Saturday September 23, 2017
By: Habiba Elhady
Women have been giving natural birth since the dawn of man; that is the way it has been documented in ancient books and written on the walls of pharaonic temples. Believing in women’s continued ability to give natural birth and bringing that concept back into the mainstream, is the focus of Dr. Hana Kassem’s work.
Dr. Kassem, founder of Mum’s Haven, a natural birth and underwater birth center, is trying to change birth practices in Egypt, which have been recently led by common counter-views held by Egyptian obstetrician-gynecologists. Making that change possible “is not any easier than changing culture.” She said.
Dr. Kassem loves that moment after the mother delivers and holds her baby between her hands for the first time, and all the pain and suffering turns into joy and peace. “I always cherish the look in a mother’s eyes, when she holds her baby for the first time,” she said. Dr. Kassem, who herself suffered hallucinations and nightmares from anesthesia, believed that there had to be a better way for women to enjoy the magical experience of giving birth. In her research, she came across the Bradley method of natural childbirth. “I read everything about it and was inspired to become a Bradley teacher.” It prompted her to travel to the United States to get her degree in the Bradley method of natural childbirth.
The Bradley method emphasizes that birth is a natural process, and mothers are encouraged to trust their body and focus on diet and exercise throughout pregnancy. It also teaches couples to manage labor through deep breathing and support of a partner or labor coach. Teachers of the Bradley method believe that with adequate preparation, education and help from a loving and supportive coach most women can give birth naturally without drugs or surgery. In fact, studies have shown, that the method has an outstanding 87% to 90% success rate for natural childbirth. “And this is what women should believe in, and not the opposite that giving birth naturally is a dangerous and difficult process.” Explained Dr. Kassem.
When Safia Baraka found out that she was pregnant, all she thought about was how to protect her child “in every possible way from any danger. Pregnancy is one of the most fateful events that can happen in a women’s life, one of the few events that can change your way of thinking, your priorities, your dreams and goals.” Said Safia.
Safia wanted to learn how to eat right, how to exercise right, how to make all the right decisions and of course how and where to give birth. So, she started her journey to find a good hospital. “In my journey, I discovered a lot of things about pregnancy and giving birth. And how giving birth, which is supposed to be a happy moment has turned into a profitable procedure, where doctors exploit pregnant women’s lack of knowledge,” Safia added, “even though a C- section, delivers your baby through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus, we’ve somehow been manipulated that it’s the easiest and safest way to give birth, more so than the natural child birth.”
“Through my process of searching for a good place to give birth, I was following up with a doctor in Cairo. I told him I wanted to give birth naturally, to which he responded that it wouldn’t be possible to know if a natural childbirth is feasible until the last few months of the pregnancy. Furthermore, in the event that it would be possible an episiotomy must be performed. I left his clinic knowing that I will not return back to him. I then considered giving birth in the US, but found out that they follow the same approach as in Egypt, and that the C-section is the preferred method.”
“After a week of gloominess I found out about Dr. Kassem and how she is defending the rights of women to choose, by making sure they are getting the most detailed and accurate level of and that there is no exploitation, particularly of uneducated women.” Safia continued
Prior to delivery, Doctor Kassem teaches pregnant women about self-awareness and good nutrition. She emphasizes the importance of relaxation and managing stress during pregnancy and labor, and advocates breast feeding afterwards. She also follows the parents’ birth plan so they can be more relaxed during labor, provides non-hospital settings to those who want and allows the mothers to choose their surrounding and labor position.
Dr. Kassem was the first doctor in Egypt to offer water births. She also organized the first natural birth and water birth workshop with Barbara Harper, an international nurse-midwife, in Egypt in 2013. In 2015 she organized a Natural Birth Conference with the Alexandria child center, led by Harper, to promote midwifery education in Egypt.
Together with Harper, they offered water birth certification workshops where Egyptian, Sudanese and other African doctors and nurses attended. Dr. Kassem’s ambition is to see more birthing pools in delivery rooms and she hopes that hospitals and doctors give women alternative birthing options.
“At Dr. Hana’s center, I found all the things I was looking for, for the delivery my baby. Underwater birth to relieve pain, the ability to place my baby directly on my skin straight after delivery, while delaying the process of cutting off the umbilical cord so he can get all the benefits. The ability to protect my privacy and decide who is going to be in the room, which is dimly lit and has a calming atmosphere so far removed from that of the operating rooms and the unexplained fear. So, I traveled to Alexandria in my ninth month to meet her and see her center.” Safia said.
Recent statistics from 150 countries show a global C-section rate of 18.6% of all births, almost 1 in 5 women around the world give birth via C-section. Data from 121 countries shows between 1990 and 2014, the global average C-section rate increased by 12.4%. Egypt is the third country to perform the most C-sections with a rate of 51.1%. Doctors prefer C-section because it’s faster to deliver the baby that way. Most gynecologists prefer the surgical process and they give it more attention than a more natural technique or natural pain management, not to mention that cesareans (C-section) are more profitable. But we shouldn’t put all the blame on doctors, as some parents prefer a C-section because they want a scheduled appointment or to have their babies born on specific dates. Mothers don’t want to feel any pain, and the desire to go to sleep and wake up with your newborn baby beside you can be overwhelming.
Dr. Kassem wants to reduce the C-section rates by not performing unnecessary ones and focus more on vaginal births. She aspires to achieve that by raising women’s awareness toward their rights of having a natural birth and by educating them about childbirth and what women’s bodies are capable of doing. To achieve that, she gives courses to women about natural birth and how to know their rights and the importance of following the natural way in everything in our lives.
“Choosing to deliver my baby with her was one of the best decisions I made my life. I feel lucky. It was an unforgettable experience full of love and privacy, a spiritual experience that connected all who were present, who were just a handful, me, my husband, my sister, Kristal the doula and Dr. Kassem, and finally my little baby Moussa.” Safia concluded.
Dr. Kassem didn’t achieve all her goals yet. She wants to expand Mum’s Haven, enlarge the team, and offer massaging, acupressure, acupuncture and a breastfeeding support team. But most importantly, she wants all mothers to be well educated on birth experiences and for them to know theirs rights.
“So, instead of asking why natural birth? It’s more important to ask, why not.” Dr. Kassem said.
Edited by: Lamia Senousi
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