Childbearing, Breastfeeding and the Battle of Motherhood

I wear my stretch marks like battle scars.

I had heard this phrase before, vaguely realising that childbearing and birth were something akin to a war, not fully understanding how radically true this was.
Childbirth is like a particularly intense hazing Nature puts us through. To me, it was this unimaginably violent, painful, radical test my body and mind had to bear, and here I sit, writing about it, trying to put words on the impossible, looking at my child yet not realising I have done it and lived to tell the tale.
Another part of me is laughing, pointing at the very pretentious act of writing about something experienced by millions of women every day, these millions not feeling the particular need to be writing about it all. This is the part of myself that laughs and points: Look at that little privileged girl, acting as if she were the only one that ever gave birth, making a big deal out of it. But bear with me and allow me to ponder on it all for a while.

In hindsight, I think it’s safe to say that child birth really Is a big fucking deal. If men were doing it, there would be memorials in every city to every fallen comrade who died or sustained injuries giving life, and I can guarantee you that budget cuts would not be made on maternal/paternal health.
Childbirth is intense on a personal level, no matter what the experience: for me it was more that 30 hours of stalled labor and sheer anxiety spending every minute of these 30 hours monitoring my baby’s heart rate, making me beg for a Caesarian which I got in the end, comforting me in my personal belief that natural childbirth is barbaric, that epidurals are the best thing in the world (you can add capital letters to that, Let me rephrase: epidurals are The Best Thing In The World. Trademarking for good measure) and that I don’t see the point of that much pain if i can avoid it. Also, c-sections rule. Like Beyonce rule. That’s how much they do rule. The world. Period.

Not everyone has the same experience and you will certainly find many women strongly disagreeing with me and swearing that natural childbirth was the most beautiful thing they have ever experienced. The key here is to support women in their experiences and choices without making mothers feel that they failed somehow. Phrases like ‘your body was designed to give birth’, while coming from a good intention, can leave mothers who can’t give birth vaginally with a feeling of failure, as if their body and themselves had failed their child. Let me state something clearly: it is true that c-sections are major surgeries and as such carry significant risks for mothers and babies. However, sometimes they’re needed, as simple as that, and women who undergo them should not be made to feel as if they failed their childbirth experience or only got the second best option. It is this hierarchy of experiences made by so called experts and crunchy parenting trends that only reinforce feelings of guilt in new mothers.

There are as many stories as there are people and mine is just a straw in the haystack, just my version of an event. I’m putting in the disclaimer because having a child is one of the experiences that put me the most under scrutiny in my life. See how privileged I am? So privileged that I had not realised it before. So far I had not felt judged for my choices, or at least I was able to let things slide, until motherhood and its explosive molotov of emotions and reactions came knocking.
Let’s break things down: you’ve just evicted a human being from your body, no matter how, and you’re exhausted and overjoyed and overwhelmed and things have not settled in yet, but the Guilt and Judgment parts inherent to the way our societies treat motherhood are just looming outside the corner. Will you be breastfeeding? Yes? No? Exclusively? Yes? No? If so, why not? Will you be Abandoning your child to get back to work? Do you know, this and that would be the best for your child but that’s your decision. It’s funny how so many people can inject that much contempt in those little words: it’s your decision, as if your choices were radioactive concepts that seriously needed to be questioned. As a first time mother, the last thing you need is a self-righteous fucking ‘lactation consultant’ (seriously, that’s a thing) or midwife or well-meaning random person telling you to hold your two seconds baby in the rugby position to help her latch on a breast that still has no milk. How fun for everyone. Breastfeeding is such a sensitive issue, I could go on and on about the impact of WHO breastfeeding regulations on women.Indeed, research has shown that recommendations instated by WHO To exclusively breastfeed for at least six months tend to make women feel guilty, as researchers have dubbed this recommendation ‘unrealistic’. Yes, this would technically be the best option for babies. However, studies have shown that while the majority of women initiate breastfeeding at the hospital, in France and in the States, a month later the figure drops drastically. Why? Because breastfeeding is hard in and of itself, and is made even harder by midwives and professionals telling women who are having difficulties that they’re not managing because they’re not trying hard enough, which is of course something every new exhausted mother with a crying baby dangling down her breast needs to hear. Embarrassment, milk supply issues, pain, lack of access to information and appropriate health services, lack of support and maternity leave, major changes in lifestyle required by breastfeeding are other several reasons often cited by women to stop breastfeeding.
Another thing that turned the WHO guidance into added pressure for mothers is the way it is presented, in a very black and white fashion: it’s either breastfeed exclusively or don’t even bother. This is exactly how it was for me: my initial desire to alternate between breastfeeding and formula feeding (p was met very coldly by the midwife at the ‘baby friendly’ hospital i gave birth in, while the pain and latching issues we were having were just not taken into account in the conversations I had with the midwives, piling on the pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the more a child breastfeeds, the more it stimulates milk production and offering formula might confuse your child as well, increasing latching issues. But I also know that many women would like to be able to discuss all their options in a guilt-free and safe environment, and would appreciate the flexibility of combining breast and formula feeding. Meeting their concerns with contempt isn’t likely to increase breastfeeding rates. As for me, in the end I just dropped the whole breastfeeding hoopla: I was in tremendous pain, my baby was crying bloody murder she was so hungry, she was only latching on one breast, she was starting to be jaundiced and I had to beg for supplements. I therefore figured I was simply not having this wonderful bonding experience some women wax lyrical about, that my child needed a sane mother and not a crying mess and that formula with a relaxed mother was better for her than breast with a wailing banshee.

The pressure on women is so bad it prompted me to read Elisabeth Badinter and-gasp- AGREE with certain points she made.
And we all know me no likey essentialist so-called feminists that try and keep veiled women out of public institutions.
Badinter wrote about the whole Mother Nature/crunchy movement that is emerging and questioned the pressure applied on women to breastfeed, stay at home and make crafts, take care of children etc, stating that the ultimate aim of this trend is, as it always has, to keep women in private spheres and keep them from investing themselves too much in their community role.

Truth is, like for everything else, society apply an incredible amount of pressure on women to be super-mothers. The sacralised version of the Mother with a capital M is re-emerging after having been seriously put into question by women’s movements in the seventies, encouraged by the economic crisis and how much more vulnerable it has made women. In this model, a True/Good/Perfect Mother suffers to bring a child to the world, breastfeeds exclusively for a long time, bakes cookies while eating none herself because she needs to lose weight to be a good role model to her child but also to remain sexual as women are sexual objects and should remain so under the current patriarchal paradigm we’re forced to live under.

