Childbirth, a universally experienced natural event is uniquely valued as a culturally relatable life experience. While common to all peoples and cultures it is deeply imbedded with significant beliefs, traditions and values unique to each culture. (Rassin, Klug, Nathanzon, Kan & Silner, 2009) I will detail cultural variations found in Saudi Arabia with notations regarding how the Muslim religion places a significant influence on the experience of marriage, pregnancy and childrearing. The Muslim religion guides individual behavior in all aspects of life, including relationships between husband and wife, parent and child and between individual and society. Whereas western culture values the individual, independence and self-sufficiency and this outlook pervades all aspects of our society as well as influencing our perspectives on the world around us. By comparison Arabic Muslim societies reject the individual approach as a threat to social structure; sacrificing individuality to maintain a collective way of life. (Achoui & Dwairy, 2006)
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Historically, the American man’s role in marriage, parenting and during childbirth has undergone a reconstruction in the last 50 years. Husbands used to be considered the dominant source of income and power in a marriage, a father functioned as a disciplinarian, in the birthing room a father was relegated to a separate location to wait till the delivery was over. Fathers today are considered partners in the marriage; they take a more nurturing roll in parenting and are considered an integral and vital member of the delivery team. Conversely, Arabian men and women have maintained more traditionally gender separated roles through all aspects of their lives from marriage, childbirth and the rearing of their young.
Interestingly, the age at time of marriage is becoming closer between the two cultures, American women average marital age is 26 with men’s average age being 27. Arabic women are tending to marry later in life in their early twenties instead of in their teens as the population moves toward urban life with greater emphasis on career. Arabic family life contrasts though with children being supported by their parents well into adulthood as the children mature they are expected to tend to the needs of their aging parents. (Rashad, Osman & Roudi-Fahimi) Sexual virtue is highly valued in Muslim communities and there are stringent cultural norms that restrict the sexual and social behavior of women. (Papadopoulos, 2006) Marriage in this culture carries special social status, in particular on the bride as a ‘rite of passage’ and is viewed as a ‘socially, culturally and legally acceptable sexual relationship’. (Rashad, Osman & Roudi-Fahimi) Many Arabic couples choose a spouse for themselves although the marriage remains a social and economic contract between the two families. (Rashad, Osman & Roudi-Fahimi) Early marriage is still seen, but tends to occur in lower socioeconomic and stricter religious sects or subcultures. There tends to be a wider age disparity between husband and wife the younger the female is in the marriage, with subsequently higher than average birth rates, lower levels of education, greater rates of sexually transmitted diseases and elevated mortality rates during pregnancy and delivery. (Rashad, Osman & Roudi-Fahimi) Marriage creates pressure to begin bearing offspring regardless of the society, and here the number of children born to Americans and Arabs differs somewhat as Muslim women are virtually mandated by their Islamic religion to bear children, women’s value and purpose is to build and raise a family, with pregnancy occurring earlier in an Arabic marriage often within the first few months. (Papadopoulos, 2006)
Pregnancy is fundamentally the same throughout the world, but how we manage care of the pregnant women does differ. The number of women using birth control in Saudi Arabia is on the rise, (Rassin, Klug, Nathanzon, Kan & Silner, 2009) yet women often require the permission of her husband for basic health care (“Saudi Arabia: Women’s,” July) severely impacting women’s health and ability to decide for herself the care she desires. Arabic women are much less likely to have genetic testing to assess for genetic anomalies or disorders despite the high rate of consanguinity found in the Arabic communities. (Rashad, Osman & Roudi-Fahimi) Arabic women tend to not work outside the home during pregnancy and are less likely to have drivers licenses overall. (Rassin, Klug, Nathanzon, Kan & Silner, 2009) Educational opportunities regarding pregnancy and the impending delivery are much less available to the Arabic woman as they are more often cared for by their mothers and mothers-in-law throughout their antenatal and post natal periods. (Rassin, Klug, Nathanzon, Kan & Silner, 2009)
The physical birth experience varies little and is universally regarded as one of the most joyous occasions but the social structures that surround labor and delivery varies greatly. Traditional Muslim deliveries are primarily a female only state of affair and the men are not expected to participate in the experience. (Linda Cassar, 2006) The delivery most often occurs at a hospital with the woman’s mother or mother-in-law in attendance. Arabic women tend to be more demonstrative expressing labor pain through screaming and crying yet they use epidural anesthesia less often. Almost all Arabic women also breast feed their newborns which may last on average 9 or more months. (Rassin, Klug, Nathanzon, Kan & Silner, 2009) Many Muslim cultures have rituals that are used to protect the baby from evil spirits that may include the use of charms, amulets, stones, the reading of verses from the Quran, and the whispering of prayers in the newborns ears by the male family members. Circumcision of male children occurs among Arabic families though there is no prescribed time frame as is common to the Jewish faith. (Linda Cassar, 2006)
The rearing of young is vastly different from culture to culture; the psychosocial development of children depends on how they are raised by their parents, and by their society. The behavior of the children influences the parents’ behavior just as the cultural values and norms influences the parents’ behaviors. Western cultures place emphasis on psychological individuation and tend to appreciate autonomy, fostering independence as the child matures to self-sufficiency. Arab societies tend to be collective and authoritarian, the extended and nuclear family are more important than the individual and the Muslim religion reinforces this collective point of view. Arabian children grow up with values of loyalty and respect for their families and are socialized with punishments to enforce these values, norms and behaviors. The Arab individual possesses an identity that is enmeshed in the collective family identity. (Achoui & Dwairy, 2006)
Achoui, M., & Dwairy, M. (2006). Introduction to three cross-regional research studies on parenting styles, individuation, and mental health in arab societies. JOURNAL OF CROSS-CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY, Vol. 37(No. 3), 221-229. Retrieved from http://ipac.kacst.edu.sa/eDoc/eBook/4465.pdf
Cassar, L. (2006). Cultural expectations of Muslims and Orthodox Jews in regard to pregnancy and the postpartum period: a study in comparison and contrast. International Journal Of Childbirth Education, 21(2), 27.
Papadopoulos, I. (2006). Transcultural health and social care: Development of culturally competent practitioners. Elsevier Health Sciences.
Rashad, R., Osman, M., & Roudi-Fahimi, F. (n.d.). Marriage in the arab world. In POPULATION REFERENCE BUREAU. Washington, DC: POPULATION REFERENCE BUREAU. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/pdf05/marriageinarabworld_eng.pdf
Rassin, M., Klug, E., Nathanzon, H., Kan, A., & Silner, D. (2009). Cultural differences in child delivery: comparisons between Jewish and Arab women in Israel. International Nursing Review, 56(1), 123-130. doi:10.1111/j.1466-7657.2008.00681.x
Saudi arabia: Women’s rights promises broken. (July, 2009 08). Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/07/08/saudi-arabia-women-s-rights-promises-broken
Selin, H. (2009). Childbirth across cultures: Ideas and practices of pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum. New York: Springer Science and Business Media. (Selin, 2009)
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