Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, begins on Monday and I’m conflicted and torn. Fasting is so much more than simply the forgoing of food, it’s a clear step on the path to God, it’s a pillar of my faith. And this year, more than last, my faith needs that support, but my son is 4 1/2 months old, exclusively breastfed and I wouldn’t feed him any other way.
Last year, pregnant with M, I found it impossible to fast. I attempted the fast from dawn ’til dusk on one day only, and though I completed that day, I felt weak and as the pregnancy required me to inject medication daily, not only was I endangering my child but also going against the guidance of hadith. I was diligent in my prayers and sought spiritual strength in the meals I prepared for G. As I accompanied friends breaking their fasts, I shared the news of the baby in my belly and, with their thirst satiated, we’d kneel to pray for the acceptance of their fast and the continued health for the miracle inside. I didn’t fast, yet my faith had never been so strong.
Then something happened. I got scared. I began to fear for the pregnancy, for my baby – for me. I began to fear that I could lose my faith if the pregnancy came to harm and those daily 5 prayers which had given me strength and lifted me up, began to feel heavy. I feared putting my faith in God, lest it was taken away. At the one time my gratitude to the Almighty should have shone through in all my doings, I couldn’t show it through prayer. In the months that followed, and since M’s birth day, I’ve picked up on those prayers, but my faith still lacks the intensity of feeling that it had. I know Ramadan can cure that and yet as the month of fasting, of abstinence, of repentance as we ask for forgiveness is upon us again and my heart screams for this ritual cleanse, simultaneously my logic and reason tells me to look at M; to place myself at Allah’s mercy and ask for exemption.
Unless its something minor – like say moving to a new country ;p – I do my research; weigh up pros and cons, find a consensus. With or against the majority doesn’t matter, I need the consensus of my thoughts. I wait for the “what if” questions to stop, for the clarity to come. To fast, or not to fast?
Islamically, I believe as I did last year with pregnancy, that nursing mothers are granted mercy from the fast, if –and this is the sticking point — they believe it would pose a risk to the infant to do so. I believe hadith, teachings from Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) confirm this. But, that risk factor.. medically, is it a risk to fast while breastfeeding this babe? Data’s inconclusive, and often biased in its funding. Doctors tend to advise against, noting it’s better to err on the side of caution. The reality is, that no medical opinion covers all cases – some women manage to fast without negatively affecting their milk supply or the composition of the milk, other women find the supply stays the same but the milk can’t satisfy the baby and others find both the quantity and quality of their breastmilk diminishes through the fasting period. No doctor could tell me which woman I would be, so my options are down to three: to fast completely, trusting that by staying out of the heat during the day and making up fluids in the evening I can prevent a deminishment of the quality or quantity of the breastmilk; to fast and supplement my/M’s? diet with multivitamins in an attempt to prevent the mineral loss commonly found in breastfeeding women, even if the supply remains the same, or could fast, with a twist – sipping water each time M needs to feed. Or, sensible option – the only option really – I could ask Allah for forgiveness and delay my fast, to make up the days once M relies less on me for sustenance.
Deep-down, there isn’t really a choice. We’ve come thus far alhamduillah without M being ill once. We’ve had no problems to feed nor any weight gain concerns. To do anything less than guarantee, to the best of my ability, that his nutritional needs are met would be irresponsible and against all the laws of mothering. But that doesn’t make me want it less.
When I first fasted Ramadan, it was the make-up days post fast (the 5 days missed for menstruation) that sealed my conviction in my faith. I made up the days alone, and that final breaking of the fast, as the echoes of the call to prayer faded and the sun slowly started to set, red hues casting shadows over the sky, that first sip of water was magical and forever changed my life. Inshallah, in a couple of months, once M’s eating solid food, I’ll be able to relive that feeling – all 60 days of it.