After several months of talking to other women, the conclusion I’ve reached is quite radical in its simplicity: choices are not the same to everyone, and each woman should be able to freely opt for what she feels more comfortable in without the Midwife/WHO/Religion/your mother police having a ball tearing these choices apart. It’s hard enough making these choices and owning them, and no one needs the extra guilt. The important thing is to ensure women have all the information they need to make informed decision, and all the support they need to feel comfortable with their choices and situations. Needless to say, it is rather pointless to make women feel guilty for their choices on the one hand and support and make budget health cuts on the other, taking away from mothers the structural, public support they need. Governments should stop issuing recommendations they do not give themselves the means to achieve, making women bear the brunt of achieving said recommendations on their own.

However, even the question of choice is a false debate: how much choice does a woman with poor access to healthcare have? Not every country has free universal coverage and even in those who do, access to medical follow up during pregnancy and good healthcare for delivery is constrained by a woman’s socio-economic circumstances. Even breastfeeding for example might not be a choice but the only possibility given the cost of formula, or on the opposite, maybe breastfeeding can’t be an option because of lack of maternity leave.

Public health structures, class, personal choices, and structural factors all weigh in to shape a woman’s experience of childbirth and child raising: what is at stake is to make sure women do not pay the price of judgmental trends and inappropriate public policies.

Tales of the Phoenix City – 29

Gaby was watching the ever expanding frame of her friend, taking pictures of her as she moved bare foot on her tiled floor, draped in a large lacy poplin white nightshirt. Nina was looking tired in the Beirut sinking sun, the sweet autumn wind finding its way into the apartment through the half closed green shutters, gently caressing people and furniture, reminding them that there were good reasons to stay, too. In spite of everything. Nina was arranging on her tray the delicious looking fig jam and homemade sweet anise kaak Lily had brought back from the Bekaa valley, pondering if her hunger was greater than the nagging nausea that had plagued her throughout the 36 weeks of her pregnancy.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, for the love of all that is good and holy, how, just tell me how, does your body manage to accommodate that alien in your belly?
Nina smiled patiently. After all, this was a question she kept asking herself, about four hundred times a day.
– Well, I’m not even sure myself. Sometimes I stare at my body in utter wonder, thinking it’s the most perfect, clever thing in the world…
– Please spare us all the hippy talk I am begging you, interrupted Gabrielle, all this hoopla about your body and its abilities yawn yawn yawn
– Ma hek, if you left me finish. So I was saying, sometimes I am amazed by what I can do, and other times I just feel so, well, full, so heavy, and achy, and moody…
– Are you naming the seven dwarves?
– No seriously, that whole pregnancy thing is no walk in the park. I will never understand the women who claim to have never felt better than when they were pregnant. It’s a huge strain on yourself, on your body and emotions, it’s like this tidal wave of change, you don’t recognize yourself. Everything swells to accommodate a person you’re creating, a person you feel jab and poke at your insides and punch and kick you. Sometimes I’d be sitting down and it’s like my bump has already a life of its own, it goes crazy from one side to another. How odd is that? It’s happening to me yet I can’t wrap my head around it.
– Well, you’d better start wrapping your head around it, seeing as you’re giving birth in about four weeks.
– Yeah no, i’m not.
Gaby started and looked up from her objective, trying to assess her friend’s tone.
– You’re not?
– I’m not.
– Okay then. What do you propose will happen? Will you keep that child inside your womb for all eternity, kangaroo style?
– No no,they shall take that child out of me, but I do not plan on ‘giving birth’ and ‘laboring’ and participating or cooperating in any way to the delivery of that baby. I’ll just let modern medicine do what it does best: fix things.
– You scared?
– To fucking death. The pain, Gaby, how does one bear the pain? I hear all that talk by the midwives about how beautiful and manageable everything is through breathing but i’m like, ‘quit lying to me, if breathing magically made the pain go away, women would not beg for epidurals and oxygen and the shit loads of drugs they ask for, half crying’. I’m not gonna lie Gaby, i am seriously wondering about how people deal with the fucking pain. I demand to know.
– Wait, I’ll go back to my extensive experience in giving birth to 14 children. How the fuck do I know? The whole process seems so foreign and remote to me. A bit like China.
– Nina chuckled, trying to get comfortable in her vintage upholstered wicker chair, putting her swollen feet up. Gaby resumed her frantic picture taking.
– May I ask why you’re all over me with your camera? You look like a paparazzi chasing Kim Kardashian.
– Who?
– Never mind. Just stop taking pictures of the sorry mess that I have become. And since we’re on the subject, please stop likening my vagina and its upcoming torture to China.
– Oh for fuck’s sake, can we please stop with the whole pity party? I am told many, many women have done what you’re about to do before. Apparently it’s even very probable that your body will know what to do by itself. So breathe. Didn’t they teach you anything in that drab, God forsaken prenatal classes of yours? Grace came with you and she bored me into a proper stupor with talk of dilatation and effacement and perineum and pushing and ‘managing the pain’ by breathing and whatnots. Seriously, if you could handle the pain of the preparation to the whole ordeal, you’ll do just fine at the event itself. Oh and by the by, I take pictures because you’ve never been so beautiful and I want to frame a couple of those for your child to see how perfect her mother was while carrying her.
– I didn’t know you were such a thoughtful, kind poet.
– Well, there I fucking go, the sensitivity of Verlaine trapped in the body of Patti Smith
Nina planted her eyes in her friends’. The intense gaze rattled Gaby, who stopped being flippant and held Nina’s gaze with the same intensity and gravity. Now was not the time for jokes.
– Seriously, Gabrielle. What am I doing? Did you see the state of the country and the world I am bringing that child in? Am I doing the ultimate selfish thing? I don’t really care about my child not really having a ‘father’ figure…
– Yes she will, she’ll have me!
– Seriously, ‘father figure’ simply doesn’t mean anything anyway, except maybe patriarchal oppressor. But I feel like I am under so much pressure. My body is definitely not my own anymore, by nature’s design and by people’s will, by the constant stream of ‘well wishers’, telling me I should give birth without medication, telling me I should breastfeed because it’s better, and don’t even get me started on all the parenting advice perfect strangers are showering on me. Sometimes i just feel like escaping but It’s like I’m stuck. I just would like to be able to claim my life and body back, but people are trying to sell to me the sacrificing, long suffering mother stereotype as the ultimate and best mother figure that could ever exist and I just don’t want this for myself, and i don’t want my child growing up thinking it’s ok and normal to be a slave to motherhood.
– Your tangled web of questions has confused me,not the least because i think, of all your organs, the most fucked up as of now, is your brain. Since when did you start caring about what people say? Seriously, you’ve been renting your body for the past nine months, bloody do what you want to do with it when it’s over. You’ve always been your own person, I don’t see why that should change. Raise your child the way you want to, telling her what you think is right and then let her make her own experiences. The way I see it, just let people’s remarks and comments slide off your back and carry on.
– You know, you’re a good cheerleader…
Gabrielle saw where this was going.
– No, please, no
– And as a good cheerleader and my best friend, I’d like you to come with me the day I give birth
– OOooh for fuck’s sake, Jesus Fucking Christ, no, fuck, no, don’t do this to me, Jesus, no, can you imagine me with the blood and the cutting of things, and the whole butchering, no, I’ll probably be taking pictures for my gore collection instead of helping you anyway, seriously, take Grace, she’s strong and responsible and lovely and has been to the classes, or Lily, she’ll sing hippy welcoming songs to your child, don’t take me, please
– I want you. You won’t let them bullshit me when i’m vulnerable.
– But
– I want you. Gabrielle, will you be my ‘birthing partner’?
– Oh Jesus Fucking Christ, yes i will but don’t ever, ever refer to me again as birthing partner. Ever.
– Good, said Nina, closing her eyes and relaxing. You were not hard to convince after all.
– I feel like i’ve been manipulated in some way, mumbled Gabrielle, fixing her filter yet again. Fuck.

