Disclaimer: Everything you’re about to read in this post is based on our individual experiences and might not be the same for everyone. I just wanted to highlight things that many people don’t usually talk about, especially within the Somali community, and it might help someone to talk about it. So just be kinder to those who are going through pregnancy and postpartum.
For me, bringing a baby into this world felt like every part of me vanished overnight. Let’s call it an identity crisis. The Sawiya I used to know became a distant memory. I was now just… a mum focused on her baby around the clock, completely forgetting about myself. 8 months prior, I was responsible for me, myself & I, working as a freelancer after being made redundant. And suddenly, when the baby was out of her own womb lockdown, it felt as if my entire world stopped and for everyone else, it kept going.
The first two months were a miserable time. I stayed in bed and only got up when the baby woke up for a feeding. The newborn stage is basically a repetition of the same thing around the clock. Feeding every two hours, checking the nappy, changing clothes, and falling asleep again for two hours. Newborns don’t really entertain you, that’s for sure. It was that constant repetition that made me feel like a robot working in a contract I couldn’t get out of. It was that repetition that made me forget to feed myself, go outside for a walk, or even brush my hair.
So, to make my life as easy as possible, I stayed in bed with the curtains drawn and slept every time the baby slept. I had to make up for the sleepless nights. Everything the baby needed was in my reach, so why did I need to leave the room? All I wanted to do was sleep. I never really felt hungry and only ate something when my sister or mother brought up some food. After the most intense sleepless nights, when the baby cried for 6 hours straight, I’d wait for the first person to wake up in the morning, hand over the baby like I was clocking out of a shift, and then sleep for most of the day.
At the time, all I wanted to do was press the fast forward button and skip the newborn stage completely. I wanted to finally taste the normality of life and reach the day when I felt okay. And out of nowhere, that day finally came.
“I’m actually starting to feel a bond with the baby now,” I said, whilst I was out with my sister.
“Wow. 2 months later?” she responded.
“Yep. I’m finally feeling the love.”
It’s true. As expected, my mum and my sister were gushing over the baby while I was recovering at home. She was my mum’s first grandchild. The joy was unmatched. But even then, I’d sit there emotionless, waiting for an inkling of joy. Anytime the baby cried, I wouldn’t say a thing. I wouldn’t sing to her or talk to her. I would just rock her back and forth. My mother always told me to say something. Anything. To maybe try and sing to her and communicate. “What’s the point, it’s not like she’d understand me.” I’d say.
My family knew I wasn’t okay but they didn’t really know how to approach the situation. Instead, they just did things to make my life easier. They’d take turns to sleep in the same room as me to help with night feedings (I still woke up), they’d make me food and take the baby whenever I asked them to. My sister, bless her heart, would constantly check in on me and despite the usual response “yeah I’m fine”, she’d always stick around. My husband was also at my mum’s house every day, taking over the responsibility as I laid there on the bed like a zombie. Some days, I wouldn’t really say much to him.
“Let’s go out and take a walk. You need some fresh air,” he’d say daily.
I’d respond with: “Yeah maybe later.” And then go back to sleep. He knew damn well it would never happen.
Could it have been postpartum depression? For sure. All the symptoms were there. The resentment. The random crying and not knowing why. My irritable moods. Losing my appetite. Not bonding with the baby. Hating my post-baby body. Feeling like my life is over. It was all there. The “baby blues” should only last for a few days. But I couldn’t shake off the blues for 2 months. It’s only now, upon reflection, that I realised I came out of a very dark place and just… naturally adjusted. I love my daughter and our bond is now stronger than ever. I’m literally a superhero in her eyes and I see it when I’m feeding her and she’s gazing up at me. It’s the craziest feeling.
Over the last few months, I was chatting to Nasra who was kind enough to reach out and talk to me about the highs and lows of motherhood. We bonded over the struggles of this new life-changing chapter of our lives and I felt like I was able to really be open with her.
FYI – I had never met Nasra in person before. It was all on social media. So when I decided to write this post and feature someone, I thought of her right away. I reached out and asked if she wanted to meet up at a fancy dessert spot.
Meeting with Nasra
After spending almost 20 minutes deciding on what to pick from an array of delicious desserts, we spoke about life for 3 hours. I was surprised we didn’t get kicked out! We laughed. Cried. Ate loads. Nasra showed me the beautiful milestones of her baby girl Hana, who is now 1.5 years old. I was definitely learning from her, particularly about what to look out for in the next few months.
Nasra is a sole parent to her baby girl and now lives in London. She moved away to Birmingham about 2 years ago when she got married. After plenty of laughs and giggles, we finally started talking about the elephant in the room. The big scary elephant.
Nasra: “People who say you forget the pain… maybe you can forget some parts, but the trauma? You’ll never forget that. My postpartum depression lasted a really long time because of the lack of support, especially with my mother being far away and feeling like I didn’t have someone to fall back on. It just elongated the depression. And when I’m telling people straight up: “I’m depressed” and the response is: “Well, maybe if you prayed, you wouldn’t be depressed” Or the “maybe your Imaan (faith) is low”, you almost want to hit them over the head with something. People don’t realise how much they can contribute to how you’re feeling.
The breastfeeding too, that just adds another layer. It’s almost like, when you have one problem, you can deal with it. Let time fix it. But it’s one problem, then you feel guilty for having that one problem, then you feel guilty for struggling to breastfeed and then on top of that, people are telling you that you don’t have Imaan (faith), then on top of that you’re sleep-deprived, and then combine all of that with the physical pain of healing from the birth, EVERYTHING hurts, and because of that you feel like you’re not bonding with the baby… then you’re feeling guilty about that! What is left to give after all of that?”
Me: “Literally. You’re on 1% battery.“
Nasra: “Not even 1%. It’s 1% on battery saving mode. It’s mad. There’s just so many layers to it. You feel guilty for multiple things. So even if you get over half of your problems, the other half is still there. Mum guilt is mad real.”
Me: “When did you start to feel okay?”
Nasra: “So I suffered from really bad back pain for 8 months after I had Hana. So right before she turned 1, that’s when I felt PHYSICALLY okay. I started waking up with no pain. I had gained a lot of weight, felt swollen but I was still saying Alhamdulilah (All thanks to God) because I was no longer in pain. Mentally… when I started feeling okay was probably about 2/3 months ago.”
Me: “A few months ago?”
Nasra: “Yeah, when I got divorced. After I got through one hurdle, there was another one waiting for me. Once I got over the baby blues, postpartum, the pain and healing, and I’ve accepted the fact that my baby is bottle-fed, I felt like I can conquer the world since I raised her on my own. But now it’s been a year and a half and it’s like, “hold on, I’m still sleep-deprived.” That’s another hurdle. Then you have an unsupportive partner who has a ‘my way or the highway’ personality and acts like there should be no reason why food isn’t ready by the time he comes home. And if I explained the kind of hard day I’ve been having with Hana, he says I use it as an excuse.”
Me: “Ummm, you are looking after a whole baby!”
Nasra: “And it’s not just looking after the baby aswell. At the same time, you’ve gotta eat so you’re cooking. You have to do laundry because you’re going to run out of baby clothes…
Me: “Baby spitting up all the time, init.”
Nasra: “Bare laundry. You also have to look after yourself – shower, brush your teeth etc on top of the number of things you need to get done. That’s not the same as just going to work. You’ve spent 12 hours at work. And I still think I did a lot more than that. A million percent. So, I’m sorry you didn’t have a baby screaming at you all day, you haven’t been shat on, vomited on…”
Me: “I hear that. People just don’t understand how exhausting it is being on demand all day. Like for me, I’d be home with my baby all day and as soon as my husband comes home, I’m clocking out.“
Nasra: “Like… BYE. When I first had my daughter, my cousin came over to stay with me. She would do the day shift and I’d do the night shift. So I was feeding her all night, and then 7 am she’d wake up and take the baby. I’d hand her over and dip. I didn’t look back. I’d sleep from 7 am till 2 pm. Then I’d have a shower, brush my teeth, eat some snacks and take a nap. By 6 pm, my cousin hands me back the baby and then she goes off and rests. For two weeks straight, that was my life. And that is something I would eternally be grateful for. Those 2 weeks. It was right at the beginning and my mum was working [in London] so it was just me and her tag-teaming this baby. That’s something I should’ve been doing with her dad. But her dad never did that with me. So I went through the 3 month hurdle on my own, the 6 month hurdle, then the 1 year hurdle… like when is it going to happen? So you get over things and more things pop up. Then you realise – you’re not really mentally there.
I actually had counselling. I reached a point where I was … overwhelmed. And do you know what the maddest thing was? In 2 years, we moved house 4 times. Including spending 6 months in a hostel with the baby. When I was speaking to my counsellor and broke down, he literally said to me: “What you’ve been through in the last two years… is the kind of challenge people go through in the time span of 15 years. People usually move house 3 or 4 times in that time.” He told me that it was a lot to deal with in such a short time, aside from the controlling behaviours, financial abuse and emotional abuse that I was going through on top of that. I swear I had 4 or 5 counselling sessions just to feel normal.”
I was genuinely so proud of Nasra for taking that step to seek help. I knew I couldn’t do that when life was just getting too overwhelming. But the fact that she did most of it alone, really spoke volumes and showed how strong she really is. I had family around me and still fell apart.
