Motherhood didn’t go to plan in the beginning. It all started with my labour. Alhamdulilah, I had a pretty straightforward pregnancy. No morning sickness. Minimal nausea. No bizarre cravings. I knew labour wasn’t going to be a breeze, and so I did everything in my power, or so I thought I did, to mentally and physically prepare myself – I did my reading, wrote out my birth plan, bounced on my gym ball as my due date approached, practised my breathing, struck epidural off my imaginary birth and told the husband that he if dared as to mention it in the hospital, he would come to regret it.
We plan but our Lord the Almighty is the best of planners.
My idealistic version of labour went out of the window. I went from wanting minimal medical intervention in the midwife-led unit to ending up being tethered to a heart monitor, throwing up every time I had gas and air or anything to eat or drink, hooked on to a hormone drip, begging for an epidural after a long and tiresome labour before finishing off with a c-section.
After a traumatic labour, I came home with swollen snowman feet and a body that felt like it had just been hit by a bus, but eager like any other new mum to get to know their precious bundle of joy, I was looking forward to the start of this new adventure. If I thought that the labour was the hardest part, boy I sure was in for a treat!
Although labour is physically draining, caring for a newborn who neither sleeps or feeds and just cries all the time is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. My life just felt like it was hanging precariously over a cliff edge, with every well-intended piece of advice or critique of my parenting and settling techniques threatened to send me into a complete meltdown.
As a first-time mum, I appreciate the wisdom of all those incredible mums with decades of parenting under their belt; however, that is not to say that what worked for them will work for me! We all have our preferences when it comes to caring for our babies, and while there is no harm in advising fellow mums, there is no need to be so intrusive, which often translates as being disrespectful towards their chosen parenting methods. There needs to be more support and empathy within the community. All too often, we become so quick to pass out judgements. If you don’t know what to say to a mum who is struggling, just listen and sympathise. Sometimes all we need is an ear that listens!
As time went by, things just didn’t seem to resolve. Weeks turned into months, and I had a baby who refused to sleep – waking up multiple times during the night, who cried every time he nursed and without fail produced as many poo explosions as one would expect bird droppings on a car windscreen parked underneath a tree. Nothing seemed to be going well, and I felt so out of my depth. At times, I felt like my life had become a continuous loop. There was no time to unwind, breath and take a break. No weekend to enjoy a lie in. No lazy Sunday with breakfast in bed. I didn’t know what day of the week it was. My anniversary slipped by after realising two months later. There was no life outside the home due to the constant fear of a meltdown, which by no means was limited to the baby alone.
My expectations of motherhood versus reality couldn’t be more in conflict, and I felt like my world was closing in. My baby meant everything to me; however, I couldn’t brush asides the moments where I felt so unfilled and mentally drained. I felt so unashamed to talk about how I felt, and the only solace that I found was with a friend who was going through something very similar.
Alhamdulilah, we managed to resolve some of the problems and worked out that food allergies combined with a tongue tie (which went undiagnosed by several specialists!) were causing a lot of discomfort to our poor baby. It took a lot of trial and error, tears, frustration, anguish, and prayers to survive this first year. Even when it came to weaning, I thought our troubles were behind us, as we had been told by more than one well-intended female relative, but with his delicate tummy, solids didn’t always agree with him. We would have multiple wake-ups in the nights, with him screaming with trapped wind. Despite tracking everything that he ate, I felt utterly helpless not knowing what was causing my baby discomfort. It was heart-wrenching.
As we approached our baby’s first birthday, I jokingly said to my husband that we should use this milestone to celebrate us, and how we survived our first year as parents.
There were moments where I thought I wouldn’t ever see the sunshine after the grey clouds. Looking back now at the first few months, I think to myself Subhanallah how did I manage? Sure, as time went by we still had our struggles, but not as they had been to start with! This sense of appreciation put things into perspective, and it really helps me get through challenging times. I think ‘Hey, I got through a time where my baby only had 30-minute naps, leaving me with limited time to cook, clean, eat, pray and manage the household whilst running on a couple of hours of sleep each night with a baby who screamed every time he fed and never wanted to be put down. This is nothing in comparison!’ But the sunshine after the grey clouds is not limited to the eradication of the trial, and that is something that I unrealistically tried to seek – it is the shift in perspective. When you view the beauty in each hardship and trial, your life will inevitably be filled with light and barakah. The hardest thing is to conquer the mind and not let hardships break your spirit.
We still have the nights where our baby wakes up screaming multiple times, refusing to be settled unless he is fed, and as someone who, in the past, has regrettably snapped due to sleep deprivation, I think to myself that these days of midnight cuddles are numbered. There will be a day where our darling baby will be all grown up and no longer want to snuggle with mummy and daddy, so as simplistic as it sounds, make the most of it in whatever form it comes in! Be it screaming inconsolably in the night or throwing a mad tantrum during a poopy nappy change, this baby thinks the world of you – no matter how crazy it drives you at times.
It took me a year to try and ingrain this sense of gratitude into my brain. It took me a year to try and tame my inner nafs to find that sunshine despite the grey clouds.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have my days where I feel like everything is catching up with me and that’s ok! It’s ok to feel not ok at times. It’s ok to want to sit on the sofa the entire time your baby is napping and eat a whole packet of bourbon biscuits while scrolling aimlessly through Instagram. It’s ok to feel that your life has been reduced to a never-ending tangle of cooking, laundry and cleaning. The most important thing to remember is that we can lift ourselves back up when we feel down. That when we feel broken and drained, we can return to the Lord Almighty, and He will be there for us without fail. The doors of love and mercy never close.
There will be a lot of dark clouds when it comes to being a parent. Moments where you may struggle to understand the wisdom behind Allah SWT’s plan. Through these testing times, we come to see ourselves for who we truly are – a glimpse of the true nature of our hearts and all that it conceals. This is an extremely frightening thought; however, it motivates me to try and work hard to better myself and mellow my stress levels.
I say to myself now, I could never go through everything again and often I look at other mothers in amazement as they juggle multiple children all under the age of four! How they do it remains a mystery to me, but without doubt, this is a sign of the true mercy of our Lord for He never burdens a soul with more than he can handle.
“Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear” [Qu’ran, 2:286]
The first year of motherhood has been very tough, to say the least. It nearly broke me, but the lessons, joy and unconditional love that it has bought I wouldn’t change any of it for the world!
By Amaliah Team
By The Lantern Initiative