Where I Try to Speak to My Unborn Child. In a Letter.

Dearest unborn child,

You and I are in the final home stretch of our journey together as an entity of one. Or one and a half, if you look at my profile.

In about six weeks (or less, if you decide to show up before, which i don’t advise you to do, please keep baking, Mama is not equipped to see you in an incubator), you will hopefully, inshallah, please God (Mama is also superstitious and overly anxious, just so you know where you’re landing), show your little face to the world.

I hardly can believe it, yet can’t wait to meet you. In advance of your great debut as part of humanity, I’d like to apologize for all the throwing up and shaking you I did over these nine months, and while I’m at it, for all the anxiety and stress I put you through. I’m sure that can’t have been too enjoyable for you. Rest assured it wasn’t for me either, but what can you do? we are quite literally in the same boat.

I can’t wait to see what you’ll be like, can’t wait to get to know your character and your quirks and what annoys you and what will make you laugh. It really is as simple as that: somehow I am making a person and I’d really like to meet and greet that person. Your father is as impatient as me, he has a lot to teach you, apparently producing Trotsky Explained to Children books is high up next on his to do list, and I am under the impression that you’ll be the first (last? only?) child benefiting from that collection.

Darling child, Bringing you into this world doesn’t come without a dose of guilt, especially when I look at the current state of the world. We’re bringing you to a place that’s rife with conflict and heartbreak and displacement and violence and inequalities and hatred. Put this way, it seems rather unfair to bring yet another human being in such a mess. Perhaps We were being selfish when we decided to try and have you, but we rationalized it, thinking we might bring another Frida Kahlo or De Beauvoir to this world, or at the very least make the world a little nicer for your mere presence in it. And I truly believe this, although my opinion doesn’t really matter, after all I am your mother, of course my world is going to be brighter because you are in it. We also hoped that we would be able to show you all the glorious and gorgeous beauty in this world, all the solidarity, and courage, and love and friendship and music, smiles and laughters that world can hold.

Will you like me? I mean, you kind of have to like me at first, and your father as well, because we will be the ones caring for you so you won’t really have a choice, it’s either that or no milk, but as you grow up, will you like me, like us? Will you like the people we turned out to be?

There are so many things that I’d like to fight within me to make your life sweeter. I’d like to fight my continuous anxiety to enable you to explore the world with your own antennas, to form your own opinions, to be your own person,to give you enough confidence to know that no matter what, wherever i will be, the only true spot I’ll forever be rooted in is your heart, and that I’ll be safely tucked there as you’re tucked into mine. I’d like to participate in building your confidence in yourself and in others, to be open, and curious, and to questions situations, ideas, things, people. I’d love to help you get a sense of justice, and to teach you to fight for it, with the conscience of your own privileges, without smothering you, without shoving my ideas down your throat, without you feeling that I’m pushing ideas onto you that do not agree with your own conclusions.

Seriously, this parenting thing is a motherfucker. How does one do that?

I’d love for you to be proud of me. We always talk about parents being proud of their children, but honestly, think of how excruciating it would be to have your child look at you with disappointment. I could not hold that gaze. I’ll try my best to remain my own person, to contradict the messages you’ll no doubt hear and maybe pick up from the patriarchal society we live in. I vow to try and show you that a woman doesn’t need to be dependent on anyone, that she can hold her own, that she can dress as she pleases without anyone being entitled to say anything to her or aggravate her, that she is the mistress of her own mind and body, and that courage and strength are not masculine values. Don’t ever let anyone limit you because you’re a girl, or you’re young or whatever. Don’t let anyone limit you and your potential, period. And that includes me.

I hope I’ll be able to wrap you in a blanket of infinite and endless love, so that you’ll always have a place where you’ll feel safe.
I hope you never doubt that I’ve got your back, no matter what.
I hope to meet and greet you in six weeks and start off our journey together, your tiny fist already raised in protest.

Also, if you could be kind and not excruciatingly hurt me during labor, that’d be greatly appreciated.

With love,
Mama

How to Live with a Pregnant Comrade Without Losing Your Head (Or Laboring Hers)

 Significant Comrade is pregnant.

 

I, the Rev, am going to become a FATHER! Not that I subscribe to the idiotic, bourgeois, reactionary model of the patriarchal family where the biological male has all the power and the privileges within the family cell and the woman is left as the proletariat of the marriage, as Comrade Engels would say. Because I don’t. Let us be clear about that.

 

If the doctors are to be believed, I’m to ‘have’ a daughter, not that she will ever be my property, not at all, or that she will necessarily identify as a ‘girl’ as portrayed by the heteronormative patriarchal society, gender being a social construct anyway as Comrade Butler explained it. She will be absolutely free to become whatever and whoever she will want to become and I’ll fiercely love her anyway. Although in hindsight, perhaps maybe not if she decides to work for the World Economic Forum or for Morgan Stanley, or if she becomes a right wing militant, or worse, a Stalinist. Imagine that. Sometimes I can’t sleep just thinking about it.

 

Huh. I realise Significant Comrade and myself will have to tread very carefully if we want to transmit our beliefs and values to our child. But then again, is sharing these with her an act of oppression? Will I be crushing her critical thinking and creativity? Have I already started? You know, because I talk to her, and read things to her, things like ‘Marx at the Margins’, the ‘old social classes and the revolutionary movements of Iraq’ and ‘Hezbollah and Hamas: A contemporary study’. I also sing to her sometimes, things like the International in French, English and Arabic, although Significant Comrade’s temper seems to be slightly shorter than usual and I kind of got yelled at. I tried Bella Ciao, thinking it might be better received, but got the Petit Manuel pour En Finir Avec le Capitalisme thrown at my face, by accident I’m sure.

