Pregnancy & Birth in Morocco

So I have now gotten a taste of what it means to have a baby  and pregnant in Morocco.   April 7th at 7pm give or take a few minutes my cousin in law Khadijah gave birth to her first child after 17 hours of labor.  The whole family had been anxiously awaiting the birth and although she had gone to the doctor two days before and the doctor estimated another 14days till she gave birth – when I saw her on April 6th at lunch at my in laws house I noticed that she had “dropped,” some what from the earlier high position her uterus had. I didn’t say anything about her “dropping,” as I wonder if she would notice or mention it – she didn’t- but I suspected that the baby would be arriving in the next few days not 14 days as the doctor said. Why did I keep that to myself you may be wondering?  Because I knew no one would believe me if I told them.  Moroccan’s are very stubborn.  SO why would I attempt to change firmly made up minds?  Especially when outside knowledge is considered weird- I will get more into depth about why that is later in the post. So I kept my trap shut and waited to get the call.

Many American’s upon the awaiting the birth of their child or children prepare a layette.  The majority of Moroccan’s do not prepare the traditional layette that many other countries and American’s do.  The basics are usually purchased by the mother of the mom to be and the father to be – just what the baby will need after it is born nothing more nothing less.  I think the unspoken belief is that is better to wait and have a healthy birth with both mother and child healthy than to purchase items and have some complication or possible loss of both child and mother.  This is also common in the Jewish tradition where no nothing relating to the impeding child is brought into the house until after the birth.  This is very common where I grew up in Chicago – so common that stores offer delivery services on the day of the birth to your house.

Baby showers are uncommon in Morocco.  Instead gifts for the new baby are given at the Aqiqah/Naming Party.  What is an Aqiqah you maybe wondering? It is sacrifice of an animal usually a goat or sheep on the occasion of a child’s birth if its a girl and two if it is a boy.  This is usually done on the seventh day after the birth or a day that is a multiple of seven after the seventh day such as 14th or 21st day.  The benefits of an Aqiqah are first the announcing the birth of the baby.  Being bestowed a child is a great blessing from Allah and protecting the child from Shaytan (satan) the utmost importance at the main reason behind the Aqiqah. Another purpose is inviting family members, neighbors, and friends to celebrate the blessed occasion. The poor should be included in the celebration by offering them food and meat served on this occasion.

I and my mother and her spouse totally gave my cousin in law an entire layette plus clothes to last through the entire first year and an Ergo baby carrier with infant insert before her baby arrived – when my mom was visiting Morocco.  Why? Because I and my mother and her spouse both love shopping and babies!  Ebay is an amazing place to stock up on baby items gently used and new at good prices.

Pregnancy in Moroccan culture has a special place as it does in many countries but also because of the state of mothers in the religion of Islam.  Pregnancy in Moroccan culture is seen by many as the “seal,” on the marriage.  It is highly encouraged in Moroccan culture upon marriage to get pregnant as quickly a humanly possible.  The husband is expected to become more responsible and to leave “childish,” things and bad habits such as smoking behind as he is going to be a father.

Pregnant Moroccan mothers are encouraged if they crave something they should be given that thing as soon as possible to prevent birthmarks on the baby according to old Moroccan wives tales.  Pregnant Moroccan women should also be pampered as much as possible – meaning that if you were doing a lot of house work or you have other small children – time for the dad to step in and help you out or hire a house maid so you only have to take care of yourself and your children and not the house.  Pregnant women should eat only the best of the best quality of food and that is ,”Bledi,” from the country side anything not from the countryside or a family member’s farm doesn’t measure up which means no processed or fast food items. Pregnant women are encouraged to avoid the “cold, aka bird,” both when eating, drinking or by not wearing enough clothing.

This is a serious issue for Moroccans- American’s such as myself love ice in our drinks when its hot – in Morocco I am told numerous times that I am going to get sick from drinking cold things in hot weather. This means wearing multiple layers of clothing sometimes even in 100+F heat.  If a Moroccan is wealthy enough to have a heater/AC unit in their house – they would always be cautioned as I am by my neighbors that I am going to basically get sick and die.  I even sometimes sleep with a fan directly on me in the summer heat here and get told I will get sick from the cold.  I will also get a “cold aka sick,” from not wearing house slippers in the house – bare feet is a no no in Morocco.  I can also become infertile from showering or bathing and not wrapping my hair up afterwards according to all Moroccan mother’s I have encountered.    Let us all raise our hands if we became infertile from not covering your head after a bath or shower.  😉  No hands?  I thought so.

