Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mothers in the Palestinian territories find support in the company of women

Women who have recently given birth give an insight into the support they get from female relatives - and their love of kitsch

Ingvild Hersoug Nedberg

Small bundles of pink or blue are paraded around the living room, where we, the midwives visiting the new mother, are oohing and aahing at the small wonders. Within the bundles lie sleeping Palestinian babies; blissfully unaware of the political turmoil they are born into. Lucky is the mother who has managed to have a boy, still important in a culture where the male line carries the family name.

After months of meeting a woman at the antenatal care clinic in the village of Deir Jareer, and perhaps being lucky enough to be her midwife during birth at the hospital in Ramallah, this is our last formal meeting. A visit from the midwives prompts all the women in the house to join in - sisters, mothers, mothers-in-law or other children. They listen and comment; serve up chocolates and a hot cinnamon mixture with nuts. We are honoured by being seated in the formal living room.

The room is a peek into the Palestinians' love of kitsch. It has embroidered pillows, fake flower arrangements, tableaux of Mecca with ornate lighting around the frames, verses from the Qur'an hanging on the wall, and lots of family photos. The men in the house have all disappeared for the time being, this is a women's world.

The midwives ask about the birth, complications, breast-feeding and plans for more children. Since Arabic is still just a myriad of strange sounds in my ears, I use the time to admire the newborn or the pillows with blue and white sparrows embroidered on them. Every now and then, recognising a familiar word, I can put in a question that my midwife supervisor will translate.

It is the first time I see women without their veils. They wear comfortable clothes, lose and airy, without any make up. It is difficult to recognise them from the clinic, where they wear long black coats, high-heeled sandals with glittering stones, and matching handbags. Now the new mother is at home, with other women to care for her, cook and wash, and help with the baby. They have all been in the same situation, and have many years of combined knowledge and experience.

Waving goodbye we know the chance of seeing this woman again at the midwifery in a year or two is not unlikely. In the meantime, she will enjoy the support and experience of generations of women around her.

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