Worry Wart


As stated in my last post, I am continuing to process my thoughts on hijab….I have written this a dozen times, and to my surprise ive discovered it’s like peeling the layers of an onion. My last edit to this draft was back in September. Looking back I see I was in a royal funk. I’m still in hijab and have no desire to remove it ūüôā

How awful. I meant it when I said I have no strong desires to increase my endeavors in the area of practicing physical hijab. It may sound stubborn or off-putting; but it is the honest truth. Here I am, in my life, in my reality with questions and internal conflict about covering, modesty and how unfair it feels for the burden to be on me as a woman. Furthermore while I think it is helpful that I am extremely thankful for all the good things in my life, I don’t really believe that minimizing my own issues by comparing them to someone who is worse off is a healthy solution. It may help restore or create a better perspective, but it does not bring me resolve or change. While I will never say never or close the door to increasing my own modesty (even emotionally), I cannot ‘get there’ until I bring myself to a better understanding of my own feelings and where they are coming from. For those of you wondering- my husband has not asked me to cover more, or wear traditional garments or anything like that. Part of this post is triggered by the summer heat and my lack of participation in the things I love, because I can‚Äôt tolerate the heat and humidity, or because the environment isn’t hijab friendly. I feel irritable, sticky, dehydrated and worst of all, un-clean. The other part of this post is triggered by fear and insecurity and likely ignorance.

Why did I put hijab on? I wanted to do it for God, and God alone. I do think it has meaningful beauty. I like the tradition. I like the symbolic image and I do believe that being modest is important and required islamically. The problem is I feel it’s unfair and unbalanced even though I know it’s in the Quran and Sunnah and supported by so many scholars- so what does that make me? On the fringe of being a bad Muslim? A picking-and-choosing Muslim? I do not like feeling this way, and I am surprised with myself because I know God is not unjust, unfair or unbalanced. Interestingly, I did not have some of these difficulties until I became a mother, especially to my second child, a baby girl.

I am asked why I question the true purpose of hijab, and still abstain from pork and alcohol. I can’t articulate how agnry that question makes me! For starters I am Muslim and I do my best to live by the laws of God,and Im human! Dietary restrictions are for ALL Muslims, and it’s easy to do. Alhamdilillah I was never a big pork fan nor did I care for alcohol before my conversion.

Wearing a head scarf identifies me as Muslim. Before I became a mother, this had no effect on me. Since having children, I worry for them. I feel vulnerable all the time. Will someone hurt me or say bad things to me in front of my children? Would someone hurt all three of us? My two precious littles depend on me to feel safe, secure and happy. Can my children sense my fear? I hope they never do. I want my children to see me as a positive and strong female role model. Will someone target my husband because of my hijab? Will my children be ostracized? Or bullied? InshaAllah they will not. Im afraid my children will be targeted for being muslim and yet I want them to be secure in this faith that my husband and I truly believe in.

The hijab itself is clumsy. Even after four years of sporting hijabs, I am always surprised when I look in the mirror. I just don‚Äôt recognize myself, it doesn’t register. I miss my swinging ponytail and on-the-go routine. I always wear the boring Al-Amira two piece; it limits the amount of readjusting I have to do (every hour instead of every 10 minutes). I have tried, squares, oblongs, Kuwaiti and countless youtube tutorials. I‚Äôve parted my hair in funky ways to create friction so they won‚Äôt slip off, I‚Äôve tried under caps- lace, lycra, cotton, polyester and none at all to prevent slippage and nothing works. If I opt for a nice shayla, it looks nice for about an hour, and then the fiddling starts. The pins need readjusting and eventually I have to unravel and re-do. I feel like an un-done and sloppy mess. Having to do this while sweating makes it even more loathsome! The other day I seriously thought I should fashion a chin strap onto my under caps. This has gone way to far!!!

You know, the more I write, the more disorganized and ridiculous this all sounds. I just wish it all made sense, and that I could once again be in my comfort zone. I want to feel like the old, strong me. I want to feel well put together and confident once again. When fall approaches, some of the issues will disappear until next summer, but the others need to be dealt with.

Sigh.

God, please show me the way, and make me an awesome example for my children, Ameen.

I¬†drafted this post about¬†6 months ago.¬† I have since begun to come to terms with my issues.¬† However petty they may seem to others (and honestly, I look back and realize how fortunate I am to have been pregnant and birth healthy babies)- they were really¬†significant to me and my mothering experience.¬† I’m happy to report that both of my children are well nourished, happy and healthy Thanks Be to God.

