x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

First midwife in the UAE helped after delivery of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

Dr Maliha Sabetimehr, from Iran, was the first midwife in the UAE, delivering some very prominent babies including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Sheikha Shamsa bint Zayed and Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohammed bint Khalifa.

Dr Maliha Sabetimehr, the first midwife in the UAE. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Dr Maliha Sabetimehr, the first midwife in the UAE. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Not only was Dr Maliha Sabetimehr the first midwife in the UAE in 1955, but she helped with the delivery some of the country’s most prominent babies.

They include Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

“I helped in giving him milk during his first three days,” she said. “I also delivered Sheikha Shamsa bint Zayed, the daughter of Sheikh Zayed, now the wife of Sheikh Tahnoon; and Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohammed bint Khalifa, the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, Sheikh Zayed’s uncle, now the wife of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed.”

Born in Iran in 1934, Dr Sabetimehr finished school at 17 in the city of Mashhad. She became a teacher in mathematics and sport for six months before studying midwifery for four years at university.

After working for two months in a hospital, she met her husband, Sabet, a doctor in Al Ain since 1954.

“He told my parents he wanted to marry me and I didn’t know him,” she said. “I saw he was a very good man so I accepted.”

Sheikh Zayed had told Sabet that there were no female doctors in the country and that he should find a wife who had studied health to bring her back with him.

“He gave him 45 days to find a female doctor,” she said. “My husband told Sheikh Shakhbut, Sheikh Zayed’s brother, that he had come here because he saw Dubai was nearby but no one knew much about it. They used to call it the Gulf and it was in need of doctors.”

After two weeks, the couple married and Dr Sabetimehr moved to what is now known as the UAE.

“We didn’t know anyone when we came,” the 80-year-old said.

“My brother was a dentist in Dubai since 1953 and he told me that if I wanted to help people, I had to go to Abu Dhabi because it didn’t have any doctors.

“It was a desert when I came, there were no trees and only four small shops for flowers, rice, beans, oil, fruits and meat.”

Although her brother warned her that life would not be easy, as she would have to stay home all day and wait for patients, she was determined to make the move.

“I love helping people,” she said. “But there was no airplane back then so we had to take a bus to Bandar Abbas then a small boat to Dubai.”

It took them 24 hours to get there.

“My husband bought a second-hand jeep from the British army in Sharjah and we started driving to Al Ain on the sand dunes,” Dr Sabetimehr said. “Nobody could drive with a normal car, you needed strong tires.”

After sleeping one night in the mountains near Buraimi, the couple were greeted in Al Ain by Sheikh Zayed.

“He came with Sheikha Hessa, the mother of Sheikh Khalifa, the UAE’s President,” she said. “I had just arrived and I had no time to prepare our tent, which was made of wood and palm trees, so I put a carpet for us to sit on. He asked if I had studied, a bit about my life and said I could help the women here with their deliveries and the pain they go through during labour.”

She started working at Al Ain Hospital and, eventually, opened her own clinics in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

“I delivered about 5,000 children,” she said. “When my mother visited, she told Sheikh Zayed she could read on his face that he would become a great man one day. He laughed and thanked her.”

Dr Sabetimehr still lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband. Two of their three children live in the UAE, the other in Toronto.

“I wanted to come here and help the people in the Gulf and this is exactly what I did,” she said. “My life was very hard but I didn’t feel it and I don’t regret coming. A lot of people travel to Europe to get treatment but they don’t realise how good some of the hospitals, like Khalifa Hospital, are here.”

cmalek@thenational.ae