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April 20, 2017

I’ve been asked a couple of times recently, if my life has taken on a ‘deeper meaning’, now that I’m a mother. I’m never quite sure what to say, so as not to seem uncaring or ungrateful. Of course, my daughter is not only the most important part of my life, but my current situation dictates that my daughter is my life. Yet, I’m not sure I can say my life has become deeper or richer. If anything, my current world is incredibly small, and as it centres around an infant, it is actually pretty basic too.

Before I had a baby, I was sure, from an emotional and developmental perspective, that full-time motherhood is the way forward, at least for the first three years. Some friends argued that they couldn’t afford to do this. Some for financial reasons, and others, didn’t feel they could sacrifice a career they’d worked incredibly hard to build. Though I respected both needs, I inwardly judged: why would I have a child if I was only going to pass it off to carers for the majority of her early life?
Up until recently, I always prided myself for not needing to ‘do’ so much to gain other people’s respect and admiration. I did what felt right, I worked hard because I believed in what I did, not because I wanted a promotion or any public acknowledgement. I didn’t think twice about changing from working in a museum to theatre, to psychotherapy and community work. If something roused my interest, and challenged me on a personal level, then I went with it. I happily took odd jobs when my medley of freelance work didn’t pay off. No longterm plan. Or at least, this came and went as with everything else. I trusted this impermanence, as it was familiar. Now, I question all this. Maybe it is better to set a track and work at it, to invest in yourself, as this ultimately is an investment in those around you. A legacy to pass on.
I question my diving into non-profit work, and my skepticism with the corporate worlds. Because today, I feel guilty seeking work that would not contribute financially to our family. If I volunteered (or the equivalent) to work with refugees, then I’d need a carer to look after my child, whilst I looked after others? It doesn’t make sense. Though it didn’t make sense when I worked for nearly four months in a refugee camp in South Lebanon in 2014. It didn’t make sense, but it had meaning. I had meaning. Even with the intensity of the work, the anger and sadness I carried on a daily basis, I felt a deep connection to humanity.
I am very clear about the importance of my role as a mother. And I also did not imagine I’d have as much love, and patience, as I do for her. In truth, she has been my anchor over the last couple of months. And, my ‘work’ is an endless series of feeds, nappy changes, laundry, washing-up, setting-up the pram in the garage, grocery shopping, putting away the pram, putting away toys, bath time, feeding, more laundry, making and mushing food, more laundry…Pretty mundane and thankless tasks. Hard to feel I’ve accomplished anything, when cooking dinner, whilst taking care of baby (and myself), is often the biggest challenge strategically.
This is not forever, and my head tells me that I will miss these days, when she will be too big to carry and too mouthy to listen. The days are long, and the years are short. Right now, I do not have the capacity to think in years, as I’m stretched in one long day.
My mother recently described her three years of postgraduate study in the US as ‘the best years’ of her life, and has spoken about her ten years teaching in Baghdad as the most important, because she knows she made a difference in so many people’s lives. My parents divorced less than two years after I was born, so I find it difficult to imagine that the years into which I was born were anything but incredibly painful for those around me. Yet I appreciate that my mother’s life has always had much more than ‘us’, the children. She has always worked incredibly hard at her teaching job, as well as her consulting work, and always pursued conferences and research too. Under Ba’thist Iraq, she was not allowed to resign from her public university position, but she made the most of it, and carried on climbing when we moved to the UK and later, to Lebanon. She continues today, and I am very proud of her.
What would have come of her had she chosen to stay at home? Would she have been as proud of her life today, or been able to make meaning of her years? Her career has been her lifeline, and today, I can better appreciate why.
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