The exciting news has barely seeped in that the overjoyed Muslim couple starts planning and preparing for the imminent arrival of its new bundle of joy. Although the level of nervousness, excitement and anticipation does depend greatly on whether it is a first-time pregnancy, or a subsequent one that will add to an existing brood, nevertheless, no one can help but enthusiastically look forward to a fresh new stint on the parenting journey.
Time immemorial has seen women give birth successfully. Each human being we behold is proof of the fact that some day, many years ago, a pregnant mother carried and bore that individual during several stages of difficulty and innate weakness.
“And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: his mother bore him by bearing strain upon strain, and his utter dependence on her lasted two years: (hear the command, O man!), “Show gratitude to Me and to your parents: to Me is (your final) Return.” [31:14]
Yet, when a woman embarks on this journey, even if it is not her first time at it, she becomes overwhelmed by a myriad of diverse, and sometimes conflicting, emotions – euphoria, anxiety, hope, despair, joy, fear, excitement, foreboding, and uncertainty, to name just a few.
For Muslims, this new development (pun intended) calls for higher levels of taqwa (consciousness of Allāh), and complete, unswerving tawakkul (trust in Him). As I have been on this journey a couple of times, and having experienced answering the questions of many sisters who have turned to me for counsel when they were in the family way, I have decided to share today some tips for the expectant Muslim parent, for the future benefit of those who are already on the way to becoming parents, or hope to some day:
You are not the only one scared by this
If you find yourself imagining how difficult it will be to give birth to and care for a baby, rest assured that every woman feels that way when she becomes pregnant. No one was born to be “the perfect mother”; in fact, the so-called 'perfect mother' doesn't exist. Every mother who has ever lived, made mistakes and learned from them. Most had really bad days during any of their pregnancy trimesters, when nausea and bodily aches made them cry; when their feet swelled up in the 9th month and standing or walking became a nightmare; when they said the most obnoxious things during a mood swing, or when they thought they'd just never be able to pull through any of the difficult stages. You are not alone!
Expectant mothers feel guilty about complaining of pain, fatigue and weakness; of grumbling about lack of strength; of being deprived of the enjoyment of previously pursued hobbies and pastimes, and for feeling scared and overwhelmed about the future. They feel guilty because inside, they know that in actuality, they are being blessed by Allāh, by being given a baby through a safely progressing pregnancy. They know that scores of women who are not able to conceive would give an arm or leg to be in their position – yet they cannot prevent themselves at times from feeling hopeless, lonely, tearful and utterly miserable.
Know that your body is undergoing the biggest change possible – such a change involves emotional and physical upheavals; lots of crying, worrying and whining. However, there is one very effective way to release the corresponding guilt: repentance on a daily basis. It wipes out whatever bad you do. Remember to continue with this beneficial procedure during pregnancy. Recite the masnoon istighfar at least a hundred times a day. It takes only a few minutes.
Being blessed with a child is indeed something we should be grateful for. Remind yourself that you are blessed; that to know that you are fertile is a very positive, morale-boosting feeling for a woman. Remind yourself that the mortification felt by countless women, who are unable to conceive after being married for several years, is much more psychologically and emotionally, trying than a few months of pain, weakness and fatigue.
Even if your pregnancy is “unplanned” or “unwanted” – force yourself to thank Allāh for this blessing, because a pious child is one of the greatest means of benefit and reward after a Muslim leaves this world. Look at the bigger picture and console yoursef by thinking, for example, “In a few years, I will not even think about this pain and weakness, inshā'Allāh, but will be enjoying the company of a beautiful child!” Also, remember that pious offspring is one of the major sources of continuous rewards for a Muslim even after death.
Do your homework/gain knowledge
Gain knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth; not just on its Islamic rulings and jurisprudence, but also medical know-how about what is going on inside your body. Reading on the Internet is a very efficient way to find out the basics, as long as you are wise enough to differentiate between the facts and myths.
Introduce the Qurʾān to your baby
When the fetus is fully formed, just after the first three months of pregnancy are up, it can hear sounds from outside the mother's body. While your baby is inside you, it primarily identifies and gets accustomed to your voice. It is at this point that healthcare providers advise the expectant parents to start talking to their baby as if it was right there in front of them. The baby quickly identifies the voices of people it hears the most, especially its mother.
Capitalize on this one-on-one, exclusive bond with your unborn baby, which will be gone once the pregnancy is over. Recite the Qurʾān (if you can, without rushing through it) every single day until the delivery date, once your fourth month of pregnancy has begun and your baby will be listening to each and every word you utter. When a mother speaks, the sound waves of her voice travel to the baby, so imagine how great the effect of melodious, soothing Qurʾān recitation would be on the fetus! Divide your recitation so that the baby hears the whole Qurʾān in your voice before you deliver.
In addition, recite the du‘ā’ that the mother of Maryam Bint `Imran did when she was expecting her baby:
“Behold! a woman of 'Imran said: 'O my Lord! I do dedicate unto You what is in my womb for Your special service: So accept this of me: For You hear and know all things.'” [3:35]
With this du‘ā’, you can renew your intention every day that this baby would be a pious servant of Allāh who would devote his or her life to striving in Allāh's cause. You will see the amazing results of thus dedicating your child to Allāh during pregnancy, once your baby is safely delivered and starts to grow. The child will show an innate affinity towards the Qurʾān and other forms of worship from very early on in infancy, inshā'Allāh!
Prophet Muḥammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم] said that, “….the woman who dies during pregnancy is a martyr.”[Narrated by Ahmad (23804), Abu Dawood (3111) and Al-Nasaa'i (1846)].
This inevitably means that whilst she is pregnant, she is akin to a warrior or worker in Allāh's path. Imagine! You are bringing a life into this world…but not just one life. Your offpsring is the continuation of a lineage – a predecesssor to many more generations, inshā'Allāh.
The difficulty that you are going through is written for you because of the magnanimity of the work being taken from you – the greatness of the responsibility of bringing a life, or rather a continuation of existing life, into this world! No wonder you are stricken with fears, emotional turmoil, mood swings, lack of sleep, physical fatigue, bloating and in the latter stages, debilitating immobility.
To be patient means to try not to say unpleasant and negative things; not to snap at and make life miserable for others, and to persevere in worship and obedience to Allāh as usual, despite the difficulty.
The importance of sisterly moral support and consultation cannot be underestimated. It makes an expectant mother feel much better to hear the past pregnancy experiences of friends and relatives. However, when talking to other women and seeking their advice, it is very important not to undermine your own uniqueness. Allāh created the one-of-a-kind you, and that means that not everything that works for someone else might work equally well for you.
Also, the same woman experiences different pregnancies with each baby. If you had severity of nausea and vomiting with your first baby, its possible that, with your second, equally severe backache and edema will pose the biggest challenge. Know that every mother uses a trial-and-error method to get through the rigors of pregnancy, and you should also do that.
Follow your intuition
Allāh guides His pious slaves by inspiring them to do something – He might place an idea or thought in your head, make you chance upon an article, book, or a phone conversation with someone that will become the means to finding the right solution to your problem. Whilst it is always wise to take the advice of elders and women who have “been there, done that,” you must trust and follow your own gut feeling, or intuition. A woman is programmed a certain way, and she should do what she herself thinks is right for herself and her unborn baby.
Do not be overtly apologetic
Likewise, if you choose not to follow someone else's advice about your pregnancy, you do not have to feel guilty about it or apologize to them profusely. You have the right to choose to do what you think is best for you and your baby. And that includes choosing the appropriate obstetrician, birth plan, and mode of birth (home birth, water birth, etc.).
Allow room for mistakes
Last but not the least, remember that making mistakes is normal and perfectly acceptable. If you do something wrong, just rectify your stance and learn from the “Oops, I did it again!” experience. All mothers make mistakes; that is how they get good at what they do. Allāh will forgive you for those mistakes, as long as you keep turning to Him in sincere repentance (as mentioned in point number two above) and are conscious of Him whenever you make a decision regarding yourself and your (unborn or born) baby. There is no right way or wrong way of nurturing a baby and what works for each mother-child pair is unique.
Your baby's birth will, inshā'Allāh, signal the end of most of your physical troubles, but it will commence the next stage of your jihad – nursing and caring for your baby around the clock. With each passing day, each passing hour, you'll learn the ropes and Allāh will make it easier. Each succeeding baby is, likewise, easier to care for than the last one, as you have been there, done that, until the day comes when you can literally nurse and change a diaper whilst half asleep, without even turning on the light!