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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Power Struggle (part-five)

The struggles went on. Three weeks after delivery, Sarah continued to struggle with breastfeeding baby Abdulrahman. Norah continued to struggle with Sarah over motherhood. And Fahad continued to struggle with the loneliness that fatherhood brought him. 

Abdulrahman needed to be on a sleep and feed schedule that all babies were customarily put on as newborns. According to his grandmother Norah, “This feed and sleep on demand jargon is not acceptable!” Norah was training Sarah well for motherhood, according to her own experience. She felt that she had the experience and she knew well that carrying and holding the baby too much would only cause him to be spoiled and more demanding. Norah’s role was not unusual. In the Middle East, grandmothers usually take their daughters in and train them on how to feed and care for their new babies. Some believe that these women live vi- cariously through their daughters during this time. “My dear daughter, you already fed him, why is he crying again,” Norah asked Sarah as she walked into the guest bedroom where Sarah and her baby had been staying for the past three weeks. Sarah was carrying a screaming Abdulrahman over her shoulder as tears ran down her face. “I don’t know Mama, I just breastfed him and now he’s screaming again. Do you think he wants the bottle and not my breast? When I was feeding him, he was biting me and it hurt so badly but I forced him and I tolerated the pain, just like you told me to do.” 

“Sarah?” Norah questioned, “What if you don’t have enough milk. Maybe your breasts are too small to feed a healthy boy. Do you think maybe you are just like me and my sisters? We never had enough milk. Poor thing, I was hoping you would end up like your father’s sisters and breastfeed for two years.”
Sarah felt the cloud of misery settle itself heavily over her head. Norah based much of her advice on personal opinions and what she heard other women talk about in the community. It is not unusual for an Arab mother to impose her personal beliefs on her daughter without any proper training or scientific knowledge. These statements are common and are meant as insinuations to influence the daughter’s own beliefs and thoughts about herself. “Mama, I have milk! Look! It is dripping down my clothes. My breasts are not that small, but when he is breastfeeding, he cries. The book says that you can’t give a bottle if you want to breastfeed, because the baby might get nipple confusion. Maybe he has nipple confusion.” Sarah didn’t know enough to decide whether or not Abdulrahman was suffering from nipple confusion, although her intuition was correct.
“Sarah, please! Don’t believe everything you read. He’s only a baby, what does he know? How can he be confused? He doesn’t even think. He knows that your breasts are no good and that is why he cries. Maybe your milk is salty, or too light, or it hurts his tummy. Here, let me have him, I prepared his bottle about an hour ago, the milk is not bad yet.”
Many Arab families believe that babies don’t have feelings or thoughts and that they are trainable and become accustomed to what the mother enforces on them. Families in the Middle East and similar cultures often blame the mother’s milk for the failure of breastfeeding, and it is common to claim that a woman’s milk is light, salty, or causes vomiting.

Norah grabbed Abdulrahman once again, settled with him on the bed, and gently placed the plastic nipple dripping with artificial formula milk into his mouth. The baby sucked and sucked, as he learned to do in the hospital nursery, until his little tummy was full and he calmly fell asleep. Sarah sat in the armchair across the room and wept; she held her full breasts with both hands and watched her milk stream down her skin, soaking her nightgown for another night. Sarah’s instinct told her that she had to breastfeed, but her ignorance did not allow her. The maternal hormones flowed through Sarah’s blood as she watched her baby sleep in his grandmother’s arm. She had the urge to grab him away and run home with him, but the traditional role of respect and honor for her mother controlled her and forced her to keep quiet and give in to sadness and what was called the baby blues.
It was a few minutes past midnight, and Sarah woke up to a screaming baby. He screamed so loud and forcefully that she felt hysteria taking over her mind. Sarah held Abdulrahman in her arms and bounced him gently to calm him down, but the screaming went on. She sat down and gently pressed his mouth against her breast, but the screaming continued. Her milk flowed, but he turned his face and screamed. He tight- ened his tiny body and his face turned blue. She stood up and threw him over her shoulder to help relieve him of a burp or gas trapped in his tiny tummy, but the screaming continued. He screamed and screamed until the small tears flowed out of his eyes as he cried with pain. One hour later, Sarah could no longer tolerate the screaming. She asked herself, “Should I give him medication? I heard my friends talking about a medi- cation to calm the baby down. What was it? Where do I get it from? I can’t. I can’t do this anymore.” Sarah picked up the phone and called Fahad. “Fahad, my love, I’m sorry to call you so late in the night, are you sleeping?”
“Sarah?” Fahad was startled. “What’s wrong? Why is he screaming like that?”
“Wallah (in God’s name), I don’t know, he’s been screaming for over an hour now! And I’m worried, I don’t know why.”
“Where is your mother? Wake her up!”
“I can’t. Poor thing, she has been taking care of him all day. I want her to rest. Anyway, she will prob- ably just give him a bottle. I feel like she doesn’t want me to breastfeed, but I feel bad about thinking that way. Of course, she wants the best for me. Maybe I am just like her and her sisters and I don’t have enough milk, but Fahad, wallah, the milk is pouring out onto my clothes.”
“Sarah, leave the breastfeeding now; try to make him stop screaming. How can you stand it? I’m not there and it is driving me crazy!”
“I can’t, I’ve tried everything. Can you come over and take him to the doctor with me?”
“Now? It is two o’clock in the morning! There is no doctor clinic open now; we will have to take him to the emergency room.”
“No, no, khalas (it’s ok), I’ll try to give him a bottle of yansoon, maybe it will settle his tummy. I miss you.” “Me too; I’ll come over after work. Bye.” Yansoon is an herbal tea made up of anise seeds and caraway seeds boiled in water with natural sugar to sweeten it; the drink is used to relieve colic in babies.
Sarah looked at her screaming baby, his little face looked so stressed and miserable. She reached for the prepared bottle of herbal tea, a concoction of yansoon, caraway, and sugar. It was cold, so she placed it in the bottle warmer for a few minutes to make it warm. Abdulrahman gulped the warm tea down and continued to whine as he fell asleep. Sarah felt alone. It was a weird feeling of relief and sadness; her life had been changed forever. She had been looking forward to motherhood, but now she realized that it was not fun; it was exhausting, confusing, and scary. Now that Abdulrahman was quiet, Sarah changed his diaper and gave him his midnight feed. She offered her breast and he suckled happily while his mother held him, enduring the pain. Suddenly the world seemed bright, and happiness filled both their hearts.

Sarah did not realize that the artificial formula milk
was causing her baby to suffer from gas and hard stool. She also did not know that the more she fed him from a bottle with an artificial teat, the more he would suffer from nipple confusion, the more she would suffer from cracked nipples, and the more likely he would be to reject her breast. Norah did not know that telling Sarah to feed her baby from the breast less frequently would mean Sarah would have less milk. 

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Please exercise proper manners and respect for all. Thanks