Ohhh I swore I wouldn’t complain or lament, but I need to get this off my chest.

Breastfeeding has been the  number one biggest challenge and epic disappointment for me in my 38 years of life.   When I was expecting my son, and even before he was conceived, I dreamed of having our very own baby and wondered how magical and fulfilling it would be to nurse him after his birth.  I fantasized I was glowing with joy as I peacefully nursed him in my rocking chair while my husband admired us and was in awe with  how capable and beautiful I was. 

So very not the case.

At 39 weeks¬†and after a failed induction¬†I had¬†an unplanned¬†c-section which was followed by¬†wicked mood swings and disastrous attempts at breastfeeding.¬† ¬†Even after we arrived home, baby never latched on, not once- despite all of the different advice, books, contraptions¬†and¬† numerous¬†lactation consultants— my body failed again.¬† I couldn’t¬†deliver him¬†naturally and show my husband how strong as was, and¬† I couldn’t even nourish him.¬†¬† I was defective and ugly and there wasnt anything anyone could have said to make me feel better.¬†¬†¬†I just cried, and cried.¬† And cried and cried.¬† Then I cried some more.¬† Did I¬†mention how wicked I was?¬† This went on for 6 weeks, and I started to worry!¬† Friends would visit and ask if I was nursing, and it would bring anxiety and stress.¬†¬† They would all give me advice, and sometimes husbands would chime in!¬† A simple little question would trigger so many negative feelings, and when those moments came when some of my friends would nurse their babies in front me,¬† anxiety would fill my chest and throat, and I would become unfocused and nervous.¬† It was awful.¬† (Gladly, that doesn’t happen anymore).¬† Clearly this was not normal, and for reasons I could not and still cannot understand, my breastfeeding experience has a profound¬† affect on me.¬†¬†

I had a repeat c-section last summer, but delivered at a different hospital.  I was allowed to have my daughter in recovery; they allowed me to attempt nursing right away, and encouraged breastfeeding.    I was better prepared this time and I expected to have difficulty nursing.  She did latch intermittently and effectively two or three  times.   Those brief moments were so beautiful and I will never forget them.  I was also more relaxed because I knew what to expect- and that allowed me to be more present during her birth and helped me to cherish the not-so-perfect moments.  There was one nurse, who taught me the best way to get her latched on my last day, and I will always think she was brilliant and in-tune with her skills and patients and patience! 

Once we were home, it became a little more difficult.  She would not latch, I was in pain, exhausted, crying all the time and my 2-year-old son became a beast that detested his sister instantaneously.  I was chained to my Medela pump day and night, and it was not doing anything for my self-esteem.   I was able to partially breast feed, and partially bottle feed, and after such a rotten experience the first time, I took it!

With both children, I ended up supplementing with formula and my body stopped producing milk when they were 4 months old (note: I also returned to work at this time).¬† I never felt that I made that much milk¬†to begin with, but I could not let go.¬†¬† I never experienced the ‘engorgement’ that most new moms talk about.¬† ¬†What slays me is my daughter became a champion latcher by the time she was¬†eight weeks old, but I was not producing enough to nurse her exclusively, despite heroic attempts to increase my supply.¬†¬†¬†I began to resent pumping and having her¬†latch constantly so my body would produce more.¬†¬† It was mechanical and cold- and guess what?¬† It didn’t work.

I am so thankful to God that my children are healthy, born without complications and that we have the means to provide them with everything they need.¬†¬† Alhamdulillah. ¬†When I snuggle¬† Tiny Girl in my arms with her bottle, I get warm fuzzies when she looks up at me.¬† I relish the way formula drips from the corner of her mouth to her little stinky neck.¬† My heart flutters when I see her chubby little fingers wrapped around mine and I am satisfied that her nutritional needs are being met and that she is thriving.¬†¬†¬† Contrary to some fo the breastfeeding dictators I’ve encountered, they didn’t sleep through the night (damn!), they weren’t/arent overweight, did not/do not suffer from gastrointestinal¬†plight or constipation¬†plus they seemed to enjoy it.¬†

There is such an emphasis on ‘breast is best’, and all I could think about amid the struggles was “if I lived in an impoverished¬†nation would my children be malnourished¬†or die?”