 

I’m kind of getting yelled at, or cried on, quite a bit at the moment. Sometimes, I wish Comrade Trotsky would have been more of a ‘family’ man, instead of running around in Mexico with iconic painters, so he could have written a book in the vein of the Russian Revolution but on how Revolutionaries could better support their comrades during pregnancy and childbirth. Like last time, when I found the Significant Comrade crying her eyes out in front of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which is in itself a very sore subject in our marriage. I hoped she was being tearful because of the stupidity and crass consumerism of it all, but apparently it was because Kourtney was being mean to Kim. Who are these people? Who is Kourtney? Who is Kim? And why are they making my Significant Comrade cry? Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how Comrade Marx managed with Jenny. I mean, she has been pregnant seven times. Seven. Ah but look at Comrade Karl daughters, all socialist activists, translating the works of their daddy! Sometimes I wonder if my daughter shall do the same with me?

 

When I share my concerns with Significant Comrade, it seems to me that she is not quite so keen on discussing these things with me. Something to do about having enough on her own plate and how would I like to weigh a ton and be full of water and having trouble breathing, sleeping and eating? I have to say, that left me speechless. As a revolutionary, I can not speak in lieu of the oppressed, and my Comrade is clearly being oppressed. Also, when I tried and talked to Significant Comrade about the absolute need of trusting our child to make her own experiences in life and not be overly protective of her, Significant Comrade did not seem to share my views either. I believe her exact words were: ‘Listen to me you stupid Rev, are you the one being asked to expel a baby the size of a ginormous turkey from a hole the size of your nostril? HUH? HUH? Nah, I don’t think so, so you shut the fuck up and you leave me to decide when that child will be able to start with her own experiments with life and that is never, or not until she’s 30 anyway, the world is filled with serial killers and sexual predators’. Which I thought was a bit much, in all fairness, but I thought it best not to argue.

Now that I’m about to become a dad, I value my life.

I am nevertheless hoping that the revolution will prevail soon so that patriarchy and neo-liberalism become things of the past and so I’m trying twice as hard to make it happen before she turns 5. Time is running out my Comrades, let us build a whole new world.

 

Sometimes, when I try and lay my plans for the triumph of revolutionary socialism to the Significant Comrade, she just hugs her pregnancy pillow (which she dubbed ‘her new husband, but I am fine with that, as I do not own my Significant Comrade. Also, it’s a pillow) and tells me to shut up and go to sleep. ‘Your child will be a Menchevik anyway’, she said.

 

And here I am, eyes wide open in the dark. What if she is?  

How to Live with a Revolutionary without Losing your Head – Or PhDing His

Over the past few months, the Rev did not disappear. On the contrary, he seemed to be everywhere around you, writing his PhD THESIS. Which for the Rev isn’t much different than his usual state of being, meaning that he was buried deep between two towers of books that pretty much looked the same to you with titles like: ‘Hezbollah, a discourse’, ‘Hezbollah, a discourse within the discourse’ and ‘Hezbollah, why they are not socialist revolutionaries’ with the occasional reference to Hamas thrown in for the fun of it. All attempts made at talking to the Rev were also met with the following: mmmmm? Grunt. What? Grunt. What did you say? Grunt. Followed by some more muttering to himself that seemed to go like: ‘oh no, my thesis is about 150 000 more words it needs to be, I need to cut it, despair, despair’.
You know you shouldn’t have laughed, but truth be told, you could not help but remember when you used to tell the Rev his articles were too long and people did not have the time or energy to read papers before going to bed on a work day. The Rev is a man of many (leftist) words, and somehow that doesn’t seem to have reached the university guidelines.
– Ah well, he says. I’ll just turn the long version into a book.
Oh goody.

Over these past months, the rev also went to conferences.Mostly to scare people off with his rhetoric,but also sometimes to participate and listen. You foolishly went with him (only sometimes, no need to push it), only to be faced with comrades making jokes you don’t understand about Campists (and neither does my word processor who just underlined the very word and wants to replace it by ‘campsite’). Apparently, campism has nothing to do with Comrades going off camping in some nice place like normal people, but refers to a Trotskyist (who the fuck else?) concept of people who either defend Stalinism or capitalism. Needless to say, Comrade Trotsky and his ilk refuse Campism and oppose both.
Or something like that, but it’s entirely possible I misunderstood (mostly because I don’t care), so please do not take my word for it.
Campists or not, you mildly appreciated it when a largely inebriated crowd of comrades sang The International, no sorry, sorry the ENTIRE International below your window at 4 in the morning in a bout of revolutionary fervor during one week end long Summer University. Suddenly, you had very warm feelings towards social democrats. The Rev swears he wasn’t amongst them. You don’t believe him. He’s only saying this so you don’t become a socialist.

The Rev also went to the Grand Mass of Marxism, namely, to Marxism. For those blessed enough not to know, Marxism is a significant conference organised by the Socialist Workers Party in the UK where people like the Rev meet and discuss heatedly the issues of the day like knowing if the USSR was governed by state capitalism or was in fact a degenerated workers states. Basically the Rev’s idea of heaven (that is, if he were religious, which he isn’t, although he respects people who are, as religion fills a certain social need. Or something)The Rev, bless his heart, sent me a text from Marxism telling me: ‘I’m attending a conference on the reasons behind the failing of the Russian Revolution. You’d have loved it’.
To which I answered that I would so totally have loved it, and thanked him profusely for offering me my next Facebook status.
I don’t bite the hand that feeds me.
Plus The Rev came back with gifts: a Rosa Luxembourg T-shirt for you, A ‘Marx was right’ mug for him and a Che Guevara t-shirt for your child. That she’ll be able to wear when she’s about 12 because ‘there was no smaller size and so he bought an S’.

Yes, against your better judgement,you are now in your 6th month of pregnancy with the Rev’s child.
He’s pretty excited about it too: he’s already planning on reading Trotsky to her (to which I have no objection, I’m sure it’ll send that poor kid right off to sleep) (No says the Rev, no! she’ll love it! She won’t be a reactionary like you!)
To prove his point, he started reading out to her ‘Marx at the Margins’. After the first couple of words, she kicked. The Rev thinks it was out of delight, You think she was just attempting at kicking her father, in a desperate attempt at making him stop.

The fact that you’re already planning on raising her as a feminist isn’t remotely the same as the Rev trying to turn her into a socialist revolutionary. You’re doing it to liberate her from the shackles of patriarchal oppression. He’s just doing it to bug you.

In any case, your child will do what children do best: rebel and go against you.
In your case, she’ll probably be working at Wall Street, advocating for more laws and regulations preventing women to have control over their own body.

You obviously can’t wait.

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On Getting Rounder and Body Image

You know, since I gave birth, I feel so free. I wear what I want and I’m like: Fuck you! I have delivered a human being and I pushed her out of myself, my body is so beautiful and powerful!

Maja, a day over lunch

Basically all that is wrong with how the media and society see pregnant women.

Basically all that is wrong with how the media and society see pregnant women.

I was looking at pictures of me taken a couple of years ago, for a photoshoot I did with Lebanese photographer Lara Zankoul, and I found myself thinking, damn, I looked good.

