(Cute Muslim baby! Don’t research images with the word Palestine in them btw, it’s most upsetting)
A friend of mine who doesn’t plan on having children has often described me as ‘taking one for the team’. She doesn’t want kids and nor do most of our shared friends so she’s glad I have done my bit. In Palestine this is taken to another level entirely. Having children isn’t just a matter of personal choice but a duty to the whole community. This is both part of a longer tradition of emphasising community over individualism but also it has a great deal to do with politics in the region. Palestinians feel it is their duty to have as many (ideally male) children as possible as a way of asserting themselves in the region and protecting their future.
Getting asked ‘Is there anything on the way?’ therefore, is part of the newly weds daily conversation almost straight after marriage and most women get pregnant within the first year of marriage. In the research I read the women described it as a way of stopping the constant questioning almost more than anything else!
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Husbands or partners getting involved during labour and at the moment of birth is a relatively new phenomenon in the West (although there are exceptions, aristocratic men in Britain for example, notably Prince Albert, attended their children’s births). Traditionally midwives or later on doctors would attend births with fathers pretty much entirely excluded from the process until the 1960’s. However, it seems like it’s not just modern Western men that get involved. Huoarani fathers to be are also their wive’s midwives (midhusbands?!)
Expectant fathers are the main or only support during their wife’s labour, massaging their backs and applying pain relieving leaves to their stomachs, back and temples. They may even reach inside if for instance the umbilical chord has wrapped around the baby’s neck and once the baby is born they will also cut the umbilical chord. After the birth they will restrict their diets in the same way their wives do and stay close by.
This mirrors their attitude to their community as a whole. If a member of the long house (even if they don’t actually live in long houses anymore) gets ill then the whole community may follow a particular diet until the patient is better. Long houses but couples especially may consider themselves ‘one flesh’ in this regard.
So if your partner complains about attending ante-natal classes, or is out drinking as much as they can ‘while I still can’ point out that some people view pregnancy and birth as a team and how about giving you a massage instead.
With thanks to Laura Rival for this article.