My bond with Srishti predates the womb. She had been a spectral presence in my life long before she was born – through all my years of waiting to be a mother. I’d always wanted a daughter and that’s how she came to me, in myriad visions: at nights, I would mostly imagine a baby, snuggling against me; but during the day, I would invariably see a small girl – playing, singing, swinging, reading… hovering just beyond the pale of touch.
When Srishti actually happened, it took me a while to believe it: that I was finally, incredibly, impossibly, a mother. But then it seemed a simple transition from the surreal to the real! Only, it was a different kind of reality – she had filled a whole in my heart and given me a joy I had never known before.
All my life, I’ve heard about the joys and challenges of motherhood, and seen women around me experiencing it. There’s nothing new about it, of course; and yet, like all mothers, I’ve learnt my own lessons. The very first was a pleasant surprize – the utter sensuousness of the experience! So much of a mother’s love in the first few years is tactile… I knew, but had not realized that before. Loving a baby is principally about loving the baby’s body, nourishing it, caring for it with cream and powder and soap, holding and hugging and comforting it at all times of the day and night, seeing it grow from horizontal to vertical! Caring for Srishti’s little brown body (not little any more), I rediscovered touch – and possessiveness – in a whole new way.
I’ve also learnt a new definition of love. I’d always thought that the love of a mother is a given: you loved the foetus growing inside you, or the baby you had adopted and accepted in your life, and that love permeated all the things you did as a mother. But I’ve now realized that love is not a pre-existent and endlessly renewable resource that you draw upon; rather, it is something that you CREATE every day. With all the things you do.
All the mundane jobs that make up a mother’s day – the nappies, the feeds, the frequent sleepless nights tending to infections and fevers, the nameless anxieties and fears that often accompany every significant point of your child’s growth curve, (which the world dismisses as “Oh, it happens” – true – but which doesn’t always help as it is so real and so new for you); and equally, all the fun things that you enjoy doing together… reading books, singing songs, walking/riding to school and back, going for holidays, celebrating festivals – all these actions are not the result of love, they are the reason for it. Love is not a passive emotion, but an active engagement.
In that active engagement, there are clear favourites. And it changes from time to time. At this point, the best part of my working day is coming home to her – her outstretched arms and happy feet running up to me, and with her warm cheeks pressed against my cold, saying: “Mamma, ik heb ye zo gemist” (Mamma, I’ve missed you so much); and her feet still hanging in the air, telling me in one breath all that she has done in school.
There’s another favourite, and this has been there for all the 4 years of Srishti’s life: to see her sleep! Nothing in the world gives me more peace than when I see Srishti sleep – all tucked up in bed, blinds drawn, her room quiet and still.
It’s a cocoon that she’ll eventually have to grow out of, I know, and face the world. As it is. It’s a frightfully unequal, unjust and violent world out there…. but there is beauty, kindness, love and friendship in it, too. I just hope that the precariousness of life, as it has now become globally, is balanced out, in her case, with all the good and positive things that life has to offer.
And I hope that her father and I can manage to be her friends, and be around for her for as long as she needs us; and that we remain the anchor in her life, and continue giving her a loving home that (when the time comes) she can leave without guilt, but also return to without hesitation. Whenever she wants. The place where she can always sleep well… all tucked up, blinds drawn, her room quiet and still.