Child death, Culture, death, emotions, grief, parenting, Personal Growth, Relationships, Saudi Arabia, Women

The Club I Never Wanted to Join

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There are those clubs in life that we join with enthusiasm, that is within our control and decision, that we decide to engage because it coincides with our interests, our hobbies, passions, joys, and identity.  Although life’s path indoctrinates us into other clubs or groups that we never sought membership for, but we received a lifetime membership that usually involves emotional fees instead of monetary fees.  Almost one  year ago, I received one of those unsolicited lifetime memberships to the Mother of Dead Children when I delivered my full term 38 week old stillborn son, Mr. Baby (aka Mohammad Hatem Mominah).   A membership card I have tried to burn, to throw away, and return to sender, but the damn gold status membership card keeps finding its way back into my hand of cards.  This unsolicited club membership likes me to invest my emotions, my cognitive energy, my time, my sleep, my lack of sleep, and at times, my sanity.   While the members of this club experience some of the same initiations, each club member also gets specialized individualized treatment dependent on their own story, their personal characteristics of the card member, but most of us get to pay the yearly premium of guilt, blame, and sadness.

There are no rules and regulations of expected behavior of carrying this card from the membership itself, but people that have not gained membership to this club have developed stereotypes of how you should “be” and what is acceptable to say to you or not say to you.  I have perfected the art of listening, and composing a smile, or at least a blank expression, but I also have a ticker tape that silently runs through my mind, that if ever was exposed, could unleash a nasty sarcastic spew of my inner coping.  As a member of this club, I have gathered support and understanding from other gold card carrying members, but those outside that club, that have never experienced what it means to lose a child, will offer their own advice of how you can be a gold star performing card carrying member.  While every parent that has lost a child has a different way of coping, my own inner dialogue, which I long ago nicknamed as my “ticker tape” has at times ran rampant in my mind in response to messages  to what others have said to me in the past year.

  1. You should be grateful that you have other children.  Yes I am selfish and ungrateful…. (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  2. You need to get over it and move on.   I am weak and sorry I have those days that I secretly wish that I could have crawled into the grave with my child….(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  3. God never gives you more than you can handle.  Really?  Ummmm….because I am about one second away of letting you see on display what falling apart looks like.….(guilt)What  is wrong with me?
  4. Far worse things have happened to other people, you  should be grateful.  Yes far worse things have happened….I did not gain membership to compare my experience with tragedies of the rest of the world.  Yeah I get that far more horrible things have happened in the world, but thank you  for your insight and wisdom, but it still doesn’t change how I feel….(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  5. Say “Thanks God” or “Al Humdallah”. I have never been one to do or say things unless I really feel that way, and  maybe I am an ungrateful,  selfish person, because I am not grateful for carrying a child for 9.5 months to hand that child over to be buried in the desert’s sand.  I am not grateful to get this unsolicited membership card……Sorry if this upsets your world view, and doesn’t coincide with your perceptions….I will not say something that I do not mean, because I do not view this as a will of God…this was because of medical human error,  my own screwed up body, my own inability to deal with stress, and because I was too physically and mentally exhausted to stand up to the voices that said a C-section could wait for a couple more days,  even though I knew it couldn’t.   I am not in the mood to make you feel better…because I feel like shit.   If it makes you feel better, please say it, but do not say it to me, and do not expect me to say it.  Special note to medical professionals….please shut up and do not even have the audacity to mention this to me…. (guilt) What  is wrong with me?
  6. At least you are still alive and here.  Really?  That could be questionable on a moment by moment basis…..(guilt) What is wrong with me?
  7. Maybe it was for the best, maybe there was something wrong with him. A doctor examined him, there was nothing wrong with him visibly, although I would not allow the hospital to dissect his little body.  Even if there was something wrong with him.  I just wanted the chance to look into his eyes…even for just a little bit.  I wanted that baby,  even if there had been issues…. (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  8. You are not the only person to lose a child.  I know that, and do you think that I don’t’ realize already that I am not handling this with grace …Do you really think that if I could I wouldn’t stand up  and be this fortress of strength? (guilt)  What is wrong with me?
  9. At least you never had the chance to get emotionally attached…it is better that he died before you had the chance to know him. Please fuck off because I did know him.  I carried him for 38 weeks… you have no idea…… (guilt) What is wrong with me?
  10. You gave yourself black eyes/ bad luck because you were so happy to have the baby.  Your statements are more of a reflection of your black  heart and how you view others as well as how you view yourself… Please…could you just please shoot me and get your freaking torture over with.  I was happy to be expecting a child…and you stand before me and say that it is my fault that I made other’s jealous……really….this is just too much….while you may think it, and that is your right….really shut the fuck up.  Trust me….I have enough guilt for not standing up to doctors, changing physicians, or dealing with stress effectively…I don’t need your negative energy to add to my black world right now.  Bad things happen in life, and death is one of the inevitable truths of our existence.   (guilt) What is wrong with me?

