Being a good mother might come naturally, but it might also come with challenges, disappointments and worries if things are not going well. Motherhood is something we all face, but with the many challenges in our lives nowadays, being a good mother is no longer an easy job.
“It has never been an easy job being a mother, as it must come with knowledge, education and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills that encompass concepts and life experiences such as maternity, breastfeeding, healthcare, personal hygiene, breast cancer awareness, sex education and so on,” commented Nassamat Labib, founder of the Mothers to Be Project and head of the Maternal and Childhood Committee in Alexandria.
“We need to prepare the mothers of the future. When you help to prepare a woman who is well aware of life’s issues and of her rights, duties and responsibilities and who is knowledgeable enough to look after herself, to make a home for her husband, and to raise well-behaved children, you are helping to raise a healthy and happy family,” Labib said.
“Without a good mother, you cannot have a healthy and happy family,” she added.
Mothers to Be is a collaborative project established by the Maternal and Childhood Committee at Rotary Egypt with the Faculty of Education for Early Childhood at Alexandria University and the African Centre for Women’s Healthcare Services.
“In the past, we used to have important lessons at school like sewing, cooking, knitting and how to be a wife, how to be a mother, and the stages of pregnancy. Our mothers also used to teach us a lot about family issues,” said Rania Youssef, co-founder and member of the Maternal and Childhood Committee.
Youssef gives seminars about personal hygiene and other issues to would-be mothers. She has been surprised by the number of questions from students who have asked her about basic hygiene. “Homes and school used to give girls education about their future married lives. But today, it seems that they are not giving them knowledge about anything before or after marriage. Girls and boys are sometimes brought up in ignorance about everything related to their sex and married lives,” Youssef said.
In order to remedy such problems, the project gives three-month intensive lectures to female college students. This year has been met with much success among both the trainees and the trainers. It gives the students skills that can equip them for the future. “We try to make the girls conscious about issues like the importance of breastfeeding, family planning, violence against women and how to report it, breast-cancer prevention and other topics which we are keen to present to them,” said Hoda Beshir, dean of the Faculty of Education for Early Childhood in Alexandria.
She added that the project is keen to give students what they need for the future, like for example self-assertiveness and an awareness of the challenges of motherhood, a baby’s needs, children’s different growth stages, and relationships with her husband and other family members.
“We choose these students because they can act as trainers of others after they have received their own training. They will benefit themselves and then spread the word among their colleagues, their communities and their young ones,” Beshir added.
The collaborative project has also allowed the co-founders to bring the best professionals to Alexandria to take part, including many distinguished doctors and professionals. They were keen to prepare their lectures with colourful and engaging displays as well as videos, surveys, discussion panels and questions.
“This year has been better than last year’s online lectures because we are face to face. We have touched the students’ desire for knowledge and for knowing more. The lectures saw questions and discussion and even lasted longer than they were supposed to,” said Hani Fikri, a consultant in pediatrics and a member of the American Pediatrics Society.
“It is my second time to be involved in this project. My first session was about Covid-19 and its prevention, and this year it is about how to treat fevers in children. The project overall is amazing, and I can see from the students that they are benefitting a lot,” Fikri said.
He said he had tackled the different types of fever and how to detect children’s feverish symptoms. There are many misconceptions relating to how to treat children’s fevers, sometimes taken from old Egyptian films in which a protagonist might take a baby to hospital in the middle of the night. “Even if the baby’s temperature rises to 41 degrees C, there is no need to panic. It is better to put him in light clothes and give him as much fluid as possible,” he added.
The students who attended the seminars this year belonged to the special education department of the Faculty of Early Education, which specialises in treating children with special needs. It strives to give quality education through improved facilities and improving the mother’s treatment of her children.
Merna Waleed was one of the attendees who was keen to attend most of the seminars and lectures even though she had to travel a long distance to do so. “I did not know that we can shock children when exposing them to a low-temperature bath in an attempt to decrease their temperature, for example,” Waleed said.
Awareness of breast cancer was also important. “People in my community regard women or girls who check for breast cancer or any women’s issues as stigmatised in some way,” she added. As she never thought of checking herself before due to the closed community she lives in, she now encourages women in her community to check for signs of breast cancer, vaginal cancer, ovarian endometrioma and many other illnesses.
“Sometimes, girls do not know much about married life, and we still see many taboos in villages such as forbidding girls to go to gynaecologists before marriage,” Waleed said.
The African Centre for Women’s Health Services is working on improving healthcare services for women in Egypt, often in relation to such issues. “We want to see girls enjoy a healthy infancy with no gender gap in morbidity and mortality. We want them to lead a healthy lifestyle free from violence and female genital mutilation,” said Amira Tahio, a maternal and child health consultant and former director of the centre.
“They should address fertility by choice, not by chance, and lead a healthy reproductive life with safe outcomes for mothers and babies,” she added.
Tahio has been keen to address the top women’s health problems in Egypt. These include early marriage, unwanted pregnancies, repeated abortions, unmet family planning needs, malnutrition, particularly anaemia, “the silent killer,” as a result of repeated pregnancies with short intervals, post-partum hemorrhage, and others.
Mariam Ahmed, an attendee at the seminars, was happy to attend Hanaa Abu Qassem’s natural childbirth lecture, which all the girls benefitted a lot from. “I realised from a simple ice-breaking quiz that we were all ignorant about such issues,” she said.
“When the gynaecologist asked us to choose an emoticon when we heard the word pregnancy, I chose one expressing sadness and fear. By the end of the session, most of us had changed our emoticon to one expressing happiness at the prospect of being a mother. My vision was completely different,” she said.
“We would love to see these seminars available to every girl and mother-to-be throughout the year so that many more girls can benefit.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.