Pregnant women in Morocco are encouraged to use olive oil to prevent stretch marks.  I haven’t heard of any pregnant Moroccan’s of my acquaintance being told to not go to the Hammam but it would be something that American preggo’s would be told by their doctor to avoid overheating.  Pregnant women are also encouraged to do some light walking but not over do it. Pregnant Moroccan women get serious respect in Morocco.  This means if there is only one seat in a room and your the only visibly pregnant women – its your seat no questions asked.  If you complain of thirst in a store – someone is going to get you something to drink period.   Everyone in the family and community are going to do everything possible to ensure a successful pregnancy and birth.

I think the one area that could be improved is access to information about healthy pregnancies and pregnancy self care like we have here in the US.  There is no “What to expect when expecting in Morocco,” even books on pregnancy are limited to bookstores in major cities like Rabat and Casablanca and are not up to date or based on science.  So most women in Morocco who can either access and afford to go to doctors and don’t question what they say or recommend because they don’t know any better and the same often goes for the husband’s or father’s of the baby because they aren’t often educated to a university level and/or may not have passed their international baccalaureate exam which is like the exam to get your high school diploma.

Its at this point I have to share another fact which I find disturbing.  The underage marriage of girls in Morocco leads to underage/teen pregnancy even though they are married and this is linked to more complications because their bodies may not be able to handle the stress of a pregnancy as well as a more mature woman be it emotionally, physically or mentally.  Many Moroccan women are also not well educated with the mandatory school ending at the age of 14 and the youngest girls being married at 16 years old with a waiver from the courts and their parents.

99% of women  have no birthing classes and go into both pregnancy and birth completely ignorant of what to expect.  It was pretty darn sad in my opinion to see these women in pain without any coping tools to help them get through it.  I helped my cousin labor for 8 hours although the total labor time was 17 hours – I just was told after I woke up in the morning that she was in labor at my mother in laws house – it was I who said she needed to eat and drink to maintain her energy because by the time I showed up she was exhausted.  My mother in law kept telling her not to yell or be loud with her pain.  Heck – I vetoed that right out the door – I told her yell and do what feels good or better.  If you want to sit or if there is a position that helps to ride out the pain – go for it.  I ended up with her bent over holding on to my waist as she labored while we were at my in laws.  I noticed her hands and feet were hennaed  for good luck during her birth as is traditional here in Morocco.

I got a peek at the birthing areas at the local regional hospital here in Taza it consisted of four cubicles with doctor’s tables with sirups and that was it.  I asked my husband where the doctors were and apparently there are two nurses birthing babies on a 12 hour rotation and the doctors only show up to do rounds in the morning and evening unless there is a C section or emergency that is happened – which the doctors then would show up for to handle.  But what is the birth/death rate at the regional hospital here in Taza? 6 years and one death.  Pretty darn impressive without much equipment and high tech stuff that you would find in American or European hospitals.  The death occurred the day after my cousin in law gave birth at this hospital.

The regional hospital is an extremely busy hospital handling the care of any Moroccan or non Moroccan that comes through its doors for the entire region of Taza – Taza the city itself is home to close to 2 million people, the surrounding areas include probably another million and a half people – my personal guesstimate as the census hasn’t been done recently.  Women come from all the surrounding small villages and towns if they can to birth in the Taza Regional Hospital instead of birthing at home.

My cousin in law gave birth a couple hours after arriving at the regional hospital by ambulance – that my husband called for her.  He also made sure to get the female lead c section doctor to attend her birth as a personal favor.  Once she went into the birthing area – All I could do and the rest of the family is pray she and her baby were well as we listened to her screams and the shouts of the nurses telling her to push in Darija.

After a while because of the angle I stood at the door of the birth area I saw the first glimpse of her baby before anyone else.  He was set aside and crying as the nurses attended his mother.   There was no antibiotic ointment put in his eyes, nor was his mouth or lungs suctioned, no vitamin K shot.  He was just wrapped up and crying for a good 10-15 minutes.

Eventually his mother and he were wheeled in a broken down wheel chair into the room they shared with two other still laboring women and bunch of women who were waiting around for a woman in their family to birth.  My cousin in law was promptly bundled into multiple layers of clothing as I called my husband who brought her husband into see his wife and new baby.  I got my cousin in law to call the athan and iqama into his son’s ears.  My cousin in laws new baby was bundled into 3 blankets and a hat.  Everyone posed while I took photos and everyone was high from the relief that both mother and child were fine.  My family thanked the doctor who birthed my cousin in laws son profusely with phrases such as ,”May God bless your parents.”

