Birth, Sa’eeda’s story

Sa’eeda had her baby! Those words were not uttered in celebration.  No, it was a frantic phone call, tinged with panic, defeat and heaviness.  This was not a joyous occasion.  There would be no forty days of pampering for the new mother, no naming party for the baby.  You see, Sa’eeda was not married and no one in her family knew of the baby.

There’s a problem, she can’t stay with the family she’s living with anymore. Sa’eeda was someone I knew only peripherally, but our lives were about to converge.  (This post is long, read it when you have a little space carved out for yourself).

Okay, she can stay with us for a few days, was my reply.  So Sa’eeda came and brought with her the most beautiful baby boy, 5 days old.  My daughter moved in with her brothers, so that the new mother and her son could have a space of their own.  Seeing her took me back to my own post-partum days, the shock, the euphoria, the pain of recovery, the shattered sleep, the steep learning curve.  The immediate and natural way that a new mother rises to the occasion 24 hours a day.

She stayed with us and kept herself very scarce.  Hardly a whimper was heard from the baby.  Every time I would go in with food, she’d have the biggest smile on her face.  She kept her sense of humor, didn’t take the baby too seriously.  Smiled in his face and laughingly told him to stop making such a fuss.  She had raised so many babies.  And now at 41 years old she finally had her own.  Not born under the best circumstances, to be sure.  But, nonetheless,  a soul delivered to her safekeeping, a companion, someone to love for always.

She recovered well.  The color came back to her cheeks.  One day she came into the kitchen, got out the big clay bowl and started making mesemn. Her expert hands had done this hundreds of times, when she worked at a cafe (making 35 dirhams or 4 dollars a day).  My children demanded to help, and she obliged, giving each of them their own lumps of dough to work with, always with her big smile and laugh.  She did not take them too seriously, she did not get stressed out.  I was beginning to sense she had a high thresh hold for stress.

And when she told me her story, I understood why. When I was 12, I went to work in Rabat for a family.  They had a baby that I raised for seven years.  When he was small I had him on my back.  He wouldn’t let me get any work done, I just had to take care of him all day.  At that time, people didn’t have washing machines like they do now.  When he’d go to sleep, I’d start on the laundry.  I really had a rough time (she says with the biggest smile on her face and no grudge that I can sense). But that’s when I got asthma, from the damp air in Rabat.  I went to the ER many times because I couldn’t breathe.

(how much were you paid?  I ask).  I got paid 300 dirhams a month (40 USD, 30 euros).  But I always sent it home to my family.  I ate and slept with the family I worked for, they gave me clothes, so I didn’t need the money for myself.  We were all working, all us girls went to work for families.  You know we were so poor and my father only had a small piece of land.  At that time, it wasn’t accepted by the people of my village for a girl to go to school.  They were simple people.  It’s not like now.  We always say to mother, why didn’t you send us to school?  Even for a year?  Just to learn how to read and write!  Mother says she wished she had, she wished she hadn’t cared what people would say, but she didn’t know any better.

When I was 19 I came back to Marrakesh.  I worked for another family.  I didn’t know Marrakesh very well.  They live out there near the military base.  One night, they sent me out to get something from another family’s house.  That’s when something really bad happened to me.  They were two men, drunk.  They grabbed me and held me down and each one raped me.  I ran back to the family’s house and told them what happened.  I begged the woman to come with me to the police, to tell them what happened, to get a certificate from a doctor, so that I could always have it as proof of what happened to me.  But the woman said that she wouldn’t take that responsibility, that the police would blame her for sending me out at that time of night.  I wish I had known how to do those things myself.  I will never forget that and I will never forgive her.

Sa’eeda is wistful but not sad…she has that quality of someone who is not broken, who can’t be broken, who doesn’t have the luxury to break.  My own words and projections for sure, but this is what I sensed.

After that I had different jobs.  Sometimes I worked in cafes, sometimes I found good jobs working as a maid.

As the story comes closer to the present, Sa’eeda gets quieter.  It is easier to talk about things that time has numbed.  Not so easy to speak of how this baby came into the world.  Conceived in secret, carried in secret and born in secret.

Here is a woman who has never, ever been supported.  She has been giving to others since she was 12.  At the time when she needed her mother the most, she was off in a strange city, already raising a child, still a child herself.  She was supporting her family financially.  She was living as a servant, at the mercy of her own illiteracy, of the low expectations everyone–including herself–had of her. So I do not blame Sa’eeda for getting pregnant.  Who ever told her how the human body works?  Who ever gave her a sense that she was valuable, that she was worth marrying?  Who ever gave her any religious instruction or spiritual guidance?  Who ever gave her a chance to marry, to start her own family?

After 15 days with us (we’d gotten quite used to her and the baby) a room was found.  It was 1,000 dirhams a month (about 120 USD) to be split with another girl.  So expensive, but a good situation for mother and baby.  The family that rented out the rooms was warm and kind.  The aging patriarch was loving and protective, he exuded a sense of stability and security, while the woman of the house seemed glad for the companionship, happy to have a baby to help raise.  The room mate was also happy to share the space and overnight turned into a helpful and loving aunty.  This is one of the qualities I love most about Moroccans, this effortless connection with others and ability to see what needs to be done and just do it.  From what I’ve seen, it’s especially true among the poorer people.  It’s “it takes a village” working in real life, not just a slogan.

