The experiences of pregnancy and childbirth require incredible levels of commitment as they capture the time and energy of parents, with especial regard to mothers. Many countries have supportive social cycles for pregnant women and new mothers to bond and support each other during this unique experience. These circles allow them to share advice and experiences and gain confidence in their abilities as mothers. Unfortunately, here in Qatar, we lack the kind of cycles that play a pivotal role for every mother and child during this time. Fatma Ahmed Al-Sayed’s experience with pregnancy and childbirth allowed her to uniquely contribute to the Qatari community. By offering her constructive advice and working to reshape dominant stereotypes and family structures, Fatma worked to support every mother and father in the experience of parenthood. Through her Instagram blog, My Nest, Fatma has raised a number of thoughtful topics for every woman and mother interested in pregnancy and childbirth. So, who is Fatma Al-Sayed?
I graduated from Qatar University in 2014 with a degree in International Affairs and I was proud to be a student speaker in my graduation ceremony. Since I was a child, I pursued self-development through my engagement in various volunteering and social activities. When I was in primary school, I had aspired to become a lawyer to represent humanitarian issues and defend the oppressed. I completed a training period with a female lawyer in the State of Qatar in 2006, but with changes in global political affairs, my interests changed as well. During my time in university I sought to acquire and develop different skills through the Qatar Debating Center. I established the first Qatari Debating Team for the first university championship, and in 2013, I won the title of the 6th best debater in the International Championship for University Debates in Arabic. This experience has largely refined me as a person and improved my Arabic language. I got married after I graduated from university. I live in a society that follows a dominant routine on all things to do with pregnancy and childbirth, so I was very keen on ensuring that I had a unique pregnancy experience by reading and refining my first-hand knowledge on the subject first. This started the spark that encouraged me to create my blog, “My Nest”. Its primary purpose is to educate women and society in a unique and qualitative way, because through my acquired knowledge I was able to experience a positive pregnancy and childbirth compared to many of my peers, and I hoped to share that knowledge with the public.
Can you talk more about “My Nest”?
When I discovered I was pregnant, I received a lot of advice from all around me. At first, I believed that I would go through the same experience that many of those around me had gone through, but after the first trimester of my pregnancy, I began to read and educate myself in more detail. In the midst of my unlimited reading, I discovered many matters contrary to what we believed in Qatari society, and that many of our practices are considered to be medically and humanitarianly incorrect, such as the practices of episiotomy and experiencing childbirth alone without the psychological support of our family.
In addition, most of the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth that we hear are told from a very negative perspective, which constitutes yet another obstacle and burden in the pregnancy journey of the soon-to-be mother. Many women tell cynical accounts of their experience, such as “childbirth is a terrifying nightmare” and “I wish I did not get pregnant”. This spreads a culture of fear and intimidation towards pregnancy and. My answer was centered on the fact that pregnancy is a divine miracle that must be treated with love, and that a new page in your life starts with the hearing of your baby’s pulse for the first time, while the baby is formed inside of you.
A key point that played a major role in my experience with childbirth was episiotomy. After intensive research, I discovered that developed countries only implement it if the situation is very urgent and critical, but in Qatar and many Gulf and Arab countries it is a common routine. The percentage of mothers who have had episiotomy in Qatar is illogical and unrealistic. All those who had episiotomy have experienced a long period of physical, psychological, and emotional pain after childbirth. Unfortunately, we have blind trust in hospitals and doctors, and we do not inquire about the nature of the procedures taken without the consent of the mother. I remember that when I had a discussion with family and friends about the subject, they told me: it is impossible to give birth without episiotomy! But I was sure that there was no need for episiotomy, as Allah has created the body of the woman and prepared it to undergo this experience naturally. Then, I began the search for doctors who supported this principle, but for seven months, I could not find anyone who accepted the idea of birth without episiotomy! I was frustrated and I was on the verge of making the decision to give birth in another country that supports natural delivery without any medical intervention. The human body has the dignity and the right to reform itself unless the situation is critical. Thanks to Allah, I was eventually able to find a female doctor who supported my approach and who was willing to implement my birth plan: Dr. Maha at Doha Clinic. Dr. Maha respected all the details of my birth plan. In my plan, I included all the points that I wanted the hospital to follow. I also chose this clinic because I wanted my husband to have a part in this experience. He played an integral part of it by cutting the cord between me and my baby girl. I wanted my family to be present in this unique experience, to support and help me during this emotional time.
Many husbands do not support their wives at any stage of pregnancy, whether psychologically or by attending medical appointments, depending on the environment that he has grown used to. Accordingly, the wife must understand this and use be intelligent in the way that she involves him in this experience, because in the end, he is the father of this child. Because of these scenarios that I heard, saw, and lived with, I started to share my birth experience with others, in an effort to spread awareness and change the prevailing stereotypes. I had told one of my friends about my experience and recommended that she hold a conference on motherhood and upbringing as a founder of the “Nahas” conferences, a group of young people who present periodic conferences on various topics related to society. After a short while, she told me that the conference would be held and that she wanted me to share my personal experience in this conference. I agreed and took this step. Thanks to Allah, after the conference many new mothers told me that I had inspired them, and I received positive feedback from the audience, in addition to inquiries about the details of my experience. This made me realize that many women in my community needed this kind of awareness, the same awareness that I was searching for at one point. So, this conference became a milestone for the creation of my blog. It is a beautiful coincidence that the day in which I launched my blog, 13 May 2018, is also Mother’s Day in many parts of the world. What encouraged me to continue was the continuous interaction of my followers, their desire for more information and to learn about different and effective styles of upbringing. I am most pleased with this blog, especially when a mother or pregnant woman benefits from my advice and allows it to change her pregnancy and birth experience to a positive one.
