Isn’t the recitation of the Qur’an by a parent to their baby a beautiful experience, masha’Allah? Just imagining these moments is beautiful. But imagine you are a Muslim mother who cannot bring herself to do this. Imagine how ugly that feels.
One of the many problems that Muslim mothers with Post Natal Depression (PND) face is the struggle to recite the Qur’an to their babies.
When a mother feels emptiness in place of maternal love for her child, how can she get her dry mouth working to communicate the beauty of Islam? When a woman feels distance rather than connection to Allah (SWT), how can she impart the amazing essence of Qur’anic recitation to a new person who is hearing the it in the world for the first time? How do you imagine she feels in their presence?
A Muslimah who is suffering with PND is very apt to berate herself for her neglect. Her self-abhorrence can crush her into a state of paralysis. She is not likely to be able to delve into her problems in search of solutions. She’s not well enough. But, if she doesn’t know, accept, and have support for the fact that she is unwell with PND, she will probably dismiss herself as not good enough. Repeatedly. And exacerbate her problems. Her acute awareness of the consequences for a Muslim child who is not nurtured by the Qur’an is a weighty reason on her large list of reasons she can tell herself she is unworthy to be a mother, to be alive, to be a Muslim. This is a horrendous and very real cycle.
How do I know this pain? I suffered from severe PND for eighteen months, following the birth of my fourth child. During that time, I didn’t learn a universal, perfect model for getting well – no human has accessed such expert knowledge. However, I did push myself out of my comfort zone, experiment, and learn a simple strategy for coping through PND. By singing lullabies and moving on to reciting the Qur’an with all of my offspring, I succeeded in bonding with my baby, reconnecting with Allah (SWT), and helping to improve my own mental health, alhamdulillah.
Now that I am well, I can look back at my test. I remember rushed children’s bedtimes, in which I barked collective orders to “brush teeth, hurry up, and get into bed”. Times when I either neglected to recite the Qur’an or did so mechanically, focused upon reaching the end of the surahs and leaving the room. Those bedtimes were void of kind words, or even kind looks, and never included hugs. Alhamdulillah, those times are in the past.
Now bedtimes are again (usually) relaxed. I can snuggle down with my children for a slow routine of stories, lullabies, recitation of the Qur’an, and bedtime hugs, alhamdulillah. But, thankfully, I achieved this routine while I was still ill. Positive bedtimes, inclusive of reciting the Qur’an and giving hugs became survival tools for coping with depression. And here, I am offering these tools to mothers who are currently suffering with PND. There is ease available with the hardship of the illness.
Allah does not lay on any soul a burden except to the extent to which He has granted it; Allah brings about ease after difficulty. ( At-Talaq :7)
1. Start by Introducing a Lullaby Mp3
Download my free voice-only mp3 of ‘Hush Now, Habibty‘ to your handy device.
Before the first sleep of the night or around Maghrib time, pray for your baby with the following du’a for protection, either silently or loudly:
“I seek protection for you in the perfect words of Allah, from every devil, every beast, and every envious eye.” (Bukhari, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi)
Then play the mp3 to your little one. Make this a routine, and don’t give up if you miss a day or two in the week. Push yourself to do this as a way to get back to wellness.
2. Hum While No One is Listening
When your baby is sleeping and you are the only person in her/his presence, hum along with the lullaby mp3. Keep this addition to your routine until you are familiar with producing the melody of the whole tune.
3. Record Yourself Singing the Lullaby and Play it to Baby
Record (and if necessary re-record) yourself singing the lullaby until you have a version you are prepared to share with your baby. This may feel odd, if you have never recorded yourself before. But focus on your baby. Babies from birth enjoy listening to a recording of their mother’s melodic voice. There are even apps and itunes for soothing your baby this way.
You can make your recording for free using Whatsapp, a private Soundcloud profile, Audacity, an old cassette machine, or a fancy baby monitor. I have a Whatsapp group between only myself and my husband for the exclusive purpose of storing recordings. At my request, he doesn’t listen to them, masha’Allah.
Begin using your own lullaby in place of my mp3 during your evening routine.
Tip: When recording, wait two seconds before you begin singing so that your first words are not missed.
4. Sing Along with Your Own Recording(s)
Perhaps quietly at first, sing along with your lullaby recording when you next play it to your baby. Match your recorded voice, sing over the top of it, even harmonise with it. Then, stop pressing ‘play’ on your recording, take a deep breath, and sing the lullaby through without an accompaniment.
You have achieved a huge stepping stone towards reclaiming your instinctive aptitude for communicating with your baby with excellence.
You can sing, recite, and speak in simple, everyday language, by using infant directed speech (the slow, melodic, high pitched voice that people commonly adopt with babies and young children). Never mind that you have to work harder than other mothers to achieve this. Insha’Allah you can achieve it.
And at this step you have reached the a huge breakthrough, alhamdulillah.
Smile. Hug your baby. Even cry, if it flows.
5. Sing Slowly from a book
Get yourself a copy of a Muslim nursery rhymes book (from your local library or home resources) and sing slowly from it to your baby, without rehearsal.