When I think of Sa’eeda’s baby, he’s gonna need all the loving aunties he can get.  How will his future unfold?  We don’t know.  His mother is taking it as it comes.  When he is a little older, no doubt a story will be invented to explain his existence.  Her family and village people will prefer a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of explanation, rather than be confronted with the truth.  In a traditional society where marriage is still a sacred rite and something that everyone across the board works for, hopes for and dreams about…it is very difficult for people to accept in their hearts when a baby comes into the world without that sacred container of a family.  Not judgement as one might expect, but a sadness that this baby is deprived of a father…not to mention that financially it’s a nearly impossible equation.

One thing I discovered via this experience, was that when I told people about Sa’eeda (the truth that is) they were immediately sympathetic.  There was not a moment of judgement or hesitation as donations came flooding in.  A few people gave large sums of zakat, the charity-tax that Muslims must pay on their accrued wealth.  Soon Sa’eeda had enough money to live for a few months before being confronted with the harsher possibilities of existence.  She bought a mattress, the first she’s ever owned, a few blankets, a gas bottle and a few pots and pans to cook with.  The minimum necessities of existence (there will be no Boppy pillows, no Graco swings or bassinets for this baby).  And I think what a difference a few thousand dirhams (a couple hundred dollars) has made in her life at this critical time.  At the time when she and the baby are most vulnerable.  And I think of all the orphanages in Marrakesh full of abandoned babies, not orphans!  And how much support their is for those babies, which I’m totally thankful for.  But there should be even more support for mothers to keep their babies!  Mothers should be supported at that critical time, given a place of respite to transition into this new life.  It can be done!

But even more so, whenever I see a single mother like this, I wish I could have gotten to her BEFORE this mistake was made.  We have to start educating our girls!  12 years old is the critical age.  That’s when they need the most teaching.  Girls need to know everything about how babies are made, and everything about birth control, aids and all that.  A girl needs to be told that she, and only she, is in control of her body.  A girl needs to hear that she is valuable, so precious, and that she should demand her full worth.  A girl needs a space where she can ask questions.  A girl needs to know that she is the mother of creation, that this is God’s gift to her, and with it comes great power, and also great responsibility.

I have a daughter, she is only eight, and we speak of these things.  Because I want her to hear them from me first.  Keep talking to your girls.  Don’t expect that they will learn these things through osmosis.

As for Sa’eeda, her life will not be easy.  But then again, it has never been easy.  Whenever I see her, she says alhamdulillah, praise and thanks be to God!  Her full trust is in God’s care.  Her trust and God’s subtle mercies, those are the wealth that never runs out.

30 thoughts on “Birth, Sa’eeda’s story

  1. Oh Nora, dangit you made me cry again!

    Thank you for sharing. All that you share. This blog, this insight, and especially thank you for sharing your home and your heart to people like Sa’eeda.

  2. Abdurrahman says:

    Dear Nora, I see that WordPress’s automatic categorizer (at the bottom of the blog) has put this entry into “Heavy, Women of Morocco.” Heavy, indeed. It is the weight of the world which all of us, somehow, need to bear. I guess the WP software has no way to recognize that this is also “the compassionate heart of a beautiful soul.” May God surround you and your family with His love and protection and allow us to help those who need it.

  3. Jamila says:

    This makes me think of “The Girl Effect,” that short film about how important it is to talk to girls before they are 12. For the whole world, that is…Thank you for your generosity to this woman and baby. There is nothing sadder than abandoned babies’ look of bewilderment. ox, mamajamila

  4. Salaams Dear

    Beautiful post. As I was reading, I thought of two things

    1. All the wonderful people who came to her aid, but not her family
    2. You are correct that we must talk to our girls. A question I have is how will this help victims of rape?

    • Salaams Safiyyah,
      1-It’s out of the question to tell any of the men in the family, they wouldn’t accept it. Her mother is too old and sick to be able to handle this either. But her two sisters did know about it and help her, albeit grudgingly. They will not hold the baby. This is something I am working on.

      2-I don’t know. But we must have intervention at all the stages of a woman’s life…education and empowerment for young girls…support and aid for single mothers…support and healing for victims of rape…and then some more education and empowerment.

  5. Oh my dear – such a touching story. You are truly a gifted writer. It has long long been my dream to open a home in Marrakech for girls and women with children born out of wedlock or abandoned by fathers. To offer childcare, education and job training. This story reinforces my desire so much more.

  6. Meircee says:

    Thank you for your heart, and how you allow yourself to show care. I am sitting here in tears. I wonder how to adopt one of these abandoned babies? My husband is Berber, and from Morocco (grew up inside the base you mentioned), and he has no children. At 40, I am not prepared to have another myself…I should look into this.
    Again, God’s blessings upon you.