What is one of the unique things you remember from this experience?
It is important for me to prepare myself when I am about to have a new experience in my life, so I tried to prepare myself to give birth in more than one way, and one of those ways was my frequent visits to the delivery room. I did this because fear is a natural emotion for humans to feel, even towards a delivery room. During my first visit, I sat on the delivery bed and asked the medical staff to put some of the devices that are usually put at the time of birth on my body, in order to reduce the fear that I would feel on the promised day. Thanks to Allah, this fear faded on the day of giving birth because I had grown accustomed to the room and the medical devices.
The reactions of my friends and family regarding the way I dealt with childbirth and pregnancy were of skepticism and disbelief. They were afraid for me because I did not choose to go to the official state hospital, but I was sure that one must trust in Allah first and then look intensively into the available options, and finally enjoy having psychological comfort in their decision rather than resorting to the “customary and usual” ways. That is why my experience was different and beautiful. I have documented my childbirth by keeping the video that I see from time to time when I miss the experience, especially on the birthday of my daughter Al Anoud.
In addition to episiotomy, what matters do you address in this blog?
I talk about everything that interests me and inspires me as a woman, a wife and a mother. I present my experience through what I practiced during my pregnancy. For example, I talk about pregnancy yoga, and the role of a doula, a specialist in in pregnancy and childbirth matters that gives you support and advice. This specialist contributed to my knowledge by providing me with details that I did not even with my intensive reading on the subject. It helped that she came from a different background, since she was British. After the childbirth, I started the breastfeeding process, which lasted for about a year and a half. Breastfeeding is a unqiue experience from one woman to another, proving to be difficult for us at first, but becoming easier and more enjoyable over time. Because I am a working mother, I had to use a breast pump to store the breast milk for my daughter. Sometimes, I used the breast pump while I drove because of my lack of time given my different commitments. I discuss the details of this experiment in my blog in order to encourage every working mother to continue breastfeeding despite its challenges.
What challenges did you face as a working mother?
The biggest challenge that I faced is to maintain a balance between my work and raising my child. Because the working environment does not support the working mother, I strive to raise awareness about the rights of working mothers in order to bring a positive change in our society. I returned to work when Al Anoud turned six months old, and my return to work was difficult because it was not easy to be separated from my child at this age. Typically, maternity leave in Qatar is not more than two months, but these two months are not enough at all. Many developed countries have studied the importance of maternity leave and its impact on both the mother and child. Scandinavian countries give at least 6 months in support of women and their central role in the family. Unfortunately, many labor departments are not ready for working mothers. For instance, they do not see the need for breastfeeding hours, there are no rooms available to use the breast pump, and the working mother is not legally observed in any circumstances related to her child or her family. So, I hope to communicate my voice and the voice of all working mothers through my blog to achieve a radical change in this issue.
What are your expectations for the New Year of this blog?
In 2019, I began to apply the idea of ‘circles’ – monthly support sessions for pregnant women and mothers, to discuss various topics related to pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, and women in general. I had this idea since the beginning of my pregnancy with Al Anoud. Praise be to Allah, I had hope, and the dream came true. Being in this type of circle gives women positive energy, along with psychological and moral support from women who passed through the same experience, and various forms of advice and suggestions. The first circle revolved around the experience of childbirth, followed by a circle on stress and anxiety accompanied by an educational session for breathing during childbirth through pregnancy yoga. The next circle will be dedicated to child nutrition, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women in collaboration with distinguished Qatari women in this area. Simply put, the main objective is to have “women that support women”. Also, one of the goals of 2019 which I was able to achieve, Praise be to Allah, is the creation of the first Qatari website specialized in providing different products for mothers and children. I decided to collaborate with Cheval Studio and created My Nest x Cheval, which is a website that contains many non-local products that I have personally used and experienced their quality and benefits to ‘me and my child. In My Nest, I am seeking to build a positive qualitative image of ‘the mother’ in the community and to develop families from different aspects. I am currently seeking an official certificate that encourages me to become a doula and to become a guide in breastfeeding, Allah Willing. The last goal I have set for this year is to share my next childbirth experience with my followers, through the details of my second pregnancy and the filming of the delivery room and the experience in its entirety.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
Confidence! Always trust yourself and your abilities, because each one of you has the ability to prove herself, and to make her voice heard. All you have to do is to unleash your abilities for society to see your lasting print. You must not stand still when it comes to your rights, be it medical rights related to your pregnancy and childbirth, or human rights. Remember, here as women, we support each other in all things. The greater the awareness, the greater the productivity will be. We live in a society where women are keen on education, development, and keeping abreast on global changes. At the same time, we strive to invest in the next generation of Qatar through the means of modern upbringing. Our role today is to continue this mutual support to avoid any imbalance between the tasks. We fully hope for the development of the legal and legislative tendency towards women in the near future.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.