The only real benefit that I believe I have gained from my membership, is the right to say “Please consider what you say to someone that has lost their child”.  I know the intentions are there to try to comfort the person, but each person deals with loss and grief in their own way.  I apologize in advance to anyone that I have offended by my honesty and language, that is not my intention, but to provide an insight into the grief of one mother on a year long journey of coming to terms with the death of her child.   Entering the private thoughts of another is one way to understand a situation and have some empathy.  I am sure that in the past that I have unintentionally made statement in regards to someone’s life events that were not helpful.  This experience has taught me that sometimes words unspoken are best.  No one can tell a the person what they should feel, or how they should behave when faced with death.   Sometimes the well intentioned comments only add to feelings of guilt, sadness, selfishness, and unfairness experienced by those grieving.  What you can do…sit quietly, listen, and understand that person will never be the same in some ways.  Yes they will learn to smile again, they will learn how to live again, they will learn to breathe….but it is in their time, and in their way.  Grief is a path that each person travels differently and it is not a path that can be magically fixed.

Happy Birthday Mr. Baby.  You earned  your angel wings  before you ever had to  breathe  in the experiences of the harsh realities of life on earth. One of my favorite messages sent was “The angel opened the book of life, and  said “This one is too perfect for this world…and closed the book”.  For this, I can honestly  say “Alhumdallah” or “Thank God”.  Until we meet again my little baby.

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emotions, Humanistic Psychology, Saudi Arabia, Socialization, Special Needs

Expression of Love from a Special Child

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The innocent and intuition of the young in being able to understand and respond to the needs of their fellow humans has always amazed me.  The young have not yet had their acts of compassion, kindness, and empathy socialized out of their repertoire of how to be human.  They see, they feel, they react, they express.  It is only the world around them that with time teaches them to develop restraint, to numb, to detach, and to become blind to those around them.   Learning to control and restrain our interactions is often described in terms of our emotional development, a process of maturation, cognitive development, or learning to become adults.  I question if we have developed an effective world in socializing out this innate human aspect of a child…the ability to feel and react to another a human being.

I found myself this evening precariously sitting on a small shelf at the check –outs of Hyper Panda Supermarket waiting for the last and longest prayer of the day to end in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country, in which all stores close during the five prayer times of the day.  It is not uncommon for me to often find myself unsuccessfully trying to organize my shopping expeditions timed in such a way to “miss the prayers”, which I typically fail miserably at timing appropriately.

As I sat on my make-shift chair, trying to focus my attention away from the fact that my back and feet were aching from walking through the grocery store, that had only been exasperated by the fact that I am 43 years old and 7 months pregnant.  I silently cursed myself for not opting for my hated tennis shoes, instead of trying still to maintain some sense of femininity by wearing my black ballet flats that apparently are devoid of any arch support.  That train of thought led me to thinking of my beautiful high heels at home, that just 7 months ago without little thought I would slip on for my outings without giving a second thought.  Somehow, this train of thought led me down the path of questioning my very existence and what I was going to do with myself personally, professionally, and thinking how pathetic I must be sitting in a grocery store lacking any direction or purpose.