I was curvy, always have been, always will be I guess, but significantly thinner than what I am now.

Because now I am pregnant you see, and my body is doing all kinds of things I do not understand. Like throwing up certain things, and feeling nauseated by almost everything yet roaring in pain if I don’t feed it. It’s expanding, making room for life, pushing things around. It’s like my body was telling me: by all means please get on with your life, I know what I’m doing here. Go. Go I tell you!

It’s an odd feeling for me. Relinquishing control and giving in to nature. I normally don’t do that. I like facts and books and solving things with my brain; and nature, and trusting my body to know what to do simply doesn’t come naturally to me. To give you a rough idea, I’d rather trust the Internet and the waves of doomsday scenarios relayed by total strangers it brings rather than trusting nature. That’s how bad I am. If I could, I’d live in my OB-GYN’s pocket so he could reassure me with ultra-sounds and exams and more facts and figures that my body, is, indeed doing what it should, but alas for now he’s on vacation and trying very hard to avoid me and the likes of me at all costs. So instead I bought a home Doppler to listen to my baby’s heartbeat and soothe my anxiety away, reassuring me that baby is, in fact, still here, but this is another neurotic story that we don’t need to get into right now.

I used to think I was immune to the body image hysteria surrounding me. Yes, I was that naïve. After all, I had never been on a diet: I consider dieting as a barbarian act of torture against my body that would eventually fail anyway. I believe in taking care of one’s own body, but I also believe in metabolism and different shapes and sizes and I’m grateful for the variety of bodies out there, because imagine how excruciatingly boring it would be if we all looked the same. I’m all for eating healthy, but eating only proteins or cabbage soup or baby food for all eternity? Really? Are you kidding me? That’s just not healthy, that’s fucked up and crazy and a manifestation of some very greedy people trying to exploit the mass hysteria around women’s weight they have created so they can build summer houses in Majorqua. The whole ‘weight loss’ industry strikes me as one of the most successful collaboration between patriarchy and capitalism: let’s guilt women into feeling horrible and ashamed every time they put something in their mouth and then let’s guilt-trip them a bit more because they’ve skipped Pilates this week. And let’s make sure they spend tons of money trying to make them change their appearance. So I was all happy and smug, thinking because I didn’t diet and couldn’t give two fucks about the amount of calories in my Twix so long as it tasted its usual caramel-y gorgeousness, that I had accepted my body the way it was and learnt to respect it.

I could not have been more wrong. Because when I got pregnant, something clicked and I finally felt free. Well, let’s not completely get carried away here, I felt a certain sense of freedom. Like, I went to the swimming pool and realized I was not tucking my belly in, the way I usually absent mindedly do. I had never really noticed it until I stopped doing it and something felt great. I felt it was ok for me to be curvier because I was pregnant you see. Suddenly, it was like my curves were justified. Normal. It’s like I had, and needed all along, an excuse for my weight and shape. Of course by then, it was really hard to dodge the fact that I had, in fact, not been comfortable with my body before and that I could get off my self-righteous horse and admit I was not the Kryptonite of weight dissatisfaction and obsession. .

Pregnancy liberated me in a way because it is socially acceptable for pregnant women to gain weight. But again, let us not get lured into a sense of unicorn-y acceptance of pregnant women putting on weight:  judging by the constant scrutiny pregnant women have to endure, it is only socially acceptable to a certain extent to be gaining weight. If you look bigger than what is fantasized about(meaning the body of Gisele Bundchen with a tiny bump), then you can expect incessant comments on your bump and size, with ‘well-meaning’ people telling you that you should be fine if you exercise after giving birth. Er, who asked you anything? And more importantly, shouldn’t you be concerned by my health rather than by my weight? Reading up pregnancy forum boards, I am amazed at the amount of judgment, self-judgment, scrutinizing of every ounce gained and agonizing the majority of women seem to be doing, while most of the times stating ‘my doctors is not concerned’. Again, doctors seem not to be concerned but women are, because pregnancy magazines show us pregnant women that have nothing to do with what pregnancy really is, because there is a growing pressure on women to look maternal and sexy and to pop that kid out while whipping up a quiche and sending in the last budgeting report. I don’t know why I had expected societal pressure to ease up on women once they sport the visible marks of harboring another life. Ultimately, what’s true for women in general are true for pregnant women: my body isn’t mine, it belongs to whomever controls it. Be it a partner, a religious institution, society as a whole, people jeering it on the streets or my own demons in my head. And it comes as no surprise really that we tend to stress over our bodies the minute they cease to be representations of patriarchal fantasies. Some people manage to let their confident selves control how they view their body: they’re able to celebrate it for the gorgeous miracle it is. Others, like me, need an external trigger to boost their confidence and be able to establish boundaries between one own’s body and the daily attacks it goes through every day.

By doing things more or less on its own, my body has forced me into accepting it the way it is. Being pregnant allowed me to make peace with that body I apparently did not trust enough. And the truth is, I have no choice really. It is going ahead with manufacturing a new life regardless of how I feel about the changes it’s operating. At the moment I’m trying to tell it to stop making me crave pizza and shrimp dunplings all the time, and to stop enlarging my breasts because, thanks, they’re big enough as they are, but so far it’s refusing to return my calls.

So I just let it be. And when I look at those pictures, I think: damn, I looked good.

And when I look in the mirror now, I think, damn, I’m powerful. I can create a life, AND go to work, AND write and cook and see my friends and do all the things I enjoy while at the same time having a little bean growing and doing its thing and just asking me to sleep and eat a lot more.

And I also think I look good. A different kind of beauty, a beauty that has a lot more to do with real acceptance of myself and less to do with beauty ideals we are being sold.

My only regret is that I couldn’t reach this level of peace with my own body without the intervention of pregnancy. But I’m writing this post to remind myself for after I gave birth: pregnancy or not, our bodies are powerful. And beautiful.

If we just learn to let them get on with their job.

What People Do Not Tell You Upon Becoming Pregnant And Other Surviving Tips

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Yes ladies, it is high time to lift the veil on the broad platitude people serve you once you’re pregnant. Ever heard: I’ve never felt better than when I was pregnant? Oh you’ll see, morning sickness is totally manageable, just drink ginger ale and you’ll be fine? And, yes I was a teensy bit tired?

While it might truly be like that for some women (of which I am super jealous by the way), it is to be said that 1) it is not like that for a a significant amount of women and 2) as pregnant women, we’re encouraged to shut the fuck up when it comes to our pregnancy woes and just wear a beatific smile and nod softly to everything and everyone, because we should be so grateful and happy to be pregnant you see. Which we are, don’t get us wrong. But we’d be even happier if we could tell the world that morning sickness is wrongly named because it is all fucking day sickness without feeling the eyes of judgement digging into our souls. Apparently, the second we see that tiny line on the pee test is the moment we as individuals should stop existing and the time we start to bear everything with a brave smile just because we are mothers in the making. Sacrifice should be our new credo or something, so we should just suck it up and think that it’s all for the greater good.

