In Uzbekistan - and I'm sure the practice is common in other Muslim countries as well - it is tradition for new parents to wait forty days before taking the newborn outdoors, sharing photos, and the other events that welcome a baby into the world. Historically, infant mortality rates dictated that newborns survive the first forty days of life before the official celebration of their birth. Today marks the fortieth day after the birth of Amina, my friend Zumrad's little girl. I have been waiting patiently to share the story and photos with you.
Zumrad is in the Social Work program with me at UNC, and when she became pregnant and decided to deliver in a birthing center just blocks from our home, we offered to help out in any way we could. We quickly received our assignment: when Zumrad went into labor, she would call us and Marcos would come pick-up her 16-year old son Kadir and take him out for a fun day while his mother delivered her baby.
When I offered more specifically to be at the birth if she needed extra hands, she confessed that she wasn't sure how comfortable she would feel having me there. In Uzbekistan, hospitals are concerned about maintaining strict sterility; at the births of her two older boys, there had not been one person in her family present. Not her husband, not her mother, nobody. Knowing that childbirth wasn't her most beautiful nor modest hour, she was hesitant to allow me to be present.
But, on the morning of "the" call, Marcos went to pick up Kadir, and a few hours later I was invited to join Zumrad and her husband Ulugbek at the birthing center. I was elated.
The Birthing Center in Chapel Hill is run 100% by midwives. I entered the room, and it was much different than the hospital where I had been present for my friend Kokoro's birth a few months ago. At the Birthing Center there was a huge tub, various stools and chairs, a large rubber exercise ball, and a low queen-sized bed. During her contractions, Zumrad moved from stool to ball, to bed, to tub, to a different stool and back to the ball, in order to find the place where she could have contractions with the least amount of discomfort. The winner was the exercise ball: Ulugbek sat on the bed in front of her, coaching her through prayers in a language I did not recognize, and I sat on a stool behind her, putting pressure on the base of her spine during contractions and massaging a fragrant white lotion into her lower back between waves.
Amina was born about six hours after I arrived. By the time she emerged, three midwives were present, and both Ulugbek and I were on the bed with Zumrad, bracing for the arrival of a baby.
It was so amazing to see her little head come out, with a massive shock of black hair. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and she was an intense shade of purple, but the quick, sure hands of the midwives quickly unwrapped, massaged, slapped gently and sucked with an oxygen hose until we heard the little scream.
I know that in many instances the scream of a baby can be grating, but that first scream is the best sound in the world.