My three children kept interrupting my own internal stream of thoughts related to my personal mid-life crisis, which has only been exasperated by pregnancy hormones that had manifested into a full-blown pity party dancing in my head.  “Mommy, can I get a new Pez dispenser?  Mommy, I want gum!  Mommy, Jasmine is getting two candy…it is not fair”.  I found myself saying “No”, “No”, “No”, and finally reverting to “Whatever”.  My last response sent me into initiating an internal dialogue of berating myself on my parenting abilities.  I pulled out my phone in my attempts to drown out their whining, engage in a mindless game of Candy Crush, and escape reality.

Crouching on the little shelf, that was more suitable for a small child than a 43-year-old pregnant woman, I found a small smiling boy running towards me that I thought must be directed towards all the colorful packages of candy that I partially had blocked.  I panicked and thought to myself “How am I going to gracefully stand up from my crouched sitting position, in which I am elevated less than 6 inches above the ground?”

Just as I began my struggle in my fumbling attempts at maintaining some level of grace while standing to let the child reach the candy which I had blocked, I felt his little arms go around my neck and wet little kisses being planted on my cheeks.  The little boy , of about three or four years old, and who was speaking to me excitedly continued to chatter and hug me, while his mother tried to pull him back.  When I looked closely at his little face, I realized that he was a child with special needs, most likely a child that had mosaic Down syndrome.  He continued to hug me and jabbered away in broken Arabic that I struggled to understand, not only because of my own poor Arabic skills, but also because of the effects of his disability.  I looked into his eyes and told him “Shukrin habibi”, which in English roughly translates into “Thank you dear one”.  He grabbed my face and then planted a big kiss on my forehead, which is a sign of respect and love in the Arabic culture.

His mother looked embarrassed and smiled while telling me “Malash” which translated into English is a way of expressing sorry.  I looked at her and in my broken Arabic told her “No need to say sorry, he has a beautiful white heart.”  As she led him away to take their turn in another checkout lane in the growing sea of inpatient customers waiting for the prayer to end, I smiled and the boy and I both waved to each other.  I felt a genuine smile spread across my face, and no not the fake smile that I have meticulously perfected in my years of socialization.  This authentic smile was a spontaneous reaction of being the receiver of an expression of human caring that was not planned, not manipulated, and had no ulterior motive.

My own little girls walked over to me and asked me “Mommy who was that little boy?  Why did he hug you and kiss you?”

Still smiling, I told them “I don’t know, maybe he knew mommy just needed a hug.”

Lulu, my 11-year old, and the most introspective and observant of my 4 daughters, quietly replied with a gentle smile “Maybe so mommy, he picked you of all of the people here.”

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conformity, Humanistic Psychology

When Conformity is Mass Insanity

Sometimes breaking the rules of conformity is an act of compassion, kindness, empathy, and respect for the living.

Sometimes breaking the rules of conformity is an act of compassion, kindness, empathy, and respect for the living.

Conformity is the act of adjusting our behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs to match those of others around us.  Conformity is often viewed by some as the pinnacle of raising a child as a responsible citizen.  I challenge that idea, in that conformity promotes blind obedience to any figure that is seen as having influence, control, or power.  It diminishes an individual’s ability rationally to examine his or her own behaviors and actions in believing that somebody with power, control, or influence must “know best”.

