I gave birth to a daughter last September.
Motherhood is like entering into the fifth dimension of space. Once you are in it, there is no looking back. It’s like a video game, in which as and when you proceed, you keep unlocking another advanced level. Except here a woman unlocks her hidden strengths, a kind of a dramatic evolution. Motherhood is a becoming.
Motherhood is a maddening oxymoron; extreme pain with extreme joy, a peculiar feat reserved only for a woman. Men do not get to experience this bizarre mismatch. Womenfolk have pain installed within them, a sort of a default setting. While men unite on football matches, war and glory, women unite on something deeper, more meaningful. Women unite in pain. Yet, strange as it is, women don’t support their brethren enough. Quite the contrary, I have seen how new mothers find themselves in a web of constant scrutiny from experienced mothers, often negative in nature. Every conversation turns somewhat into “you don’t do this? We used to do it like that,” harking back to their ‘golden period.’ There is a consistent sermon on how everything is easy nowadays with fancy childcare products, and evolved technology. In that, motherhood is like ‘Big Brother is Watching You.’ One slight mistake and you will be labelled as a ‘bad mother.’
These predicaments aside, motherhood is not all glorious experiences as it is made out to be. It is not a Johnson’s Baby advertisement where everything is healthy and happy. In reality, it is a struggle. It is mandatorily feeding your child with sore breasts while your stitches hurt. It is you–can’t–sleep while your body aches and your mind is tired. It is crying by yourself in the silence of the midnight.
And if you are a woman employed outside the home, like me, then the struggle multiplies. Juggling household chores, childcare and perpetual work deadlines, an employed mother is placed at the far ends of extremities. She is either considered too self-centered to be care for her child enough or too glorified to the point of meeting unrealistic expectations. In reality, both are wrong. To begin with, all mothers are working mothers. However, the modern world’s conception of labour is so preoccupied with only currency as a form of earning, that it elides over the worth of stay-at-home mothers who singlehandedly manage entire households and raise children to get intangible returns.
On the other end, employed mothers are romanticized as ‘superwoman’ or ‘iron lady.’ Under the garb of these high-sounding fancy terms, women are expected to administer impractical workloads, driving them to the verge of a breakdown. If a woman chooses to be a mother, then everybody feels she has wasted her intellectual capabilities, thereby undermining her reproductive labour. And if a woman chooses to be in the public domain, then everybody feels she has wasted her reproductive capabilities, thereby undermining her intellectual labour. If a woman chooses to do both, she is devoid of help and ends up bearing the double burden of labour.
I often wonder why is the entire process of carrying a child made so difficult, a form of high-end complexity. Couldn’t we just go to an alternative baby’s land and pick one to our liking. Or imagine a tree on which babies could grow after the performance of austere penances by parents, or maybe they could just be transported from the other world on a cloud, shipped directly to your doorstep. All you needed to do was just pray; the more sincere the prayer, the better the child.
But God has purposely made the process so intricate, a mind-boggling art form, as a sign of His Being. He wilfully unfolds this magic in front of us so that we acknowledge His existence and submit ourselves in His devotion. Had we not undergone the long, demanding and painful process of childbirth, perhaps we wouldn’t have valued our children so much. God, in His absolute wisdom, creates children out of their parents, as their inalienable part to cultivate a pure form of love. If childbearing were an easier process, then children wouldn’t inherit their mother’s curled eyelashes or their father’s authoritative foreheads. They wouldn’t be their mother’s restrained but gleeful smiles, neither would they be their father’s speaking mannerisms. In other words, children wouldn’t be a part of their parents.
But this selfless love for our children is constructed with a motive: to test the love for God Himself; whether, in our preoccupation with our children’s well-being, do we neglect the commandments of God or not. Like Prophet Abraham (PBUH), we must prove that our love for the Creator supersedes our love for the creation. On the ladder of different forms of love, God must remain at the top.
That childbirth is not a simplistic process is a testament to its immense responsibility. Raising a child as a khair (blessing) for humanity is a challenging task. In that, motherhood is a tremendous duty. It’s not just cooking three meals a day for children as it is made out to be. It’s something more meaningful. Motherhood is shaping raw minds like a seasoned jeweller crafting ornaments. It is inculcating positive values like a medieval Sufi Shaykh giving sermons in his khanqah. Perhaps it is because of the sheer significance and its inherent struggle that the entire paradise is placed under the feet of a mother. How unprecedented is this honour. The sole purpose of human life, the ultimate reward of this worldly test is brought beneath the feet of a mother!
My daughter is over six months old now. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that I underwent and overcame the excruciatingly painful process of delivering a child. The realization that I have recovered from months of postpartum suffering fills me with a strange happiness. A sort of a relief, like the one you feel after your final exams are over.
I want to rejoice that I can sit without pain, lie without pain, that I can take longer strides to catch a fast-approaching metro. That I can rush to the lanes of Janpath without fear when I am running late for the office. Little things are bigger things. While childbirth changed my life, the recovery changed my worldview. How the fragility of our bodies is trapped within the machinations of time. As we are growing, we are eroding.
I want to value each day I spend as a mother. I want to dress up my daughter for school as she begs me to let her sleep, I want to watch Lion King with her once again. I want to teach her Iqbal’s poetry as she complains that my readership is too minuscule. I want her to guide me through new-age technology when I become too slow to grasp the rapidly shifting world order. I want to sit with her and her baba under starlight and gaze at the night sky, while the cold breeze passes through us. I want to say Alhamdullilahi rabbil alamin, Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the universe.