I have chosen the word “shook” because of how its indistinct context made me feel when I first became a mother.
Ironically, the reason for choosing this word is very deliberate. It does not have one meaning with which to adhere to—and that is exactly why it made me feel like I was stuck in a vortex of muddled thought.
Webster’s Dictionary has many definitions for the word “shake,” of which shook is a past tense. One of them defines it as a cause to “quake, quiver, or tremble.” Others include phrases such as “physical or emotional disturbance” or “state of instability.” My personal favorite is to “jolt into accepting reality.” I flatter myself—that one does not belong in the dictionaries. It’s my own definition of the word. But I bet you are wondering how this word—and all the meanings associated with it—affect me being a feminist?
For that, it is vital to know how I dealt with motherhood.
When we think of the term “newborn,” we’re almost always drawn to the conclusion that it’s with reference to a baby. What we don’t bring into account is that along with the baby, the parents, their lives, emotions, priorities, and their very purpose makes them doubt if they ever knew who they really were. Everything around them is suddenly newborn.
In many ways, as a mother, I felt like I was the one who had just come into the world. My body was weak and fragile, as if just developing. My mind would be racing one moment, and numb the next. My emotions were so scattered that it often felt like I had no control over who I was anymore. As if I was existing outside of my body somehow. They don’t lie when they say that the baby is a part of the mother. I felt like an actual part of me had been ripped out of my body, and this unwarranted separation was making me anxious. Of course at that time, the mother in me was as quick in feeling helpless as she was to shun any signs of postpartum depression and fault them for ingratitude.
The weakness started to get to me. I would feel destructively angry at myself for feeling so much pain. I’d heard that breastfeeding was one of the most natural and beautiful miracles of the body. Yet, I would wince every time my baby boy latched on to me—and I hated myself for that. “He is your baby. He is healthy, loved, and safe. You are his mother,” the voice inside me would say. It turned from a calming voice to a nagging voice. Soon it seemed as though all my physical agony was my body yelling to itself, “Get a grip!”
It took exactly 29 days for me to feel my bones enough to start doing menial chores in the house. No sooner had the pain begun to subside, however, that I started to overestimate my capabilities. The month that I had spent in bed seemed like time wasted. I wanted to prove to myself, my baby, and my husband that I was ready to get back on my feet and be productive. But the prospect of waking up in the morning to work—along with feeding, changing, and putting my baby to sleep twice or thrice during the middle of the night—seemed to gnaw at me with vigorous force. I decided to wait until the baby was a little older.
So, I waited.
Three months passed. Six. Ten. I watched my son grow, and I knew he was old enough for daycare. But I kept telling myself that he needed more time. I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that he was ready. I still wasn’t. That is when the feminist in me felt a real blow.
I always used to be so sure of the fact that I would never let anybody tell me that I wasn’t a good mother for leaving my baby home and going to work. Yet, nobody was saying anything. I was judging myself for not only staying at home, but wanting to stay. Stay home and laze around on the couch with a good book, or in front of the TV during baby’s naptime, or when he’s busy with his toys. The more I wanted it, the more useless I felt. I felt like I was giving up and would eventually become a woman who would amount to nothing.
And then it hit me one Saturday morning as I watched my husband struggle with my son to keep him still in the bath tub, before exclaiming to me, “How do you do it!?” I am grateful to my husband for many reasons for what he said to me that day, as he desperately wrestled a chubby leg.
Firstly, I realized that while I wanted to believe I was a feminist, I had also gotten my mind stuck on how the “ideal woman” should be. I was too caught up in being supermom and had been mistaking supermom for superhuman.
Secondly, I had seen so many career women being questioned that I began to internally criticize stay-at-home moms. I deemed one of the strongest species of woemen not “feminist” enough, despite how much they were giving up to take care of not just their babies, but homes and husbands as well.
And lastly, what truly shook me was that it took a man to make me realize that as a mother, I was equipped with powers that were beyond him.
As women, we are constantly on the battlefield. There are many battles out there that have been won, and even more that still need to be conquered. What holds us back is battling against each other, and ultimately, ourselves. A wife, daughter, sister, and mother is always strong. Because she is a woman.
Author: Irina Qureshi
Image: courtesy of author
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina