one from the heart
Writing this while sitting beside my baby boy’s crib and reflecting what new motherhood has taught me so far, is an extremely overwhelming feeling...
In November 2020, my heart made me follow my husband living in Sydney. One miscarriage and 2.5 years later, I am a new mom to my cutest little son who is now four months old.
As it is living in a completely different country, miles away from home and on the other side of the globe, was not enough of a change I was working on accepting. And then one fine day, I become a parent. Everything has immensely changed since then for us as a couple, and for me as an individual.
Many of you would be familiar with the term culture shock: the feeling of confusion, anxiety or uncertainty that occurs when one moves away from home. In my case, I was already in culture shock, but the ‘shock’ doubled when I became a mom. This shock also contains two realities of my life, which feel so unreal. It sometimes pulls me away from myself to an extent that my own being becomes unfamiliar to me.
For me, motherhood and finding myself in this role is surprising as well as shocking. Shocking because as a first-time mom, I realised every day other, there is some new information that must be dealt with and you find yourself to be in a headspace that is not ready to juggle with all this.
Taking back to cultural shock, it has four different stages. First is the honeymoon stage, where you feel all the love for your new home country. Then comes the stage of frustration; adjustment, when people finally start to feel settled, and lastly acceptance. New motherhood almost goes through the same curve. A mother always reminisces about the first few hours of meeting and bonding with her new born before experiencing those infamous ‘sleepless nights’, angst and in some cases postpartum depression (PPD).
In my case, I went to the next stages way too quickly. I still have PPD but thankfully, I haven’t experienced any sleepless nights yet. Nevertheless, I always feel tired and cranky. Meeting with other new moms must have helped but I don’t know any. In a desi society even if you find someone to connect with, they start playing the never-ending game of comparisons and that is a big turn off for me. Usually women try to rub their experiences in your face and expect you to accept them too. This common mentality among women irks me the most and often I think I am better off without someone to be with just for the sake of survival.
Motherhood is a lonely process… especially while living abroad with no one to help except your partner. We were lucky that before my delivery, the Government of NSW (New South Wales), Australia, announced extension in parental leaves from 2 weeks to 14 weeks. Although my husband was there for me throughout the process of delivery and for postnatal care as well, it still felt so lonely having no female support around. During those crazy first days and months after giving birth, a little help goes a long way. If you have a female support, you can at least have someone to cook, clean and do laundry for you. My husband was single-handedly doing all of this for me, however, he got exhausted at the end of the day - resulting in both of us having zero energy and patience to entertain our new born - real tough days I must say…
To keep things organised as first-time parents and to avoid any mess, I first got our meals sorted because I knew that no one is going to come and cook for us, and I won’t be able to do that either, after the baby comes. I batch cooked a few meals to last more than a month post-delivery. Although we didn’t set up a proper nursery, we did get some baby furniture and did all the shopping one month before my due date. As a new expat, I knew nothing about where to find clothes or other baby stuff from. Throughout my pregnancy and even after that, social media apps acted as my mommy and Instagram bloggers were my guide. I researched about everything - from nursery furniture to baby clothes, from finding the best baby wipes and feeding bottles to getting all other baby essentials. Thank God we are living in the age of social media that plays the role of a knight in shining armour.
I did some deep cleaning of the house as we knew we won’t be having enough time to do that too post-delivery. I organised all the rooms, kitchen and bathrooms, set up the baby’s room and prepared stuff for my postnatal care.
Having some help makes things way easier for a new mom, but usually in a desi society, people rather make it difficult for her. Women ignore the fact that how vulnerable a new mother is and how hurtful it can be for her. Older moms – who had once gone through the same phase – fail to be kind around a new mother. They don’t think once before giving their unsolicited advice. Then asking personal questions adds to her frustration. Questions such as; whether she is breastfeeding or not, is she getting enough milk supply or not, and the list goes on... They are also very quick to put blames on a new mum, and if she is going through PPD. Such attitudes and behaviours make things worse for her.
New motherhood not just changes a woman physically and mentally, but it also changes the dynamics of her relationship with others. As soon as she becomes a mother, people start seeing her only as a mother and not as an individual. She is expected to prioritise life around her family and household, excluding her own self.
Moreover, relationship with her partner also changes which takes a toll on her emotional wellbeing. It is true that amid raising children, men may often stop to be as close to their spouse as they used to be in the early years of marriage. Sometimes they start operating like roommates or business partners than husbands. Sometimes men start acting insensitive and don’t realise that the smallest of their actions can harm their wife’s mental health.
Often in a desi household, a new mum is left alone to strike a balance between parenting and marriage. Things would be easier if the husband also takes the responsibility of that. Casual date nights, watching movies and shows together, talking and sharing feelings would encourage a new mom to feel motivated, specially if she is going through PPD. If I was in Pakistan, things would have been different. But here, both the partners are responsible to maintain balance between parenting and their relationship while taking care of the other responsibilities.
As my baby grows, I am becoming more accustomed to the life I have chosen as an expat in Australia. There is no help, loneliness gets to you, and you feel lost most of the time, but there are days when I look at my son and feel fulfilled. I believe this is what keeps most of the expat moms going in their journey. I often think that motherhood and parenting would have been less challenging if people make things easy for a mother by showing support, love and respect. Rather than over romanticising motherhood, it’s time people start showing empathy to a new mom, only then we can hope for a society that is less toxic and more kind towards her.
Iqra Sarfaraz is a freelance journalist and writer, currently residing in Sydney, Australia. She can be reached at email@example.com, Instagram @cheekuinsydney