What Is It Like To Give Birth In UAE?
Updated on 04 October 2018

By: Salamah Ghudayer

Being pregnant and delivering a baby has always been a special occasion in the Emirates, as it is worldwide. Starting from pregnancy the mother is encouraged to have rest and eat healthy foods whenever possible, even during the trying times of the past. Though rest and lounging around was rarely an option long ago, the community if not family would help her refrain from carrying heavy items or lifting anything. The concept, which is still enforced in government hospitals, ‘if you can sit, sit and if you can lay down, lay down’ was the case until today, so sometimes in gatherings, the pregnant are encouraged to lie and not sit even for long periods. Traditionally women were encouraged not to eat cold things, nor pineapple or some other tropical fruits, however were encouraged to fulfil cravings to avoid issues - though some advice stem from valid medical reasons, others come from tales. In addition to diet, there is a traditional spa ritual for every stage of pregnancy which is followed and culminates in major treatments in the ninth month for the Emirati mother.

Delivering a baby traditionally was done with the help of a midwife, and the delivering woman’s mother, older sister or mother-in-law and for many tribes the baby’s father helped physically support his wife in a position deemed best for delivery. Often that position included a log stuck in the ground to latch on to while in a kneeling position and was a harmless entity for her to push against in her pain. Some tribes would never think of the father helping, while others are clear it was his duty. In Islam though there are boundaries as to what he can be observing during birth, so he usually stayed supporting her back or near her head if he was among those that helped.

Once the baby is delivered, the father or someone special would recite adthan in the baby’s right ear softly. One friend who delivered while abroad in the US told of her husband doing so in the delivery room and the nurses commenting how sweet it was to them that the father immediately ‘sang’ to his daughter. For many women during the difficult eras of the past and especially during the pearling season, women gave birth and commented they were back to cooking and cleaning within a couple hours. Life had to go on, and mommy was the director of the family life during those times. This was decades before the mini catered buffets, balloon arches and monogramed accoutrement overflowing from the private maternity suites of today.

Sometimes though, births don’t always go as imagined. Around twenty-five years ago the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was installed in Latifa Hospital; the woman’s and children’s hospital of Dubai (formerly named Al Wasl). Inside are the best machines with the best experts; including both foreign and Emirati doctors giving world-class care for the most fragile of babies. Personally, my son was there for just under four months as he was born a mirco-preemie. Daily I was visiting and one day a family I knew from our neighbourhood in Al Ain came to visit the lobby and force me to have a break. The mother, swathed in her black abaya, sheila and gold coloured burqa explained how over thirty years ago, one of her sons was born at the same stage. She spoke of how they kept him warm and what they used to feed him. He was the grown son who had driven her and her daughters up to Dubai on that very visit, which gave me enormous hope. I had never realized this tall man who passed through the house as I visited was once teeny tiny and yet survived without all my son had on the floor above us. Later on, I would follow her advice and my son napped in the outdoors, protected by shade and covers but to absorb fresh air and indirect light. Slowly it would strengthen him in ways indoors may not. It was in the NICU and afterwards, the concept that ‘a mother knows best,’ was paramount. The outdoors of course would not be for any baby, but I somehow knew when to start that ritual. The modern Arab doctors I encountered and the traditional ladies side with a mother’s intuition and for it to be developed and valued. Motherhood is a station in life unequalled in Islam and for those lucky enough to go through it in modern times and see the women who went through it during a vastly different environment; there is nothing but admiration and awe for these elder women we pass in our daily lives; the mothers of this nation. 

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