Eventually everyone went home except for my mother in law who spent the night with my cousin in law in the hospital – in a room alone – again a favor my husband called in – which turned out to be a good thing as the new bundle of joy spent the whole night crying instead of sleeping.

The next day my cousin in law was discharged with a list of items to pick up from the local pharmacy –

For Baby-

antibiotic eye ointment

Antiseptic spray for the umbilical cord

For Mom-

Antiseptic Wash

The doctors didn’t even suggest that she pick up pads to manage the blood flow after the birth or pain killers to reduce swelling and pain of the tears she had.  I had gotten my cousin in law to try nursing her son as soon as they had come out of the birthing area and told her to keep at it but her milk hadn’t come in yet – so we picked up formula and a glass bottle because my mother in law was worried about the baby being hungry.

So baby arrived home in the car of the father in law of a different cousin of my husband’s extended family.  We then got Mom and baby into bed and of course in true Moroccan fashion fed  the new mama all “Bledi,” food and tried a little bit of formula with the new baby- which he wasn’t interested in.  I and my mother in law also changed the diaper and swaddled the new baby.

Over the next few days family came to visit and hold the new Sahmoudi-Habri.  I played the role of official photographer and the new baby enjoyed sleeping on my chest as I took the mid day-afternoon shift of helping out.

One final thing the doctor’s never discussed with my cousin in law was birth control after having a baby.  Not one word.  So I had that talk with her – which I can get away with because I am not Moroccan.   I also gave her birth control pills and a huge bag of condoms – explained how to use each of them in detail.  I told her if your tired now – imagine having this little one and being pregnant again in a few months and the you have two kids under two in your house and your alone caring for both of them the majority of the time.

Interesting and odd beliefs related to babies in Morocco –

A red string stuck to the head of a baby will stop hiccups

Olive oil should be used as diaper rash cream and rubbed on the baby’s stomach to encourage them to eat.

When swaddling the baby with the swaddle strap – put salt and bread tied in a knot at one end to encourage the baby to nurse and then wrap the baby in it so their legs are completely stretched out like an Egyptian mummy.

Spit on baby to prevent the evil eye.

Baby should be wrapped in lots of blankets and multiple layers of clothing to prevent the cold or getting sick even if its already hot out. (No one was encouraged to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before holding the baby – which would help baby in the germ/bacteria/virus department where sicknesses really come from!)

Putting kohl on the eyes and eyebrows of the baby – makes them look good.

Moroccan’s also put perfume/cologne on their babies

I bought baby powder which got put everywhere on the baby – even after I encouraged them to keep it to the diaper area.  My mother in law thought it would keep the baby warm.

My father in law also hosted the naming ceremony/Aqiqah at his house and it was just a large party – women and men having their party at separate times on the same day and missed some key things in order to be in line with the Sunnah of Islam.  1. It wasn’t held on the 7th day or a multiple of seven 2. No one shaved the baby’s head and gave the weight of the hair as Sadaqah (charity) in silver 3. Only one sheep was killed not two.  SO may Allah give them some reward for trying but it didn’t hit the key points of the Sunnah.  So I guess when I have kids my husband and I will be reviving a Sunnah or two.

During this time it became extremely clear how important it is to educate yourself and your spouse about the rights of your child before your child is born and ensuring the best possible start in the Dunya but most importantly the Deen.

For those who are seeking resources on this topic – I highly recommend the book, “Our Precious Sprouts,” by Mohmmad Al Jably.


4 thoughts on “Pregnancy & Birth in Morocco

  1. Salam, very interesting! I can also attest that “Our Precious Sprouts” (and in fact the whole four book Marriage and the Family series by Muhammad Al-Jibaly) is a gem.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! My husband (Moroccan) and I (American) have chatted briefly about having our children in Morocco so we can spend quality time with them the first few years, and save money. This has definitely brought up some important things to discuss.

  3. I am currently an American living and pregnant in Morocco with my first baby. My husband and I live in Rabat and his family is perhaps less old fashioned than what you described. But, I haven’t seen the birthing center yet and am hoping it’s better than described here. My doctor does have technological amenities, has prescribed things for pain during pregnancy and prenatals. So, maybe it is very different here. I enjoyed your article.

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