For example, you can choose from one of the following books:
Muslim Nursery Rhymes by Mustafa Yusuf McDermont
A Whisper of Peace by Dawud Wharnsby
Montmorency’s Book of Rhymes by TJ Winter et al
Muslim Lullabies by me, Elizabeth Lymer
Even if you already know one of the songs by heart, don’t search through the pages for it. Start at the beginning of the book, out of your comfort zone. And keep singing until the you finish the last lullaby. (You can, of course pause to attend to your baby’s needs.) Enjoy the accomplishment of succeeding from start to finish, masha’Allah. Thank Allah SWT.
Every time you stumble over the words, sing a flat note, or don’t even know the tune so make up something that doesn’t quite work, enjoy it. Notice the way your little one is primarily concerned with your love, your effort, and your connection. Your baby came into this world with a need to connect with you. Not with any need for a perfect version of you. That’s for a whole other world, insha’Allah.
(If you cannot access a book, there are some free Muslim Lullabies on my voice-only YouTube video you can learn … or, if you fancy writing, you can adapt any traditional songs and rhymes to include Islamic content. Just be sure you are not making too much work for yourself.. You are already dealing with a hardship. Please challenge yourself, but allow yourself ease.)
Keep Moving, The Next Step
In traversing the above steps, you may spend a long time on one stage, and wonder if you are stuck. That’s understandable. Worries of this nature are commonplace experiences when well, in various pursuits. However, worries manifest as anxieties during PND and are a constant drain. What is important is that you don’t get stuck on worrying. None of us know how long our lives will be and I can’t tell you how long you will be trialled with depression or how long each step will take you.
What I am confident about, is that each day you repeat an activity you are maintaining a habit, and that provides a strong foundation for a new stage of development, insha’Allah. Also, every moment that you spend holding your baby, focused on your relationship with him/her, you can facilitate beneficial bonding between you, alhamdulillah. And, by baby, we may be talking about your toddler or an older child, here. I used these steps to gain good bedtimes with all of my children, up to almost-seven years old. Almost a year later, I am still using lullabies, alhamdulillah.
Now, what I didn’t tell you at the beginning of this article was that singing releases a chemical in the brain called oxytocin. It is a bonding hormone mothers produce through contact with their babies. It is also an anti-depressant stimulated through singing. Alhamdulillah, my favourite way to accept this gift from Allah SWT is to stimulate oxytocin through reciting the Qur’an.
Prior to suffering PND, you may have experienced a kind of high, happy feeling from reciting the Qur’an aloud that you don’t get from silently mouthing its words. We all need happiness, just as we all need to interact with the Qur’an – however unwell or well we are mentally, physically, and spiritually. That is how Allah (SWT) designed all of us – to be needing of happiness. And He gave us an excellent solution through the Qur’an, alhamdulillah.
So, once you have completed the above five steps with lullabies, and you are ready to move on, your copy of the Qur’an awaits you. You have established nurture of your child with beautiful melodies and beautiful, Allah-centred lullaby lyrics. Now you are ready to continue with the best of rhythms and messages, alhamdulillah. After evening lullabies, you can add recitation as the climax of your bedtime routine, or you can abandon lullabies for a while to concentrate on recitation. You choose. Just remember to keep the hugs.
Narrated ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab: Some Sabi (i.e. war prisoners, children and woman only) were brought before the Prophet and behold, a woman amongst them was milking her breasts to feed and whenever she found a child amongst the captives, she took it over her chest and nursed it (she had lost her child but later she found him) the Prophet said to us, “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet then said, “Allah is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.” (Al Bukhari)
Muslim mothers are often familiar with the notion of Allah (SWT), the Most Merciful, as more merciful to humans than a mother is to her child. But this is enormously difficult to contemplate when you are suffering with PND. Your mind is full of short term memories of angry outbursts over accidents like dropping the laundry or being misheard, of looking at your baby as work rather than a person to connect with, and of constantly begrudging every difficult task as burdensome. Your self-image is unkind and ungrateful – a personification that’s quite the opposite of mercy.
However, once you have been through the five steps, you can view yourself as a mother who is ill, yet working hard on delivering maternal mercy, love, and connection. You can see yourself with compassion and mercy. But, importantly, you can identify successes to substantiate your esteem.
Remember your baby is more interested in your efforts than your successes.
And, with the greatest Mercy and Love, Allah (SWT) is more interested in your love, effort, and connection to Him and His creation in the pursuit of His pleasure … than with any notion of human perfection outside of Jannah.
Make mistakes. Make du’a. Make a step by step effort to recite the Qur’an with your child as a habit like you want to. Make oxytocin and be the best mother you can be. Alhamdulillah, you can do it insha Allah.
With hardship comes ease – guaranteed, alhamdulillah.
Elizabeth Lymer is a children’s author, home educator, and survivor of Post Natal Depression. Her books include Muslim Lullabies, Hector Hectricity and the Missing Socks, and Religious Rhyme Time. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.