x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Iman Ali: Life's greatest gift

Walking around Khalid Lake in Sharjah for many rounds in the months of my pregnancy didn't prevent my baby from becoming breech.

Walking around Khalid Lake in Sharjah for many rounds in the months of my pregnancy didn't prevent my baby from becoming breech. I had been preparing for a natural birth, partly by walking, but the reality of my baby being upside down (head up, feet down) was going to entail a Caesarian section.

My father, a doctor, gave his approval to escape what he called "the mess" that is natural childbirth. Another doctor, neutral, said only people in a "primitive jungle" would go for natural birth over a C-section. The operation lasted no more than 30 surreal minutes. The nurse showed me the baby and I could only stare dumbly at him. My husband was a bit shocked himself. No matter how ancient childbirth is, it's still a miracle, and we could only observe it in awe.

At the hospital my mother-in-law immediately urged me to nurse my boy. I was embarrassed, having to carry out this intimate act in front of so many witnesses. I wanted privacy and security, which the hospital's atmosphere didn't really provide. Furthermore, my body couldn't produce enough milk for the baby.

My heart was torn, but I refused to let him starve and so asked for formula to supplement my nursing of him. The nurse brought me a paper, a sort of contract and disclaimer, that proved that it was my sole decision to subject the poor baby to the horrors of something other than mother's milk. My baby was satisfied, though, and that was the most important thing.

I spent five days in hospital, reacquainting my limbs with their functions as having a C-section is no picnic. I took a cocktail of drugs to ease the pain. One time I coughed and the pain was so severe I cried - a lot. The nurse came running in and told me to let out the cough in small hiccups, like a parody of clearing your throat.

Over the next three months it seemed I was humouring everyone by nursing my son. One time I went to the hospital with my concerned mother-in-law and I was asked how the baby was feeding. I told them about the formula and the nurse shouted at me. I cried on the spot.

Still, this all seemed tame compared to the insomnia that afflicted me. Night morphed into day and I observed the coming and going of light having not had a wink of sleep. Warm milk, late-night baths and exercise did nothing to help.

On the rare occasions I was able to doze off I could count on my baby waking me up half an hour later. Going back to sleep after that was as feasible as growing wings.

Life seemed unbearable. So much that I simply had to see if sleeping pills might ease my situation. The doctor prescribed a drug that allowed me to sleep for four consecutive hours or so. This might not seem like much, but it was an enormous blessing - until the pills stopped working.

Still, the first two years passed and either my hormones settled or my baby learnt to be less fussy and sleep more. I did, too.

It might come as a surprise that I am pregnant again. If you happen to be Muslim maybe you'll understand. Islam emphasises having many children and I wish to be as devout as I can.

Moreover, my son is thoughtful, considerate, loving and creative. He's a gift - and while I support him now I am sure he will be a support to me and his father in our old age.

Iman Ali is an Emirati English literature graduate from Zayed University. Raised in Scotland, she is now living in Gurgaon, Haryana, India and is writing The Great Emirati Novel.