Me: “I couldn’t talk to anyone for a while. The most I could do was talk to my sister. I told her everything I was going through, without mentioning the word “depression”. I was scared to say it. I just felt angry all the time, kept snapping at my family members…”
Nasra: “Mum rage.“
Me: “I couldn’t look at my mum in the eyes and tell her, you know. I didn’t want to worry her.”
Nasra: “I didn’t tell my mum until I was about to get divorced. That’s when I looked at her and said: I think I’m really depressed. Even my mum could see it. She raised me. My mum knows my personality type. She knows I’m extroverted AF and can talk to anyone. I used to get on the train and have a full-blown conversation with the person sat next to me. She knows I’m not afraid to interact with strangers. But over the last two years, she saw me go into a shell. I was under a layer, like an onion, then another layer and another layer. To the point where I was so withdrawn. I would try to keep up appearances when she’d come and visit. But deep down, I just wanted to cry and curl up into a ball. It’s really sad wallahi.
But I realised what the cancer was and I cut that cancer out. All the bad feelings of doing this alone and all the anxieties are over. It’s all manageable. Now it’s like, what are the options? How can I fix this? Before, I was in a marriage where not only did I feel like I wasn’t supported… I also felt trapped. Like you want me to suffer. You enjoyed looking at me with bags under my eyes, not showering for three days, barely even brushing my teeth, hair looking a mess and it’s like you were getting a kick out of it. And that’s when I realised, I can’t come and kill myself. I have to get the hell out.”
But you know what, even after everything I went through, she (Hana) is more than I could ever wish for. And she is worth every single tear that I shed. Every single one.
Me: “Do you see how beautiful and pure a mother’s love is?“
Nasra: “Look at me…” I could see her eyes filling up with tears at this point.
Me: “You’re about to get me emotional aswell!“
Nasra: “That’s a mother’s naxariis (mercy) right there.“
Me: “This is why heaven lies under the feet of our mothers.”
Me: What advice would you give to first-time mums?
“You can’t ever be prepared.“
Maybe you were financially ready but just know what you’re getting into and make sure it’s exactly what you want. I think we tend to romanticise having babies. People are always like “I have baby fever”, “That baby is so cute, I want one” like one accessory. But they don’t really understand the amount of energy and work it takes.
“Stay with family and get as much support as you can.”
Stay with family and accept help. Your marriage can wait. Your healing is important.
“If someone offers to look after your baby, actually GO TO SLEEP.”
Your baby will be fine. Go to sleep and utilise that time you have, even though it’s really hard. Here’s a tip! Get a t-shirt that you’ve worn that has your scent on it and place it next to the baby. They will smell you and think you’re around. It calms them.
“Research. Research. Research.”
Start looking out for milestones. Potty train at the right time, some schools can even see that as neglect if it’s not done properly. Let your child eat on their own when they can, even if they make a huge mess. One day they won’t make a mess anymore once they get their hand-eye coordination right and it’s like “Woah!”
“Speak to your child. Narrate everything even if they don’t understand.”
Goo goo gaa gaa is cute for a while. What language do you want the baby to learn? Speaking to them helps develop their brains and they’ll start to pick up on certain words as they grow up: “Food” “Outside” “Sleep”. It will make life easier for both of you long term. Nasra started teaching her daughter sign language which has helped them communicate easily! Be creative with your child because the goo goo gaa gaa won’t get you very far.
“Stick to a routine.”
You’ve got to be patient because they’ll hate it at first, but they will eventually get used to it. Setting boundaries are so important because it’s what they need. Kids naturally get used to what, when and how their mother does things for them since it’s who their spend most of their time with. So when people take care of your child and you give them an instructions manual, anyone who sees that as being a “fussy parent” or a “control freak” is weird and unreasonable. You know your child literally better than everyone so if you don’t tell people what works for your child and what doesn’t work… who will? If people want a smooth babysitting process, then they had better get to learning and remembering.
“Kids will do annoying things, but they’re just exploring.”
This point that Nasra mentioned really made me think deeply. Yes, kids can get annoying and we’ve all had to deal with toddlers and younger cousins/siblings sticking their fingers in sockets, opening up lotion bottles and spreading it everywhere… etc etc. It’s frustrating, for us. But you have to ask yourself… what do you expect from a 1 year old? A 2 year old? They don’t know that what they’re doing is bad or naughty, they’re just exploring.
And a last bit of wisdom from me: I promise you, it will get better. I can’t stress this enough. It’s hard at first but you’ll find yourself just doing it every single day. And you will be the best mother for your baby.
If you’ve managed to read this far, thank you.
Thank you to Nasra for taking time out of her day to unwind with me. The desserts hit differently.
Thank you to every single person who sent me kind messages and prayers when I had the baby.
All my fellow mothers on Instagram that I’ve spoken to over the last few months, I appreciate every single one of you too.