“It was my first baby and I was afraid.”

Since the end of 2015, thousands of Syrian refugees have begun their new lives in Canada. Three mothers, each pregnant when they arrived, share with us their experience in starting over and how they feel about raising their children in their new home.

Photo: Jenna Wakani

Over 40,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since November 2015. We gathered the stories of three mothers who came to Canada with their families last year as Syrian refugees. They were all pregnant when they arrived and have since given birth to some of Canada’s most adorable new citizens. We talked to each of them about their journeys to Canada, their impressions of Canadian parenting customs and the challenges of adapting to life in a new country.

Nazlia Jouma, 20
Husband: Masowd Sedow, 23
From Aleppo, Syria
Left Syria in 2015 and moved to Turkey
Arrived in Canada Sept. 14, 2016
Mom of one: Sophia, now five months old (born Jan. 4, 2017).

Nazlia Jouma and her husband, Masowd, left Syria for Turkey in 2015. They got married in Turkey in December 2015 and came to Canada as privately-sponsored refugees the following September, when Nazlia was pregnant with their first child. Their daughter Sophia was born four months later, on January 4, 2017. They live in north-east Toronto, in an apartment just down the street from Nazlia’s mother, aunt and her two brothers.

What made you decide to leave Syria?
The situation was becoming more dangerous every day and men were being forced into the army, so we decided to go. Masowd went first, in September, and I followed with my mother, my grandmother and my two brothers. It took us ten days at the border trying to get into Turkey. We had to keep trying, nine or ten times. Finally, we found a smuggler who had gotten another woman and her children in, and we paid him to help us get across.

Statistics for Syrian refugees in Canada
This post is part of The Canada Project. You can find out more by clicking the image above.

What was your life like in Turkey?
In Syria, my husband had worked as a carpenter, but in Turkey he didn’t have the right certificate to be allowed to work in his field, so we had to take any job we could get. We both worked in a greenhouse, growing and harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers. It’s hard work and it can get very hot. When I found out I was pregnant, I was happy, but it was hard to keep up the work when I was so tired and feeling sick in the first trimester. After two months I stopped, and my husband worked even more, sometimes from 6 a.m., all day and all night.

How did you decide to come to Canada?
I had an aunt who had emigrated to Canada about five years earlier. She didn’t tell us much about Canada. She just said we would like it here and we had to come see it for ourselves. “Seeing is believing,” she said. She helped arrange for us to be sponsored through an organization here. My mother, another aunt and my two brothers came first, and we followed a few months later.

syrian mother holds her new baby born in canada
Photo: Jenna Wakani

What kind of prenatal care did you receive once you arrived?
Our sponsors helped us get a midwife. Midwives are common in Syria, but I didn’t realize there would be midwives in Canada. In Syria, midwives come to your home for the birth, but here they can also go with you to the hospital. I was happy to have that option because it was my first baby and I was afraid. I wanted to be in a hospital near the doctors, just in case.

Who was with you for the birth?
I had the midwife, my husband, my mother and my aunt with me. The labour was difficult—harder and longer than I thought it would be. I’m glad I got to give birth here and not in Turkey, where I wouldn’t have been allowed to have my family with me. At one point my mother cried because I was in so much pain. The midwife put a TENS machine on my back to help reduce the pain, and having all of them around me, holding my hands and supporting me helped me get through it. And then when Sophia was finally born and they put her on my chest, I forgot all the pain.

a new mother from syria holds her new baby born in canada
Photo: Jenna Wakani

What are some things about how we care for babies here that you’ve noticed are different than what you’d seen back home?
In Syria they don’t use car seats, but we do here, of course! And here Sophia sleeps in a crib. In Syria, we slept on a mattress on the floor and the baby would have slept with us, but we follow the Canadian rules and customs we learned from our sponsors. The only thing I haven’t tried yet is the baby carrier. She sleeps well in the stroller and her crib, so it hasn’t seemed necessary.

What languages will you speak to Sophia?
We will speak to her in Kurdish (my mother tongue), English and maybe Arabic when she is older. I want her to grow up here and get a good education. My hope for her is that she can take music lessons and learn to play an instrument. In Syria, we only have core subjects in school. I get a lump in my throat thinking about how I didn’t have access to arts and music growing up. I want Sophia to be able to discover her own talents.  Ibtesam sits in her apartment with two of her seven children
“We gathered our things and left. I was nine months pregnant.”

Do you plan to have more children?
Yes, I think one or two more. My husband says he wants ten children. But that’s because he isn’t the one who has to have the contractions!

Translation and interpretation by May Tartoussy, Fawz Khammash, Jessica Radin and Haneen Tamari. Interview by Kalli Anderson. Photos by Jenna Wakani.

Read more:
55 things nobody told me about my baby’s first year
A year of firsts: What sponsoring a Syrian family has taught me

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