The Psychology of Guilt, Repentance and Belief

 A few days ago, my husband and I waited in the grocery line while I carried our daughter. 

When it was our turn at the register, my husband joked with the bag boy and said to him: “hey, you look a little young to be losing your hair…” The 18-year old boy didn’t laugh, but began to embarrassingly explain himself. He spoke in Spanish and only I had understood that he was losing his hair because he was dying. I looked down in embarrassment while my husband immediately regretted the joke.

In the car, he asked me what had happened to the boy and I told him that he was terminally ill. I felt angry toward my husband and I began to cry. “I didn’t mean to damage his feelings…I didn’t know he was sick” my husband said. He stayed silent the whole ride home. I knew my husband didn’t mean any harm, so I didn’t mention it again. My daughter was beside me –asleep–and I began to think about her birth: 

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah… (God forgive me,  God forgive me, God forgive me…)

Around the 7th hour of labor and as the contractions became more frequent and painful, fear settled over me. I thought about the possibility of death, so I began to ask for forgiveness.

My husband was laying down on an uncomfortable couch next to me half asleep. It had been a long night. I had arrived to the hospital at 11PM after my water broke and, for some odd reason, I thought I’d be out before morning. I wasn’t dilating and the nurse’s words were not hopeful: “Chil’, is this yo’ first baby?” I said it was. She said, “if you lucky, you’ll be outta heah in 12 hours… but you ain’t dilated even fo’ centameetas…we may have to start you on Pitocin by 7am…are you sure you don’t want  the epidural?” I wanted to say “yes”, but I said “no”. Perhaps I would be done in another hour? Clearly, I had no idea the way that this whole having-a-baby-thing worked.

The nurse left. My husband was asleep by now.

Perhaps other mothers can tell you that there is a space  in labor and delivery that belongs only to her–that no one can penetrate. And, there are moments where she feels very alone. I began to think about Surah Maryam and how Maryam (the Virgin Mary) had–while she was in labor with Isa (Jesus)–wished that she were dead. I haven’t wished my own death yet, so I must be ok. I imagined the way that Maryam must have teared at a palm tree that would later nourish her with water and dates.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I decided to change positions and crouch down with legs wide open. Perhaps the gravity would help me dilate. It did. In another hour, I was almost 7 cm dilated. “Whoa, 3 cm’s in an hour. How’d that happin’…?” Said the nurse. “I crouched…” I said. “Well, there ya go…but we still have to start you on Pitocin, dear. It’s been 8 hours and that baby’s gotta come out. It’s fo’ both you and the baby’s safety…Let me know if you change yo’ min’ about the epidural…” She said…

The nurse left. My husband drifted in and out of sleep. I was so bored of ice chips.

I thought about two Muslim sisters who had recently delivered. One delivered in four hours. The other in two. Both didn’t ask for any pain relievers. They were so strong. Why can’t I handle the pain? Why don’t I dilate? What is wrong with my body? I began to cry again.

Again, I was alone.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I called the nurse to ask her how much longer she thought I would be in labor. She told me that even with the Pitocin, it could be another 10 hours or so. It was my first child and my body was taking it’s time. I remembered my friends again and began to think that my body was somehow defective.

Once I began screaming and crying more loudly, my husband stood by my side. He was unsure of how to ease my pain. Perhaps he knew he couldn’t. I turned away from him.

He handed me dhikr beads and I began whispering to myself again:

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Ya Latif, Ya Latif, Ya Latif…(Gentle One, Gentle One, Gentle One…). I was asking God to grant me his Gentleness…

Finally, I called the nurse and asked her to send for the epidural. I wanted relief so badly, but even the epidural sent an electric shock through my whole body. After the anesthesia seeped through my veins, I drifted in and out of sleep. I continued to feel guilt for the numbness below my waist…

I continued to ask forgiveness for things I probably would never write about…

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Twelve hours later, the doctor checked me and said “it’s time to push,” and I did.  “BIS-MI-LLAH!” I screamed in anger. My mom, who was in the room, also prayed with her head in her hands. She couldn’t watch, but she also couldn’t turn away. At the end of that hour and a moment between screams, the doctor tossed my daughter onto my belly. Her eyes were wide open. At that moment, I remember myself in a cold sweat and laughing from relief while my husband, mother, and daughter all cried.

I had done it. My guilt was gone. God must had forgiven me.

The same night of the supermarket incident, my husband suddenly jumped out of bed and got dressed. I asked him where he was going and he told me he’d be right back. When my husband returned home, I asked him what had happened and he said he had returned to the supermarket to apologize. In a desperate attempt to seek his own forgiveness, he also forced the boy to take all the cash he had in his wallet. “I didn’t mean to make him embarrassed…I had very bad Muslim eh-ticks,” he told me in regret. Ethics. A word he had just learned at the English program. I told him he should rest.

“Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…”

He continued until he fell asleep. I stayed awake trying to wrap my mind around the way the human conscience makes its peace with good, evil, life, death, guilt and God.

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