School holidays. My sisters and I would be home alone as both parents worked 9-5. We would fill the days with reading, bike riding in the backyard and watching the same Disney movies again and again, pausing each song one million times to write down the lyrics pre-internet. My favourite thing though was watching those midday talkshows when the topic involved a 'teenage mom'.
I was intrigued. I loved the idea of someone just a few years older than I was becoming a mother. I loved the idea of being a young mum, I loved the 'efficiency' of having children at a young age. The idea of being young but also having a grown child. I would borrow library books about it; fiction and non-fiction, and read and read and imagine.
I loved everything pregnancy: the way women looked, the idea of carrying life. I would put pillows under my top just to try to visualise carrying a baby. I imagined doing that right-hand-on-back-pregnancy-shuffle you’d see in movies. Babies. I loved babies. I would babysit my mum's friend's young kids. I remember being at a McDonald's playground near our house and trying to play mum to a stranger's kid.
I loved the idea of nurturing a baby.
As I got older and my friends started having babies I loved becoming an Aunty. I loved holding them and rocking them to sleep. I wanted one. My own. But it was one of those things you have to relinquish control and let it happen when it has to happen (if it happens at all).
I wanted it so badly I had to tell myself the opposite. I bought into the narrative that patriarchy and capitalism wrap up and try to label as ‘feminism’: that a woman’s unpaid work raising babies (& children) is not as important as paid labour. It’s ‘easy’. Anyone can do it. I, on the other hand, got a degree. I was a working woman: a feminist, challenging stereotypes of what it is to be a Muslim Woman. I wasn’t barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, I was ‘contributing to society’, thank you very much.
It’s interesting what happens when you suppress who you are. When you become someone else so slowly you don’t notice when you stopped listening to your heart: you shut the door and threw away the key.
Fastforward life and years and finally we are ready to have a baby. The stars align and although it doesn’t happen straight away, it happens and I am so deeply grateful. My fears that it couldn’t happen are replaced by the fears that something will happen to our baby. Slowly, I start to hear that familiar sound. It had been a few months in the making but it’s my heart. I’m all heart. The doors are open and we are reconnected like old friends who you love like family.
I loved the baby growing in my womb fiercely, I was mama bear from the day I had a feeling the lines would appear. I knew I could do this and I knew I could do this well. The role I was destined to play.
My waters break on my early morning trip to the toilet and I get in the zone. I try to honour the oxytocin: I ride the waves and vocalise and mum rubs my back in the exact spot with the exact pressure I needed in that exact moment and I am reminded of the otherworldly wisdom that mothers can possess. I chant "Ya Lateef, Ya Lateef!" The female energy is strong surrounding me the day I laboured for my son: my sisters remind me to breathe and I inhale. Exhale.
I reach down and feel his head and see his head. It’s happening, it is real. My baby. I have a baby.
He’s on my chest and he latches and another sigh of relief. I can feed him! It works! That night is one of the best nights of my life: I have my baby and he is safe and healthy and I pushed him out and I didn’t die. And my husband was there and my mother and sisters too and I can’t sleep, I’m on such a high I just look at my baby. We have two hours of uninterrupted skin to skin and then my husband has a turn and my amazing midwife has to go home because she’s been on call all day. We are moved to the wards where these midwives have a different set of rules and we are told to clothe him and he is wrapped up and put in a bassinet and I just look at him.
I take him out and hold him close because it feels so alien to have him not a part of my body. How can he lie there, a few centimetres away from me when just a few hours ago he lived in my body? But I am not leaving empty handed tomorrow and my irrational mind is worried the nurse will see me sleeping with my baby and deem me an unfit mother, so I put him back in the bassinet and lie there watching his eyes open as he look around the darkness. I make sure I can see the rise and fall of his chest while listening to the snores of his father next to me.
We left the ensuite light on and door open a crack so the light enters our room and I can see him. I can see his eyes in the darkness, looking around.
Fastforward 13 months and he is asleep next to me as I type this, I’m listening to his breath and succumb to the incredible symptom of motherhood: mother’s guilt. I think about my newborn baby lying in that bassinet wrapped up and not in my arms or on my body and I’m sorry baby. I’m sorry I didn’t pick you up and hold your bare chest on mine until the morning. I’m sorry I let you sleep alone. Did you wonder where you were? Did you wonder where I was? My heart cries imagining you were frightened. I’m sorry I didn’t know better. I’m sorry for all the days during our fourth trimester together that I didn’t hold you. I’m sorry for those times where me holding you wasn’t enough, I didn’t know what you needed although I tried and so I held you as we cried together.
I’ll hold you now, knowing each day you grow bigger until you won’t need me to hold you anymore. But that’s a lie, because we all need our mums sometimes. I look at you and the idea of my life before you doesn’t seem real. It’s foggy, as if I was dreaming. Did I really wait all this time to have you?!
I’m sorry, my heart. That I silenced you all this while. Now that we are talking again I hope to be better. I have to be better, because I am his mother.