am pregnant at the end of January last year. I did not plan it nor did I expect it, but pregnancy and labor changed my life and changed me as a woman. I became more grounded; clearer, and more mature. I was able to connect to my softness and my power as a woman. All of a sudden, I felt I do not have to fight any more, I do not have to prove myself to anyone anymore; I am there, I am me and I am powerful. This became a known and clear truth in my heart; no one had to tell me this and I did not have to prove it to anyone. Through such an experience, I am able to connect to other women more deeply. I am able to see the inner and physical changes that every woman has to go through to be able to bring to the world another being.
Birth without Violence
When I became pregnant, it was not clear for me where I wished to give birth; at home, or in hospital. Such a question seemed obvious for other women around me but for me it was not. So I started my research.
My partner and I visited hospitals and spoke to midwives there to feel the energy, to see the space, and to get a feeling of how it is like to give birth in a hospital. We also met midwives and doulas, who accompany women in home births, to understand what the process of giving birth at home is, and what is needed for preparing a home birth. I also spoke to friends who gave birth in hospitals and to those who gave birth at home to hear from them their stories and their insights after.
My partner and I read books and saw videos about giving birth. One main book, which was very helpful for us, is “Birth Without Violence”; it gave us the clarity of what we should be aware of when we go to the hospital, and it was a great guide for us.
At the end, I decided to give birth at the hospital. I went there with my partner and my doula. We went through a beautiful process before the birth with the doula; speaking about our fears, seeing pictures of birthing and raising the child, looking at issues that were stuck between us, the physical process, and changes during labor. Such information was important for us to know before. It helped us to bond more as a couple. It also helped us to be clear about what we wanted, and what we did not want, in the birth.
Now I realize that in the end it does not matter where you give birth. What matters is how much we women take responsibility for our bodies, and be clear about what we really want, and speak it out; how much we are connected to the child inside our bellies, and that we understand that this process is also painful for the baby as much as it is for us. I also saw how important it is for me, as a woman, to have the man next to me; knowing what I wanted and who can protect me and hold me during labor because I cannot do it for myself.
Once a friend of mine told me that your patterns appear in giving birth. And although I hear many women say that they forget the birth process after seeing their child, for me my body is reminded of it from time to time in different situations. Every time I look at my birth story, I get new insights and I see clearly my patterns, my fears, and the whole process. I also see life is very similar to giving birth; we go through many ups and downs, we reach to a point where we feel I cannot do it any more then something all of a sudden gives you energy and you are back to your power and you go through it. This is what happened with me in my labor. I reached to a point where I felt I could not do it anymore. I felt I lost my power and my ability to see clearly; I felt helpless and I surrendered to the system. I needed someone to carry me and do it for me but I knew I had to do it myself.
So, I was in panic and in inner conflict. I was also feeling so much pain at the lower back and I got scared because I did not understand what was happening. But the key word from the midwife was when she said; “maybe what you feel is the head”. This made me calm down, and I could relax. Then the shift of midwives took place and then the actual birth started.
A strong woman should not scream
At the beginning, after giving birth, when I used to look at that moment, I felt guilty because a powerful woman like me should not have reached a point like this, but I realized I needed to go through this point so as to be able to go back to my power. I needed to go down to the valley to be able to gather my energy and go high up again to the mountain.
Now when I talk to other women about their birth stories and mine, I see that for many it is not obvious that they have the right to say yes to certain things to be done during labor, and no to other things not to be done during labor, and that such requests have to be respected by the hospital, or whoever is holding the birth. We women know our power, our bodies and we know what is good and what is not good. We just have to trust ourselves, our intuition, and our bodies.
When I arrived at the hospital, my waters had already been broken for more than 15 hours. The staff at the hospital went into panic because it is thought that a woman whose waters break has to go to the hospital immediately. They wanted to give me antibiotics but I refused; I knew that the baby is well. I trusted that everything was fine and everything was fine.