One of the worst parts about all this, is that I took time away from myself ¬†being a new mother for the first time¬†and enjoying it.¬† I took time away from myself¬†to relish every second with my first-born.¬†¬† I was so enveloped in my nursing failure that I think it inhibited some of the natural bonding tendencies.¬† I would do anything to go back in time, and hold him as a new infant, and tell him how much he was loved, before he was conceived¬†rather than agonize¬†over each feeding and wondering if I was meant to be a mother.¬†¬† Those feelings began to disappear¬†when I returned to work because¬†I was so busy, I didn’t have time for non-essential thoughts and literally made the best of every second I had with him.¬† My nursing experience with my daughter wasn’t as severe as my first and I generally had an easier time in all aspects of parenting her.

–Yet as I sit here and write this, unsuccessful breastfeeding has left me feeling inadequate, less feminine, less accomplished¬†and guilty.¬† Despite my primal instinct to nurse my children, I failed.¬† I want these nagging feelings to disappear.

Following are my very opinionated thoughts; my intention is not to insult or criticize, but to come to terms with my feelings regarding young girls and hijab.  Feedback and discussion are welcome and appreciated.

Several years ago we attended¬†an¬†ICNA¬†conference¬† and I could not believe my eyes: an adorable eight or nine month old baby in¬†a hijab, perched on her father’s lap.¬† Until this very moment, partly due to the fact that I am the mother of a five month old daughter, I often wonder why a Muslim parent would resort to donning an infant in a hijab.¬† Aside from my visceral reaction of borderline¬†disgust¬†(I know– harsh.¬† Just being honest.), it looked totally ridiculous.¬† She didn’t even have teeth.¬†¬†¬†A¬†baby¬†girl in a hijab¬†seems as twisted¬†as a toddler in a beauty pageant.¬†¬†¬† Excessive.¬† Seeing a baby covered in this manner, has¬†triggered some¬†emotions regarding my own children and their Islamic education and upbringing.

We are planning to send our kids to Islamic preschool, and if we find that the Islamic elementary schools in our area are dynamic, reputable and meet¬†and exceed¬†the standards for education– we will send them.¬† I find myself feeling anxious that my daughter will be required to wear a little hijab.¬† Sure, it’s cute.¬† Anything she does is cute, and anything she wears is cute.¬†¬† Pre-K through second¬†graders are required to wear hijab.¬†¬†Third graders and older are required to wear khimar¬†and jilbab!¬†¬† I must ask, what message does this send?¬† Will¬†Tiny Girl¬†¬†chalk it up to ‘girls cover and boys don’t’ ?¬† Will she grow to love it or be turned off by it because it’s mandatory?¬† Will my son grow to be biased toward girls and young women¬† based on whether or not they cover?¬† As a matter of fact it is only mandatory when menstruation begins.¬† So why start so young?¬†¬†¬† I absolutely cringe when I hear another Muslim offer this explanation: “well, if she only starts wearing it to school when she gets her first period, everyone will know she has it”.

Spare.  Me.

As a Muslim parent, I do have concerns.¬† I want my children to grow to love God and to realize that living a well-balanced life is totally compatible with Islam.¬†¬†¬† Furthermore, I want my children to be in an unbiased and fair environment when it comes to schooling,¬† learning how to be social creatures and making new friends.¬† I want both my son and daughter, to understand and find internal value in the practice and preservation of modesty.¬†¬† More importantly, I’m¬†feeling like my parental right and duty to introduce my children to modesty and it’s practice are being taken away from me.¬† Why should I let an institution determine how or when my daughter practices hijab? ¬† I take hijab-wearing seriously and it doesn’t mean a thing, if it’s not done for the right reasons.¬†I¬†find it hard to believe¬†kids ¬†will learn to embrace modesty if it’s forced upon them.

Is my logic grossly flawed or is  this a typical concern amongst other Muslim parents?  What are parents of Muslim teens saying?  I would love to know how they deal with this issue, and what the outcomes are.

…………..and I haven’t even been there yet.

My husband is from Tunisia, I have never been there, and my husband hasn’t been home in a very long time.¬† We are dreaming about the day¬†we go to visit, with our tunsi-italiorican¬†babies in tow.¬† My in-laws are special people, and I miss them.¬† Web -caming¬†helps, but there¬†are ¬†no¬†substitutes for big, fat hugs.

So, as you can imagine recent events are on my mind.¬†¬† While I am hoping and praying that the winds of change will bring the people of Tunisia peace and prosperity;¬† I am worried that civil unrest and chaos will be the perfect breeding ground for another dictator.¬† I’m¬†worried that violence will escalate and that the people will become divided.¬†¬† More than anything I worry for the safety and well-being¬†of my in-laws.¬†

And in the back of my mind, I am very worried that I may have to live there someday.   This never used to worry me, now it does.