  7. Liz says:

    I cannot see this as a sad time. Yes her life will be hard with a child, but what a celebration – to finally have her own child at 41. I think she is a brave soul who deserves that piece of happiness, with or without a man in her life. As you say, she’s already used to the hard life part of things.

    My husband is Moroccan, and came from a poor family. He never expected to get to marry so accepts that at least he has a wife, even though I am too old to want kids. He went for a wife, even though he had to immigrate to the US to have that and misses his family terribly.

    I admire Sa’eeda for having this child and keeping him. Her society has not given her any of what she could possibly want in life, so at least now she has the one thing that most women and many men crave – her very own son.

    I congratulate her for going for what she wants and working to keep it.

    • Thank you. I’m happy to say that Sa’eeda doesn’t see this as a sad time either. She is over the moon in love with her baby. Such a good mother. The huge question mark is her future…but I do believe she will be ok.

  8. That is a tragic and yet beautiful story. Who better to tell it…who better to be her voice than you. As the mother of a daughter, thank you. May her son grow up to be a great man and loving to his mother.

  9. Big sight! It is simply beautiful yet sad story. The problem is it is the norm not the exception. Too many girls/women face the same dilemma. That is why there are many abandoned children waiting to find a home. The culture and the people are unforgiving. Yes, it has to take a village to raise a child and I am willing to help. Let me know.

  10. Salam alikum khti,
    mashaallah I absolutely LOVE ur blog!
    Ana 3raishiya/shamalia, but unfortunately never had the chance to visit MARRAKESH til now! Mekanshi mektab!
    Hope very soon inshaallah!

    Greetings from a Moroccan woman livin in Germany 🙂

    M3a salama

  11. alisa evdokimov says:

    Tears in my eyes, thank you dear Nora for writing this, the beginning of what we all wish is a story of success and hope. I would like to help Sa’eeda. Please let me know how I can best do that, even from afar, which means financially is best.

    LOVE and Peace. a

  12. Very well written post. Enough of this diabolization of single mothers. Enough! We should help these mothers that have the courage to keep their child and God knows how it isnt easy in a country like Morocco

  13. Beautifully described, this is what women need everywhere…a community to receive a baby, to support a mother, love, an education about one’s body, and a way to support one’s self independently. Now, I have two daughters, and I wonder how do I really REALLY show them how magickal, powerful and divine they are so that they know their reproductive power is something to defend?

  14. Olga says:

    Thank you, Nora. This is such an important and moving story. Information about these things is crucial. Best of luck to Sa’eeda.

    Hope you are well

  15. As-Salam Alaykoum Nora

    BarakAllahou Fiki for sharing. Nora’s story is very touching.
    You are so true about daughter and girls education. We must be carreful.
    Thank you for your blog, I’m fond of it…

  16. Cain says:

    Hi Nora. I have a question for you. In a country where the people are of the most purest and loveing nature in a whole, why are the women concidered second class citizens ? All women are the Goddess of the planet. Creators of life. Your natural power and spiritual depths are far far ahead of mans. Its all about love and being ballanced within ones self. We both need each other to survive and to evolve on this planet. Why is the planet called “mother earth”, or mother nature ? Sa’eeda’ and her beautiful child with the support and spiritual power of the femine energy will be just fine . Sa’eeda’ is a Goddess and the nature of man can not stop that or hold that down. Thank you for sharing her story.

  17. Shaymaa says:

    Assalmu Alaikum warahmatullah,

    Such a splendidly written account! I love LOVE your blog!!!
    Allah Yajzeeki Kheyr.Aameen

    Fi Amanillah

  18. Salams dear deepest one,

    What a tremendously moving post…my own problems are cast into pitiful shadows in comparison!

    I think that apart from educating girls and young women as to their bodies and their worth, equally important is educating the BOYS (the men may well be too far gone…!). They desperately need to learn to value women, to respect them as they would their mothers and their sisters as the core teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (s.) espouse. It is of the most crucial importance to teach them from the earliest age that to rape a woman or to impregnate her (even with her consent) and then abandon her to her fate is the most ignoble, vile and despicable act a man can make.

    It is greatly to Sa’eedah’s credit that she bears her situation with grace and gratitude; what saddens me is that women are the ones time and again who must be wise and magnanimous in the face of inequality, while the culprits of their suffering go unblamed, unpunished, even admired and praised for their ‘masculinity’. I’m sorry to rant but it is absolutely the most hideous aspect of the Muslim world (in the world at large, too, of course), utterly besmirching the name of the loving, warm, welcoming, generous, big-hearted, forgiving majority of Muslims (and mankind in general). For far too long have women been imprisoned and executed in so-called Muslim countries for the ‘crime’ of being raped! Let’s make this our big issue, if we’re to have any. For women to have a safe place in the world we need men who can offer that protection, who will not represent our main threat. Let’s not shy away from being fierce over such a crucial problem. We might be wise and magnanimous but that doesn’t prevent us from being tigresses when needs must.

    Great post. Thanks for being so open-eyed. xxx

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