After a long while I accepted to take the antibiotics because the birth took longer than I thought, but still I trusted that my son was very well. They wanted me to be on monitor all the time and I refused; I accepted to go from time to time for a short time for check up, because for me to be sitting while being in pain was killing me. I needed water so I stayed for more than five hours under hot water. This helped me deal with the pain, be in my body, and be in a sacred and protected space. We only had the light of the candle on and I was naked all the time. There was a moment in the shower when my doula told me; “you can scream, it is ok”, and I realized that I did not want to scream; at the beginning I was shy and I thought I could hold it. But I also now see that we women are taught not to scream because it is not socially acceptable. And now I realize that we women have to learn when, and how, to scream, not to shout at others, but to express all what needs and has needed to be expressed by women over the centuries.
Powerful, beautiful, wild – and part of community
Before entering the hospital, I stood at the gate, I closed my eyes, felt the wind, heard the sounds, and began dancing. I danced from my heart; I felt I am going to a celebration. All of a sudden I saw myself dancing naked around the fire with other women. It felt like a tribal dance. The picture seemed very deep in me. Everyone was rejoicing and I could hear the drums playing. My body moved so softly and beautifully. I felt then powerful, beautiful, wild, and connected to my higher self. I also felt protected and part of community.
I also sent messages to friends from all over the world to light a candle and pray. Many people who live in different parts in the world; Portugal, Germany, Palestine, USA, Israel, were praying. Some stayed up until the morning; until the baby was born. For me this was important that my partner, my son, and I are connected to a bigger circle; that a community is praying and holding us in its heart; that it is rejoicing for receiving a new soul on earth; that it is not coming alone to us; it is coming to the world.
Wishing one woman would tell me you are doing a great job.
Now that I have an almost one year old child, I am full of questions and fears. I have fears about raising my son in a society full of consumerism and hiding. I question how I can protect him. I wish to have other women with deep wisdom and full support for me to be with me and around me; to be mothers for my son, and to be there for him when I can’t. I ask myself how much I will be able to take care of a child alone without community. I see how the energy of the mother gets drained with time, and then she forgets herself or loses her energy.
I try to do my best to remind myself of who I am, and I constantly share with my female friends for support. But still, many times I face situations where I wish I had women around, or I had men around, who can also support me as a woman. Now I understand why many women have depression or lose their sexual energy after giving birth. Such a process is very deep and needs space to be shared and held. Such a big change needs a lot of support; support that comes from full seeing rather than judging. This is the power of having real community around.
One of the challenges I faced when I gave birth was that no one cared about me. No one asked me how I am or how the birth was. Everyone was giving attention to the child; was asking about him. I was surprised or even shocked. When I tried to share with other women in my society that I am tired and I do not sleep, they would tell me that this is normal. I was not trying to complain; I only needed space to share, to feel seen and supported, but I could not have that. In fact, most of the women tried to tell me what to do, and what not to do, with my son. I listen out of respect but I know that I know my son and I know what he needs and I trust my intuition as a woman and a mother. Many times I was criticized, and for me it did not matter, but sometimes it hurt because I wished one woman would tell me you are doing a great job.
I heard this sentence only from the women who are part of my global friends, but not from the women in the society around me. I felt relieved and seen by those women when I heard this. I do not say I am a perfect mother, but I know I am a woman who is learning and looking for a new way to raise her child; who is going through a process of inner growth. This I trust and value in myself.
In the end, I ask every woman to do her own research and choose the way she wants to give birth, and to trust that she can have it, and she will. Because this is not only the birth of a new being on earth; it is also the birth of a new woman on earth. I ask every woman to search how she wants to raise her child; not only for the well-being of the child but also for her own well-being.
I now believe this sentence that says; “It takes a community to raise a child”. I pray that with all the revolutions happening now around in the world, people will realize and begin working on creating communities; not just for a better economy or ecology, but for healthier mothers and children.