It’s my son’s 4th birthday today – four years since the mum in me was born. Four years since I experienced water breaking for the first time at 4 am in the morning, four years since I knew what it meant to be swooning in death-like pain to be able to bring new life into the world. Four years since my heart has been transformed to contain a dweller who will forever be irreplaceable.
Don’t be deceived by the first paragraph though, this isn’t going to be one of those mushy motherly dedications or monologues about how fantastic motherhood is. I was (am) the kind of mother who never ‘enjoyed’ being pregnant and definitely never loved or ‘missed’ breastfeeding. However, my natural feelings towards these phenomena are completely separate from my value and gratitude for them – having become a mother, I can fully comprehend what it can mean to be pregnant for those who want to have children but haven’t been able to yet, and how truly enjoyable or difficult different parts of motherhood can be for different mothers depending on their personalities and circumstances.
Six months after my son was born, I’d written this reflection on motherhood; but last month I was going through some old photographs of my son and I, and since then I’ve been meaning to share something. With every picture that I browsed through, I realized it was but a momentary capture of the one role that singularly dominated the past 4 years of my life. My infant son’s fingers wrapped around mine, 1-month old him looking up at the colorful bees in his musical mobile, the first videos of him laughing or excitedly flexing his legs on the bed, pictures of him in his high chair enjoying his apple and oats and smearing his baby books with food, happy selfies of us where we both managed to shower and get changed before dad got home, moments of him observing bees and flowers in the garden or splashing in the bath tub, videos of him simmering with fever in my lap and narrating hilarious fever-induced stories, or him engrossed in discovering processes in the kitchen or playing alone with his cars under the table in the garden, him flipping through the books we’d read everyday and the stories he’d ask for on loop, pictures of him relishing his favorite home-made cookies or cupcakes or watching his favorite cartoons: a thousand moments and more of just me and him; him in my care and me by his side.
I couldn’t believe I’d been the one watching, nourishing, teaching, disciplining, supporting, observing, encouraging, loving, caring and constantly being there for another human being in all those moments. And all those pictures were but a few of our moments together that happened to be captured by a camera: I’d been doing this continuously for four, full years. In that instance, my mind reeled thinking of the decades and millions and millions of moments that mothers throughout time have spent dedicating their entire existence to another, like it is the most ordinary thing to do. I realized that day that it must be the most natural thing to do, but it definitely is one of the most extraordinary things to do too. I hadn’t realized just how much of my inner potential this one role was capable of extracting and bringing forth. I didn’t realize how far being dedicated to the nurturing of another soul could go in nourishing and growing my own. I hadn’t realized how my child was shaping who I am as much as I was molding him. As mundane, monotonous, restricting and often miserable as motherhood had been, I hadn’t realized what a spectacular sight it would be to behold someday.
Today when I look in the mirror, I see wrinkles and eye bags and uneven skin tone and blemishes that I didn’t have four years ago. I realize a lot of it is probably going to stay too and I try (very) hard to embrace that fact. But I also see the soul and inner strength I never had four years ago. My body has aged, but I have simultaneously grown and matured and evolved in so many wonderful ways. My time was constantly sacrificed and given away, but I was unknowingly creating, building and achieving so much.
There have been many dark days. Days I’m certain will never be over till I am no longer a mother. Days of frustration, loneliness, anger at not knowing how to handle yourself and your child, days of exhaustion having to do so much by yourself, feelings of being trapped for eternity with human beings less than half your real and mental age, days when every bone and muscle and nerve in your body is throbbing in pain and your eyes well up with tears that you’ve managed to hold back for far too long, days when people pass the kind of inconsiderate remarks that knock the words out of even the most self-assured mothers, days when everything you’ve done or have been doing is belittled to the point where you just want to abandon everything and run away, days when you feel like not a second of being a mother was or ever will be worth it. I’ve been through all of these days, every single mother has. They are as real and as existent as the good days, don’t let anyone fool you into believing otherwise. It is because of days like these that I’ve also realized that no one deserves your all and your best all the time.
Being a devoted mother does not mean destroying your own self. Being a good mother does not mean giving in to your child’s, husband’s, in-laws’ or society’s every demand and expectation of what you ‘should’ be doing as a mother. Being a perfect mother does not mean packing Instagram-worthy lunches everyday, doing daily Pinterest crafts, tracking and achieving every Baby Centre milestone by the millisecond and trying to legitimize your bouts of guilt and insecurity because your child isn’t ‘performing’ as well as your friend’s. Being a loving mother does not mean never, ever leaving your child in someone else’s care so you can take a break with your friends or go out on a date with your husband or do something you love for a little while. Being a dedicated mother does not mean carrying your child on your hip all day and doing every little thing for them because teaching them to be independent requires more patience and effort and then conveniently blaming your lack of me-time on your all-consuming children. Being a caring mother does not mean being the only parent who wakes up in the middle of the night to tend to the children or cater to their every need with no spousal support despite their father being present. Being a great mother doesn’t mean taking the entire world’s burden on your shoulders and not asking for the help or support that is either within your reach or within your rights. Let me assure you, you’ll be getting no special awards or recognition for any of this. You’ll only be in for some major resentment once everyone goes on to live the lives they were meant to; while you’re left with nothing but hopefully good memories of how every drop of your blood, sweat, tears and time was spent in raising your children who don’t seem to even remember to call you, and all those in-laws and people who dictated what you did as a mother couldn’t care less that your body, mind and soul are broken and constantly hurting after years of ‘perfect’ mothering.
Being senseless and sacrificial are not the same thing, though it’s very easy to confuse the two as a mother. Yes, easier said than done, yes not everyone’s circumstances are the same; but no, everyone has the ability to choose to stand up for themselves. Everyone has the ability to choose to give value to themselves. Everyone has the ability to choose to ignore other people’s opinions. Everyone has the ability to choose to make healthy, balanced lifestyle choices. Everyone has the ability to choose to seek the physical, mental, emotional or other help they need. Everyone has the ability to choose to live a life with some semblance of structure, boundaries and routine that may gradually but eventually lead to you being a good mother while also being good to yourself. The only difference is that making and sticking to that choice will be relatively harder or easier, depending on your circumstances.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt for sure in these four years, it is that making the choice to love and take care of yourself while you love and care for your children, will make all the difference when you have no one but yourself to tend to.