 

Er, no.

 

I am ranting, because I really, truly, want to whine and get the throbbing guilt out of women’s heads. My lovelies, if you feel miserable during pregnancy, and not at all like the model mums we see in specialised magazines (which are basically like any other ‘women’ magazine with their self serving dose of guilt, you just need to add a bump) it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a bad mother, or that you don’t have what it takes. You feel miserable because you throw up 3 times a day, and that would make anyone pretty miserable too. Yes you’re beside yourself that you’re making another human being that you’ll love so much your heart will ache, but you tend to forget about that when you see your dinner in reverse. You’re just a normal human being.

 

So on to the list of things that you should be aware of upon getting pregnant (and since i’m only about 18 weeks, I expect said list will be getting longer):

 

  1. Everyone Will Have Good Advice to Shower on Your Head

    Even the men, who last time I checked did not have a uterus. Even your grocer. Even that person on the bus whom you don’t know and don’t want to know. My mother’s advice has been pretty straightforward: you’re pregnant, eat whatever you want and suck it up. I’m not sure I found that helpful but at the same time I prefer it to the people who guilt me into natural birth and breastfeeding and look horrified when I press the point that I WANT ALL THE DRUGS THEY CAN GET ME AND MORE, and that I’m not sure about breastfeeding. Sometimes I think I’ll do it just to escape the curse of the BUT IT’S SO GOOD FOR YOUR BABY preaching. In any case, I still like to shock aforementioned judging crowd just because I’m mean and pregnancy has not been able to change that. Again, my mother is superb: ‘I never breastfed you, it wasn’t the fashion at the time and yaaaa I don’t like it’. However, she’s been made to feel guilty as well and now tells me she regrets it. I don’t blame you mom, I’m not super comfortable with the idea either. Something tells me I get my body back after 9 months of not controlling it, maybe since it’s my body and my breasts, I should be able to make my own decision? Bottom line is: breastfeeding and bottle feeding both make healthy babies, so live and let live. And don’t feel bad for wanting your body back.

 

  1. You’ll Have Anxieties About Everything

    Yes, you will. Before you get pregnant you’ll be scared about not being able to. When you are, you’ll be scared about miscarriage. Once the baby starts kicking, you’ll freak out when you haven’t felt it for two seconds. When you’ll be towards delivery time, you’ll be scared about the birth. How are they going to get that baby out of you, you’ll ask? I mean, seriously, I know women have been doing it since time immemorial, but HOW ARE THEY GOING TO GET IT OUT? During the birth, you’re scared they won’t cry once they’re out. I confided this fear to my sister who acknowledge having had the same one with her two daughters. Thing is, she said it almost in a whisper, as if it were something shameful. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, on the contrary, apparently it shows you’ll be a good mother because you care and stuff. Congratulations. Now worry away.

 

  1. You Won’t Sleep Well

    Say bye to sleeping on your stomach. Say hi to restless leg syndrome. Say bye to peaceful, funny, dreams, say hi to gory preview of childbirth and various scenarios where something happens to your baby, your partner, your family, the earth. Say bye to long night, say hi to peeing three times during the night.

    Say bye to feeling rested.

 

  1. You Will Get The Usual Suspects

    Swelling. I can’t wear half of my high heels anymore. PEOPLE. Me and my shoes were tight. Real tight. I almost cried when my new nude and gold pumps would not fit my feet, not that I needed a reason to cry, but it hurt. I know I’ll probably love the baby more than my shoes but Jesus fucking Christ, it does not feel good.

    Feeling tired. Not tired like you want to sleep. The first trimester is a blur of me clutching at my bed and never wanting to let go. Ever.

    Morning Sickness. You’ll feel nauseated by things you used to love. You’ll throw up. Repeat, Pause for throwing up, Repeat, pause for throwing up.

    Weight gain. Enough said. But that one is not too bad. You can eat whatever you want because you’re pregnant you see, so yes, have that piece of cake (sickness permitting of course)

 

  1. You’ll Love Everyone. You’ll Hate everyone. Especially your partner.

    You will cry over little nothings and will bite the head off anyone who dares to tell you ‘it’s the hormones’ fault because you’ll be totally convinced that ad was really objectively REALLY SAD and that ANYONE would have cried over it and it’s not BECAUSE YOU’RE HORMONAL. You’ll want to bitch slap everyone, especially your partner because, well, he/she’s there and merely exists, next thing you’ll know you’ll love him/her like you’ve never loved anyone in the whole wide world.

You might be a tiny bit difficult to live with, but you won’t realise it because for you it’s totally normal. And no, the fact that you threw a hissy fit this morning at your husband because he bought the wrong kind of cereal is not a mark of mood swings. Conflicting cereals really are upsetting.

 

  1. You’ll stress over telling work you’re pregnant

    As if you made a major work blunder. Because that’s the world we live in now, and that’s regardless of your employer’s reaction to the news, you’ll stress nonetheless, because pregnant women are made to feel by society that their place is not in the workplace, but at home knitting socks for their child. To this day, my hero is this UK diplomat with whom I had an appointment. I didn’t know her so she just texted me: you’ll find me, i’m the 8 months pregnant woman. And there she was, rocking the human rights council with her bump and I thought YOU GO GIRL YOU SHOW THEM!!! Show them we’re pregnant not mentally reduced.

Please feel free to add anything you like, I am likely to have forgotten a ton

On Angry Feminists, Women’s Bodies, and People’s Sense of Entitlement

When I put myself in front of my computer this morning, I had every intention to work and write the 28th chapter of the Tales of the Phoenix City.

However, it seemed life had other plans for me.

Fate, or maybe it was just random bad luck, put yet another person in front of me who asked me “if that baby was coming”.

I gave an icy cold reply, and that seemed to shut her up.

I never got how people can be so insensitive and feel so entitled to meddle in affairs that have nothing whatsoever to do with them. I always felt that these questions can hurt a person trying to have a baby but not succeeding, or sadden a person who has just miscarried, or anger a person who doesn’t want to have a child, or just plain bore a person into a stupor as they simply really don’t feel like discussing what’s in or what’s not in their uterus with every half wit that crosses her path.

However, this issue is bigger than the issue of having a child. People’s sense of entitlement to ask women personal questions most of the times seems to largely go unquestioned. As women, it seems that people expect us to nod and answer gracefully all the questions that get thrown at us, regardless of what we feel and think. Are you getting married? Yes? No? If Yes, when? If no, why the hell not? Once you’re married, it’s the child issue that raises its head, accompanied with well and not so well-meaning old wives’ tales about how time is running out and if your body gets used to your partner’s sperm you won’t be able to conceive (true story. Someone actually said that to a friend of mine). When you’re pregnant, your womb becomes public property with the same random people rubbing your belly like there’s no tomorrow, as if for good luck. Seriously, can you imagine people’s faces if I went around caressing men’s bellies and making stupid cooing noises? Once you’ve had your first child, when are you going to have the second? And once you’ve had your children, it seems that the world gets filled with self-appointed experts criticizing right left and center the way you’re raising your offspring.

