Text: Reem El Sherif
Photos: Anouk G Photos
Warning: misscariage trigger
I always knew I wanted to be a mother
I am the eldest of 5 children and I like to think I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but I believe it only became real when I was 15 years old, and my mom gave birth to my 2 twin sisters. I loved my 2 other siblings, but it wasn’t until the twins that I recognised my maternal instincts. I love those 2 girls as much as I would ever love my own children, to this day, they are beautiful 19-year-old university students, but I still see them as 2 little babies.
I knew he would be a great father
However, I didn’t meet my husband Ahmed until I turned 30, and never had a serious relationship before him where I could imagine starting a family. Ironically, when we first met, Ahmed did not want kids, he believed “the world was too horrible a place to bring children to suffer in”. We had many conversations before marriage until finally he agreed that “maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea”. I didn’t take him seriously, I saw what he was like with his own siblings and mine, and especially his baby niece, and I knew he would be a great father.
Life was wonderful....until
When we got married in 2017, we were definitely not ready to start a family right away: I was working part-time, and Ahmed was just leaving his PhD and looking for a job in the pharmaceutical industry. We lived in a tiny apartment in Cotes-des-Neiges and decided to wait until things were more settled for us, until we were ready. In early 2018, Ahmed got his first job and we started trying.
«In a very beautiful twist of fate, we found out I was pregnant around the same time Ahmed got an even better job offer and I received a PhD award.»
Ahmed went to Egypt for 2 weeks to see his mother before starting his new job and I started looking for a new bigger apartment for us to move into. Life was wonderful.
I cried for a week
Unfortunately, it seems we just weren’t ready. I started bleeding and getting very heavy cramps on May 8th, 2018 and went to the ER alone. After lots of waiting and answering questions and getting ultrasounds, they confirmed what I felt in my heart: my 10-week-old pregnancy had actually stopped at 8 weeks. I took some pills home and helped my body finish its job. I cried for a week and mourned the baby I had already loved with all my heart. But I was determined to try again.
I tried to be good
We were blessed with another positive pregnancy test the following September. This time I tried to be good: I rested, took all the vitamins and supplements, I prayed very hard and didn’t tell anyone. I worked hard to complete my PhD comprehensive exam that October so I could take a relaxed maternity leave with no worries. It all seemed to be Ok, until we went for the 10-week ultrasound. Once again: no heartbeat, the fetus looks smaller than it should, let’s do another ultrasound, I am so sorry ma’am, the pregnancy is not viable.
«This time there were no tears, I just called the abortion clinic for an appointment, Ahmed came with me and we only cried later when I went home, and we saw the positive pregnancy test I had framed. »
No-one knew I was dying on the inside
I remember only the excitement, the baby movements, the joy
Long story short, in February 2019 I found out I was pregnant again and this time, my family doctor prescribed progesterone suppositories. I don’t know how or why, but finally, for the first time...
The rest of the pregnancy went by in a blur, I don’t remember the nausea, backache, or headaches, only the excitement, the baby movements, the joy. My water broke 3 weeks early and I delivered Hassan 24 hours later, with no epidural because the needle was not properly inserted.
«They put him on my chest, and I cried, I cried for the 2 babies I had lost, for all the weeks of worry and fear, for all my friends who were dying for this moment and didn’t have it yet, for everything.»
I had been preparing for this time of my life for so long that it all feels very natural
«I did not experience any baby blues or long for my life before motherhood. Even in the longest nights when he wasn’t sleeping and breastfeeding every 2 hours, I was Ok».
I took him everywhere with me, to see friends, for walks in the park or mall, even on a trip to Boston with my sisters when he was less than 3 months old. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I started to suffer being alone away from family and friends, no going out with the baby, no social activities together, no travelling. We got to know each other really well, me and Ahmed and Hassan, and bonded during those first months of the pandemic, and when everything opened up again in the summer, we really appreciated these new freedoms.
Who are you as a mom, as a parent?
A lot of his clothes and toys were hand me downs from friends, including his crib and stroller. For the first 6 months of his life we co-slept because it was easier to breast-feed him that way. His crib is STILL in our room at 18 months because I don't see why he should be away from me. I haven't been able to wean him yet although I probably should since we want to have another baby soon. Our evenings after daycare mostly consist of us eating supper from the same bowl and playing on the floor with his toys.
Do you feel confident, comfortable in your role as a parent?
What do you need most as a parent?
Social support. I am lucky that I have several mom friends who I talk to frequently on Whatsapp but I wish this pandemic would end so I can finally see them and share these motherhood moments with them. My husband works evenings so Hassan and I are almost always alone together, especially in the winter when there weren't many outdoor options for us to see other people.
What are the biggest challenges of your parenthood?
«The constant guilt whenever anything goes wrong or you lose your patience with your kid.»
«Finally, I worry about striking the right balance between raising my son Canadian and Quebecois, but also proud of his Egyptian and Muslim roots and heritage. I worry about the discrimination he might face in the future.»
What are your strengths as a parent?
I am not very strict or uptight, I do my best and I pray that everything works out. This allows me to enjoy my time with Hassan more since I don't spend too much time on other things. For example, I bought the baby breeza to make homemade pureed foods for Hassan, I used it for a week, then just started buying the ready-made pouches and started baby led weaning because it was easier and less frustrating. Same with sleep-training, he wanted to co-sleep until at around 6 months when I put him in his crib and he just slept there by himself. I felt trying earlier whould have been painful for both of us.
Final thoughts and send off
«I love him so much that I am willing to go through all the heartbreak I went through before him again to bring another baby into the world.»
We are trying again to have another baby. I don’t know if it will work out right away and I can’t imagine loving anyone like I love Hassan, but I am willing to find out.
If there was only one thing you could share with other parents, what would that be?
I think the biggest challenge with parenting I have had so far is how alone I feel sometimes. This was especially highlighted during the pandemic when we couldn't see our family and friends, and I couldn't join any of the mother-baby classes that I always planned to.
«That's why the most important advice I give to any new mothers is to make sure you have an entourage: people you can turn to whenever you need support.»
Toutes les familles sont célébrées, oui, même vous.
Peu importe votre réalité, la composition de votre famille, tout élément physique et d'appartenance, votre parcours ou votre vécu de la parentalité, vous êtes les bienvenus.
©Anouk G Photos - Photographe documentaire à Montréal - 2021
Mes services sont offerts à Montréal dans un rayon de 15 km du centre-ville (parce que la plupart du temps je suis en vélo); contactez-moi pour les détails en dehors de ce périmètre.
All famillies are celebrated, even yours.
No matter your reality, the composition of your family, any physical element and any community you associate with, your background or your experience of parenthood, you are welcome.
©Anouk G Photos - Montreal Documentary Family Photographer - 2021
My services are offered in Montreal, within a 15 km radius from downtown (cause I am mostly on my bick); please contact me for details if you are outside of that perimeter.