Cross culturally as a collective species, we have socialized our most vulnerable to behave in accordance with their parents.  The old cliché, “mother knows best”, starts this indoctrination into blindly following an authority figure, without questioning, constructively analyzing, or using some type of reality testing of whether “Mommy really does know best”.  This practice might serve a positive form of socialization, but one crucial component is often forgotten in that most of us as parents, as humans, are flawed in different aspects of our behaviors, actions, and thoughts, myself included. We carry this idea of obedience and conformity to other to include other adults, teachers, peers, and different leaders, as well as it models these figures’ own biases of who is NOT worthy of respect.

Taking a stroll through our history, as well as current social crisis is a historical and living representation in how many of the most shameful, heinous, and disgusting behaviors and attitudes are based on conformity to some figure that has power, control, or authority.  The attributes of power, control, and authority can be real, or perceived through charismatic actions.  From governments and other groups that have waged war on others, often disguised as a moral crusades to induce mass conformity.  To the sexual predator that victimizes the innocent based on their knowledge that conformity of the larger group will double victimize the victim in keeping their silence.  To the bullies of the world, that often ridicule their victims, with the help of their “own personal gang”, in which if they did not have the support of the bigger group would become a coward.  All of these situations were created by conformity, and all of these situations can only be remedied with conformity to peace, respect, compassion, and integrity for all.  The parent that emphasizes and models a genuine respect of all peoples, while teaching empathy, compassion, and models of decision making, instead of conformity and obedience has instilled within their child not only values for life, but also skills to keep them from blindly obliging those who may lead them to stray from these virtues.

Being the mother of four children ranging from 23 years to 6 years old, the one hope that I have of my children is be selective of when you choose to conform.  Conform when it respects the rights of ALL others.  Conform when it shows empathy for another’s situation.  Conform when it allows peace to flourish.  I hope you decide to practice a LACK of conformity when it benefits you in terms of social acceptance, or some other type of gain, but degrades or hurts another.  Above all, do not conform to my expectations because God knows I know I am not worthy of emulating, as well as having my own faults and behaviors that you should avoid.  I hope you have respect for me because I am your mother, but I hope also you feel free to question my judgments, and make decisions that are aligned with aspirations of living a life of integrity, compassion, and kindness.

Not conforming in the face of social pressure will not make you a hero, win you endearment, or further your own position.  In reality, it is often a harder, but a higher road in terms of the humanistic values of respect, authenticity, kindness, caring, empathy, and compassion.  I never took it as an insult being called crazy or a lunatic by those that conform to others around them.  In fact, it only provided confirmation that I had not lost my individual mind or soul.

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Aggression, Bias, death, Fear, Judgement, Palestine / Israeli Conflict, parenting, prejudice, Stereotypes

When the World is Vulgar……

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, what future do you see?

Toys and guns, cookies and blood, and a people searching for serenity?

Mama and Baba are close to protect you from harm, so close your eyes and dream my little habibi!

Play with your toys, run against the wind, and feel the sun against your face.

A two- year- old’s world, exciting and new, so much to learn about this place.

 

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, tell me what do you see?

“Mama! Mama! Shoof (look)! Look! A big steel bird is coming to see me!

How lucky am I, to see such a thing, something so different and rare! Do all good little boys get to see these?

“Ya habibi! Run with mama, somewhere to a different new place!”

Mama! Mama! Why? How come the smile is gone from your gentle face?

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide, why do you no longer see?

The world still has much to show you and how life should idealistically be!

The big shiny steel bird brought you a surprise and now you no longer see!

A two-year-old child, blankly stares out from a lifeless, charred, bloody face.

Habibi close your eyes and let your soul fly to a safer land far away from this hellish place.

 

I wrote this poem five years ago, after watching broadcast news, in which I viewed a small Palestinian boy who had been gravely wounded in an Israeli air assault being worked on by medical professionals in a hospital.  I caught myself glued to the television unable to look away from the fear and look of confusion I saw in the toddler’s face.  Even though his face was charred in places by burns, and reddened by his own blood, his beautiful cherub appearance was still visible, making the vision of his face a mixture of both heaven and hell.  As I continued to watch the live broadcast, right before my eyes, I saw the “light”, “soul”, or “life” disappear out of the little boy’s eyes.  The look of fear was replaced by a blank empty stare.  The medical professionals continued to work on the innocent child, but the moment his eyes changed, I knew he had passed on to another realm.  The efforts of the doctor were useless on the destruction that had been ravaged on this child’s small body by the air strikes.  The doctors eventually stopped administering medical treatment, and one of the men closed the child’s eyes.

I sat on the couch, holding my youngest daughter, who herself was only an infant, with tears streaming down my face, unable to talk, or articulate the feelings I had about what I had witnessed through modern technology.  My husband looked at me with confusion and said “If you don’t stop crying, I swear I am going to take all of the televisions out of the house”.  My husband has always been irritated by my emotional sensitivity and reactivity to the world around me.  As I sat and tried to compose myself, I finally stood up and walked off muttering “At least that little baby doesn’t have to exist in this fucked up world anymore”.  I walked into my home office and promptly wrote the above poem, trying to use a more productive form of expression to deal with my emotions.  Yes, I do tend to use profanity when I am distressed.  My apologies to those who I might offend, but sometimes with all the insanity and vulgarity of our world, my only release is with a response that has an equal level of vulgarity to combat my disbelief in how cold, cruel, and inhumane humans can be.  Perhaps we need to replace the word “humanity” with a more suitable term, taking the attribute of the human species out of the whole concept.

Over a year later, while visiting my sister in California, I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident in which a small child, of Hispanic ethnicity, had fallen from three stories.  As I knelt by the child and grasped his small hand, I saw that same look of confusion and fear that I saw in the Palestinian boy’s eyes.  I watched helplessly as I witnessed the “life”, “light”, “soul”, or “spirit” leave the little boy’s eyes.  Not only did I watch it, I physically felt the departure of his essence leaving his body.  The little boy was still breathing when the ambulance arrived, but  from what I understand was later taken off life support because of the absence of  brainwave activity.  I knew the little boy was gone before I received this update; I not only saw, but also felt his soul leaving his broken body on the pavement below the apartment window from which he fell.  I felt a connection with this child, even though our brief encounter and introduction to each other lasted only a few moments.  I struggled mentally and emotionally for a time after this tragic accident, coming to terms with this child’s death that occurred physically right before my own eyes.

The next day after the accident, I sat on my sister’s balcony with my mother in the upscale apartment complex at which the accident had happened.  The people living above my sister were also out on their balcony as well, who happened to be a nurse and doctor, and who had witnessed the accident the previous day.  As I sat and half-heartedly listened to the conversation between my mother and the neighbors, I concurrently was lost in my own internal world (and yes I have a tendency to do this), but a comment from the neighbors above caught my attention.  I remember the women saying “Well we didn’t go down because the family was clearly Hispanic and I am sure the accident somehow had drugs involved”.  Again, my emotional sensitivity, as well as my own personal Achilles heel of emotional reactivity took over my faculties and judgment.  I stood up and walked back into my sister’s house, but not before muttering “Racist fucking bitch”.  Again, I uttered a spontaneous emotional vulgar insult and response to a situation and worldview of another human that I saw as completely vulgar.  The realization that two trained medical professionals had forsaken offering their medical expertise and services to a child based upon their own jaded stereotype of “Hispanics” was more than I could tolerate.

It is only upon later reflection, that I can make the differences and connections between these two events and the emotional responses that the events elicited within me.  The differences between these two events are as follows:

  1. One was an accident, the other was an aggressive act by other humans.
  2. One child was Palestinian of Arab descent, the other child was American of Hispanic descent.
  3.  One event spurred suggestions of how to prevent the future loss of life, one event spurred escalating hostility.
  4. One event I could personally come to terms with because it was an accident, one event I still struggle with because it was caused by human’s evilness.