My husband gets asked all the time questions about the progression of his PhD, about how his activities are going. Very few people, save for some members of his close family, ever ask him about when we are planning on having a child. On the other hand, random people seem to have no problem whatsoever asking me about the future occupants of my womb, each and everyone of them giving advice I did not remember asking for, or stressing me out because apparently a pregnancy would not suit my job.

Should you snap at the umpteenth person putting his or her head up your ass, people frown at you as if you were the living embodiment of their version of feminists, I.e, aggressive women always barking at patriarchy and their ‘so-called oppression’. Let me tell you one thing: us feminists are angry, that’s for sure, because the minute we put on our feminist glasses it becomes impossible not to see the gender bias and discrimination we have to live under, it becomes impossible not to notice that women are expected to answer obediently to all the shit that gets thrown at them and nod submissively otherwise they’d be frowned upon if not mocked and degraded, and something inside us just snaps and starts wanting to bite people’s heads off. Feminists are angry because they question what society takes for granted: gender stereotypes, gender injustice, discrimination and society’s sense of entitlement.

This sense of entitlement to ask questions about a woman’s private life stems, at least for me, from the general perception that women’s bodies and lives do not belong to them and them only. Women’s bodies are society’s , their family’s, their community’s, but never their own. This being said, it derives that questions can be asked and comments can be made. It is only when we make the conscious choice to respect every human being body’s integrity that we can truly say we respect healthy boundaries and can have equal relationships.

Don’t give me advice if I don’t ask. Don’t ask me personal questions, especially if I barely know you. Don’t tell me what my child should eat or do.

After all, you’re not seeing me asking your husband how his prostate is doing. Therefore, I’d be grateful if you could leave my uterus alone.

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 27

This isn’t over.
He said it with a definite air. His crestfallen face tugged at her heart yet she shook herself and stood firmly her ground.
– I believe it is.
– Why the fuck are you doing this?
She sighed. He was not going to make things easy.
– I am not trying to push you away or to try and make you disappear. I’m just telling you I am keeping this baby and if you want to be involved that’s great we’ll have to work it out but I will not, shall not, marry you.
– It’s the right thing to do.
– It’s precisely why I don’t want to do it.
He folded his arms in a self protective fashion, pushing her out in a defiant stance. Jesus, she should have done this in a public space. This way he couldn’t have made a scene.
– This isn’t over.
– You already said that.
– You’re not going to be able to smarten your way out of this one.
He Was starting to get on her nerve.
– I believe the bump you see where my stomach should be is the living proof that I’m not trying to get out of anything, apart maybe from a lifetime with an almost stranger that I would marry because it’s the right thing to do.
She stopped and gulped some water. God she felt like vomiting. This pregnancy business was no walk in the park.
She needed to calm down. After all, she had just dropped a huge bomb on him and he was only trying to do what he thought was the right thing. But somehow, her courage seemed to be growing alongside her baby.
– Listen, Shadi.
He raised his eyes at the mention of his name.
– I know this isn’t easy. I know you must feel trapped or lost or even angry right now.
She paused. They had only talked about her. It hadn’t really even occurred to her to ask him how he felt about all this, save for telling him she Was not to marry him.
– Now that you mention It, how are you feeling?
His raised eyebrows and the flicker of a smile That passed on his face made her exhale for the first Time in the last hour. Perhaps It would not have to Be this hard.
– Well, first of all, thanks for asking.
She couldn’t place the sarcasm for sure. Let It go let It go she urged herself. Soon it’ll all be over and you will return back to your life of creation, on your workshop, with your assistant teetering on her high heels, polishing her nails in neon pink while convincing an umpteenth magazine to cover your brand. Just bear with him for a bit.
– I’m pretty damn happy.
She chocked on the ginger tea she was sipping in a desperate attempt at quenching her nausea.
– excuse me?
– Well yeah, I’m obviously not happy at the stark rejection you’re offering me on a silver plate, but I am happy at the prospect of having a child. With you, he added as an afterthought. I like you Nina. There’s something about you that warms my insides, somewhere next to my heart.
God why weren’t pregnant women allowed cigarettes?
– You don’t have a heart. You try and buy up perfectly happy small businesses for a living remember? You’ve tried buying up mine.
– Then you had sex with me if my memory isn’t cheating me?
She sprung to her feet. She’d had enough of this.
– D’you know? I’m a tired pregnant girl who’s in a desperate need for a nap and less drama. So bump, meet father, father, meet bump, it’s all lovely and nice, now please exit my house. Chop chop, don’t drag your feet.
– But…but
– But.. But nothing, this conversation is over. You and I are not having a child together, I am having a child and if you want to be involved then all the better but don’t you are come to my house and spring this happy shit on me, we’re not a family in that little Kodak moment you seem to have built in your head. Now bye.

The sharp noise of the door slamming was still ringing in her ears when Yasmine came in with the latest coverage of Nina’s dresses. As usual, Yasmine was dressed to the nines: her YSL sandals high as ever clickety-clicking on the beautiful old-fashioned tiles of her home, her perfectly cut 7 for all mankind skinny jeans an exquisite shade of blue, a simple oversized white top topped with a chunky statement necklace completing her look, Nina told herself she could not have picked a better assistant/PR girl. Her appearance screamed ‘I’m a DIVA and if you don’t oblige me I shall whine you into oblivion’, which guaranteed good coverage, which kept sharks like Shadi at bay and ensured clients kept coming to have their wedding dresses designed by the new hot designer, aka Nina Haddah, as long as she was in the papers and that word of mouth worked in her favour.

Yasmine had gained some self-confidence in the past few weeks, trying to rebuild bridges with her family while working on her independence which proved to be difficult at times to say the very least, so it was with a bit of surprise that Nina to see Yasmine plump herself on her chintz couch, take off her eyeglasses to reveal dark circles and reddened eyes.

– It’s been a while since the last time I saw you look like a rabbit in a hole like that. What’s happened?
– Nothing.

The answer came sharply, knifing the peaceful afternoon with acrimonious dryness, Yasmine’s tone a shield to ward off any attempt at comforting. Nina knew better than to fight it, and simply grabbed a box of tissues and the last issue of Oriental Elle, where her Grecian one- shoulder tulle and silk crepe dress was being showcased. Absent-mindedly, she turned a page, while handing over the box of tissues to Yasmine, who was quietly crying on the sofa, her honeyed tone hair gracefully falling on her delicate tanned shoulders.

