Raw Motherhood

I am a mother of three as of recently, and I frequently get asked how it is managing three young children. The assumption is that the more of them there are, the harder it gets. That’s true in some ways. However, I would argue that having one was harder for me.

Usually when I put the kids to sleep, the arrangement is as follows:

I co-sleep in a single bed with 1-month old Fatima, 2 year old Abubakr is in a crib with the narrower side attached to my bed, and 3.5 year old Zaynab is in the other single bed beside mine and she usually sleeps with her aunt.

This will change once I go back to Istanbul to our own home but for now while my husband is away in the US and I’m with my family in Cyprus, our arragenment is as such.

Tonight, the arrangement was slightly different. Their aunt was busy so she didn’t participate in the bed time ritual (which includes story telling and then a semi-long religious litany and waiting for all the kids to sleep before sneaking out of the room). Fatima happened to be asleep downstairs in the living room. So Abubakr, who is always eager to sleep beside me instead of the crib, lay next to me and Zaynab laid down in her own bed. By the time I finished the litany, Abubakr was asleep. Zaynab by that point asked me to sleep next to her, so I did. I whispered some more litanies, and she fell asleep facing me, with her hand in mine. In the meanwhile, I began reflecting on something that I frequently remember: how much harsher I was to her as a younger toddler in comparison to her brother. It kills me because I can’t ever undo those moments. I never realized in those moments how small she was, how vulnerable, fragile. I only realized as she grew older and I could compare her to her younger brother. When I had my first child, everything changed. Everything. And probably for good. I was no longer able to do very basic things on my own without having to put another person into account. There was now this human being who literally depended on me for survival. Add to that insufficient socialization with other humans and lack of support. I won’t forget this one time at nap time where she was 13 months old, and I was about 4 months pregnant. I was nursing her and hating every minute of it because I couldn’t stand physical touch during pregnancy. She was taking a long time falling asleep – you have to understand, nap time and night time is like your time off – and I just lost it. I started yelling at her, telling her to shut her goddamn eyes and handling her very roughly. Imagine someone is hugging you and then all of a sudden they start to give you a rough shake. (Makes me sick of myself just thinking about it). Still half-nursing, she began crying, obviously. It was a painful cry. She must have been so confused. I don’t remember the details but I think she fell asleep finally because I remember quietly walking out of the room and hugging my husband who was approaching me in the hallway and I broke down crying because of how horrible I felt about having lost control of myself and hurting this child that I would die for. That’s when I decided I had to wean her because I didn’t want to feel resentment during an act that’s supposed to be an act of love and nurturing. My point of mentioning this is not about how pregnancy makes you feel sensitive or whatever and how you should handle those feelings. The issue here was not simply that. These types of moments were the result of a build up of underlying emotions, exhaustion, lack of support, lack of spiritual and physical nourishment. A lot of possible issues. And of course lack of understanding on how to deal with this little human being, because it was my first time and my life was forever changed. I had so much more patience with my second child in comparison to my first – maybe because we had a different structure as a family with where we were at in our life, having moved closer to my family, taking care of myself better and so on – but I think having had that experience already and this second child not making my already-mom life a whole lot more different played a major role too.

I’m never going to not feel regret over those ignorant and weak moments and I can’t help but think of how painful and possibly scary it must have been for a little child whose entire life revolved around me but I find comfort in that those moments didn’t and don’t make up the majority of my child’s upbringing. She is loved; she knows it and she feels it. Children are also incredibly forgiving, which is painful to think about, yet heartening.

I want to wrap up by mentioning two things:

A while back, I read something that really stuck with me. I don’t remember the author or where I read it, but it was about the most impactful moments in a child’s day. How they wake up, or rather what they wake up to, their nap time, and their bed time. So I try to really be careful in those moments (not that they nap anymore); to really be present with them, not to be caught on my phone the moment they wake up, greeting them with enthusiasm, kissing them, using a gentle tone, and likewise in the evening. In other words, making them feel safe and look forward to the day and the next day.

Finally… I read this hadith today which I had read before but hadn’t ever really reflected on and intended to act upon:

Narrated by Abu Dharr, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to us: When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down. (Sunan Abi Dawud)

Let’s be real. I still get angry from time to time and snap at the kids, especially on stressful days. So inshaa Allah, my intention is to remember the advice of our Prophet next time I feel my anger may overcome me.

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See you tomorrow.

BUR8411-EthiopiaMotherLR
© David Burnett –  Ethiopia 1984