The similarities between these two events:

  1.  A child died.
  2. The child was from a marginalized group, in which some sectors of society refuse to lend help based on this.

Annually when the summer heat enters my life, my mind often drifts to the summer that I held a child’s hand as he passed over to a safer place.  This summer is no different in that I still think about his family and wonder how they have dealt with this death.  This summer is no different in that conflict and war across our world continues to take the lives of the innocent, and often this involves innocent civilians; especially children who are trying to exist and live in a world where the powerful and greedy do not recognize their rights to live in safety and security.  This summer is no different in that much of the world that is not directly affected by this conflict turn their backs on the suffering of others.  This summer is no different in that people in general fail to lend a hand, or give support to those that they view different from themselves.

My question is:  How many summers have to pass before humans quit basing their judgments and actions on who deserves help on stereotypes of the “other”?  How many summers have to pass with the continued death of children in Palestine and elsewhere in the world caused by humans’ darker side and lack of empathetic concern and action?  I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece nearly five years ago, even more shocking, the war and conflict has raged for more than 80 years;  how much more time has to pass before no more children are casualties of this conflict?

When humans quit being vulgar in their actions, perhaps I will learn to be less vulgar in my words as well.

 

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parenting, Personal Growth, Psychology, Relationships, Saudi Arabia

Perspective: The Gift vs. the Sacrifice of Children

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We have all been in situations in which we talk about the “sacrifices” we make in life.  We often hear parents speak of the sacrifices they make for the sake of their children.  Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2014) defines sacrifice as “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone”.  Whenever we speak of sacrifices made for someone, especially our children, we are inducting that child into a world of feeling guilty for their own existence (Ausubel, 1955).  When I hear parents say “Look at the sacrifices I made for you” to their children, I always cringe at the  feelings of shame and guilt the child is having imposed on them for the event of being born, which was an action brought about by the parents, and not the innocent child.   

An individual recently commented to me on their perceptions of the many “sacrifices” I had made to stay with my children.  I sat and thought about their comments for a moment, and as I thought about it, I realized I had not made personal sacrifices for my children.  I am not going to lie and admit that there have not been times when I have had the thoughts that I sacrificed my life goals for my children.  I put off pursuing a PhD for 10 years because of the age of my children.  I have moved away from my family and friends of my childhood to be with my children and husband in Saudi Arabia.  One could see these as sacrifices, but in fact, not choosing to stay with my children would be a personal sacrifice for me.  Children are gifts, although I will be the first to admit that during the toddler temper tantrums, the mood swings of pre-adolescence, and the rebelliousness of the teenage years, it is hard sometimes to keep this point of view in perspective. 

Children come into the world by the choices their parents make.  If a parent believes that they have made “sacrifices” to have children, perhaps they should reconsider the purpose of having children.  The concept of “responsibility” becomes a crucial component of this concept of “sacrifices” and “guilt” versus our “values” and “responsibilities”.  If an individual sees the sacrifice of raising children with emotional support, love, caring, and teaching them responsibility as a sacrifice, perhaps their values as well as concept of parenting needs to be re-evaluated.   

As I sat and carefully pondered this person’s perception of my sacrifice, it came to me I had made no personal sacrifices, except for the time I sent my 15 year old daughter back to the United States from Saudi Arabia to finish her education.  That was a sacrifice, because I had to let someone l loved dearly leave me, versus keeping her in a country that was not her own.  I choose to stay with my three younger children, and have her go back to the United States:  This was a personal sacrifice; I had to give up someone that I wanted with me on a daily basis, and chose my three younger children in Saudi Arabia.  Who has really sacrificed are my children because of the past choices I have made.  I looked at the person who said this comment to me and told them “Staying with my children is not a sacrifice, because my children are my gifts”.    

 

References

Ausubel, D. P. (1955). Relationships between shame and guilt in the socializing process. Psychological review, 62(5), 378.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.  (2014).  Sacrifice.  Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacrifice

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