– Life is a cross to bear after the other, as my devout mother who doesn’t speak to me any more would say. What’s the new cross habibi?

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 20

That must have been her thousandth cigarette.

Fine, so she was smoking like a chimney. So who cared? You had to die from something didn’t you?

Granted, you were not forced to do so agonizing with your blackened lungs, but still. And in any case, smoking was the only thing that kept her balanced at the moment. You know, the usual addict excuse.

Jesus Fucking Christ, did these chairs need to be so rickety? Bread republic really was too shabby for its own good. Sacrificing comfort for some Old World Bourgois Boheme was not worth it. She tried to convey waves of aggression to the oblivious waitress, Melat, who always seemed to float several meters above the ground. Her slender figure seemed to gracefully slalom between tables, while her stare went beyond everyone’s head. Gabrielle sometimes thought that looking at her was like looking in a mirror: slim, sharp and eyes closed for no one to see what was behind.

Today, she quite simply hated everything. And everyone. But most importantly, herself.

Nina came, that dreadful Beirut Princess in tow, closely followed by a Lily who was looking quite disheveled. Quite a bit like someone who had just stumbled out of bed. With someone, that is, not from a deep slumber with Orpheus.

– Habibi, you look like shit.

Nina stated the unnecessary obvious.

– You should see how I feel inside.
– No need. It’s all there on your face.
– Thanks Nina my love, always a relief to see you. How’s the fucked up life of Little Yas?

– So i’m not stupid BP any longer? It’s so good to feel like I’m finally turning into a human being with you Gaby.

Lily was not joining the usual greeting banter.

– Lil! What’s up 3omri? Even looking and feeling like shit I indulge in our little uplifing dance. What’s wrong?

– Nothing.

– You’re like the worst liar there ever was, said Nina rummaging into her huge bag for God Knows What. AND, my delirious brother has stopped answering my calls altogether, so I’m doing an intervention at his place after our brunch here. I’m not overly worried, mind you, he’s probably deep in his existential angst, asking himself whether Trotsky really was right.

– I slept with him!

– Who,Trostky?

– VERY Funny Gabrielle! Ziad! I slept with Ziad! Nina! Say something, don’t sit there looking as if you saw a ghost!

– Gabrielle. Give me a cigarette, no but and don’t object, give me a cigarette right fucking now I need it.

Gabrielle obeyed. She knew when not to upset Mother Nina.

– Lily. Nina’s voice was dangerously low. It was the Icy Queen Tone she used with her friends, family and clients when they were being particularly unreasonable. Lily. My brother means the world to me you know that. And you mean the universe. But my brother is a stupid immature dickhead who still needs to find out who he is and he’s bad for you.

– I love him.

– Great, we’ll bring the violins some other time if you don’t mind, I’m not finished yet.

– Oh Goodie.

– Nina, let her speak. You’ll have all the time in the world to lay down your judgment and tell her what she should do.

Nina looked at Gabrielle as if she had lost an ally. Seriously, where was the world coming to if people didn’t listen to the voice of reason, aka, herself?

– Fine, she conceded curtly.

Lily sighed. This was not going to be easy.

– So, after I had taken the high road and decided I would wait and see, the events carried me away, if I may say so. He kept calling me,playing me music, stupid things really. Said his life was meaningless if I wasn’t in it. He said a lot of things, mouhem, he said that I was the only one that mattered. But I wouldn’t listen, or I would, but wouldn’t answer. And so. So he showed up one evening. He looked at me Nina, he just had to look at me, and something melted, deep inside. Next thing I know we’re kissing and clinging on to each other as if we were drowning. He carries me, he carries me and I let him, one look and I’m gone and honestly I kind of lost track of time, and space and everything. Just his skin is enough.

– Ewww that’s my brother we’re talking about ewwww

– And it has been like that since then. He comes, we have, yes Nina cover up your chaste ears, we have mind blowing sex, we share a cigarette, he looks at me, he opens his mouth to speak and I shut him up, with a kiss or my finger on his mouth.

– But why? The Beiruti Princess seemed puzzled. Mesmerized, moved, and very, very puzzled.

– Because I don’t want to spoil it with words. I know words. I work with them. I know they can spoil everything, they have that power.

– Speaking of words, I read the new and improved version of your column, it’s brilliant.

– Yes yes, thank you Nina, but for now my brain is frozen, I can’t think of anything else than your brother.

– That’s because of all the sex, volunteered Gabrielle.

The waitress was waiting for them to order, poised with her pen in her hand. God knows for how long she’d been there. She probably did not know it herself. All 5 women in a circle, none of their minds within.

– I’ll have a ginger juice please, thank you

– An raqwe please, no cardamom no sugar no nothing. I want it black please

– A double espresso

– A latte with extra milk and sugar

– This is disguting Yasmine, this isn’t coffee.

– Thank you for your input Gabrielle. I’ll have a double latte with extra extra milk and sugar please.

– D’you know darling, perhaps we might very well be able to do something with you

Melat floated away, leaving the four girls deep into their shared silence.

– I’m in love with a man who doesn’t want to become one.

– I’ve never really been in love.

– Shut up Yasmine, you’re like 12, you have all the time in the world.

– Fuck off Gabrielle I was almost married.

– Good girl, you’re learning to fend for yourself.

– And why were you looking ashen when we came?

– Grace wants us to leave Lebanon.

– WHAT?

Lily’s outcry was overpowered by something none of them had seen before.

Nina was crying. In itself a sight more distressing than the last visit of the Pope, which, let’s face it, was extremely disturbing.

– Nina, Nina stop this, stop this this minute, Jesus Fucking Christ, Lily do something, Yasmin, bring her water, Nina I’m not going anywhere, khalas, I’m just fighting with Grace at the moment We’re not leaving, khalas habibti dakheelik if you stop crying I’ll even be nice to Beiruti Princess over here, shou fi, lek shou fi, redde! Is it the shop?

Nina smiled between her tears.

No the shop is good, I wanted to tell you about this, but no, it’s silly, I just, I met someone.

The girls took a collective intake of breath. Nina’s private life was usually kept very private, as in, she worked all day all night and did not seem interested in anyone, even though lots of men, and women, seemed very interested indeed.

– And I think I’m pregnant. Except I’m so scared I’m in complete denial and don’t want to take neither the test, nor his calls and I’m petrified and this is why I’m not smoking this cigarette you gave me, that’s because I’m so scared, and I’m not sure I want it if I really am pregnant. My mother will die.

They all looked stunned.

– What?

– The Fuck?

– Jesus. Jesus.

Gabrielle couldn’t bring herself to finish off with Fucking Christ. A couple of meters away, sitting at a nearby table, Hamed from Mashrou3 Leila was writing down lyrics for a new song while humming Imm el Jacket. Beirut lived on, its noise filling the deathly silence of their table.