A letter to my daughter’s future self
My dearest, Zara:
Love is complex. Love is sincere. It is wholesome, pure, untainted. Love, in its truest form, comprises of an instant connection, that the other, receiving party also, reciprocates immediately. That is love. You will know it when you feel it. And, you will trust your instinct, and run wild with it.
I’ve felt it on a number of life-defining and life-altering occasions. Naturally, it began at the onset of my birth, into my childhood, when I first became conscious of what the word love even entailed, in lieu of my parents, and, my one and only sibling.
It was during the time when you were in my womb, and when your sex was revealed, I had, in fact, already decided, to call you, Zara. The aforementioned sibling who I speak of, your dear aunt, your Zewa Khawa, whose own name, Zehra, partly and aptly, inspired me to, in turn, assign a similar-sounding, pretty and regal name, to my own flesh and blood, my own silly little Zara.
The very sibling, who, coincidentally shares the same birthday, July 12th, as you — my most precious and favourite person to grace my existence in time thus far realized by me, and one, who will forever hold a special and esteemed place in my heart for the rest of time.
Experiencing love, the act of love, displaying love, have occurred throughout various junctures in my life. Love manifested itself most succinctly and strongly when I met a most handsomely bearded, intelligent, kind, patient, and, as I would also later find out, responsible human, who would show his love back, and choose to marry me, thus, further solidifying our love, and our loving and lovely bond. Obviously, the human I’m making reference to, is none other than, your own, very excellent, father.
It’s only expected he views our initial meeting through his own unique perspective, and naturally, ultimately, I cannot speak on his behalf. Though, what I can tell you, most honestly, is my specific stance, that directly pertains to me, my feelings, and experiences. In the moment when I met your father, our brains cumulatively realized life-altering deductions — in what, at the time, at least, seemed like were decisions realized in mere split-seconds — that we loved each other.
We knew instantly, without too many utterances or pleasantries, as we felt an unspoken bond, experienced through intangible and inexplicable ways, in moments that dripped, most thoroughly, with heightened emotionality, impalpable sense of love, compassion, and passion. Now, that, my Zara, that was love.
The feeling would strike again, albeit with a different intensity. This time, it happened at your birth. The moment you showed your face to the various individuals present in the delivery room, you did what virtually every young babe does upon being born, you cried.
You showed emotion at that brand new stage, when your little almost-seven pound body emerged from inside of my own body, after carrying you in my womb for nine months. What you were not conscious of, although I know, one day you will be, is that your cries of fear and uncertainty, were quickly hushed away through soothing touch and tones, as lovingly, and tenderly displayed by your father, and also eventually me, your mother.
One day, in due time, you will realize the loving-hardship, yes, an oxymoronic term, that, I, your mother endured before, during, and after your birth. One day, indeed, you will see, being the intelligent little entity that you already are, that a psychiatric illness known as, bipolar disorder, overtook my life in virtually every form, and dictated my existence with a dominant ferociousness for years and years.
You were conceived after I concretely realized that life, in time and space present-at-hand, was finite. More specifically, that my parents’ time, during this current lifetime — your loving and caring grandparents, your beloved Baba, and Naani Ammi — was, in fact, quite visibly limited, as was readily displayed, through their own ill-health, and general aging that comes with the passage of time.
Also, upon further reflection, as I personally did not have the privilege of experiencing any grandparental love myself, as each grandparent had ceased living on this earth, even before my Ammi and Baba married one another, I realized that I did not want to deprive you of that same love that I, to this day, longingly yearn for. And, I was only too aware of the dilemmas of a woman’s body, the inevitable ticking time bomb, that is the biological reproductive clock.
So, upon careful consideration, involving, obviously your father, your dearest, daddy cutie, dozens of professional consultations with a wide variety of doctors, such as, obstetrician gynaecologists, psychiatrists, endocrinologists, general physicians, etc, it was rightly, but more importantly, lovingly decided that I would attempt getting pregnant.
The pregnancy wasn’t ideal, but most aren’t, as there is always some level of discomfort involved. All the mood swings, and weight changes, risks and complications considered, I was, at the end of it all, quite happy and satisfied at the outcome, ie., you.
Although my illness never fully stopped doggedly hounding me — an illness that was reminiscent of an unwelcome relation, who’d show up uninvited all the damned time, only to display, in its own dedicated persistent way, that it, in a warped and skewed way, somehow, dare I use the term, loved me.
This was an illness that would permanently control me, my reason, my rational faculties, and closely follow my shadow, until a slow turn of events transpired, dating back to late 2016, and into 2017. It was when, I, myself, felt a substantial improvement in my mental, as well as, physical health, as I was newly endowed with precisely excellent medication/doctors/therapy, all of which would change my mindset.
Thus, I began to feel a semblance of stability, and even at times, happiness — my former, cherished, and favourite haunt — that had since the diagnosis of my psychiatric disorder, had eluded me, proving time and time again its slippery and slithery core characteristic, making it difficult, sometimes impossible to capture.
Since happiness, and a sense of stability, had been so excessively elusive, that a new turn into experiencing snippets of contentment were gladly welcomed by me, and many around me, who had managed to stick around.
I know only too well, what people don’t realize, the cause and effects related to my personality; things like, anger, rashness, sadness, all have made it very difficult for people to be patient with me, love me, let alone, like me. And, I was aware about a point, that was iterated by former and current well-wishers alike, that I was my own worst enemy.
Alas, I would fight internal and external battles for years in my previous life, with an unmedicated, and badly-treated mind, that was without reason and control, but, it started gaining an independent self once again.
This was a pleasant change, when good times were able to pierce through the monster I only knew too well, a monster known as, darkness. And, a sense that was most certainly akin, physically, and also, mentally, to feelings — in all waking, sleeping, and dreaming hours — of being buried alive, or being forced to drown in an ocean of sadness, mixed with rage — a state, which was itself seconded by the very definition of what is, in fact, bipolar disorder.
The disorder and its various damaging symptoms would crystallize during, what were predominantly, bad times, as they would prevail for many consecutive days, and life became thoroughly difficult, as it became marked by moment-to-moment struggles, which I begrudgingly became accustomed to, and unfortunately, or, who knows, maybe even fortunately, had the displeasure of experiencing for roughly nine years.
I was, as a result, checked into a fine facility that dealt with women like me, who had decided to get pregnant, but faced potential dangerous physical and mental setbacks. My family doctor put me in touch with top notch experts, at an equally top notch hospital located in downtown, Toronto.
Of course, given my situation, I was deemed a high risk pregnancy, and thus, allotted infinitely more time, and resources, to ensure that I remained healthy and safe, and also, you, my unborn miss, would, remain healthy, safe, and risk-free.
I had weekly or biweekly checkups with doctors throughout the nine months, and also, subsequent postpartum period, which followed after your birth. It was most especially nerve-racking for me, your mother, that I perhaps irrationality subjected myself to guilt: that because of my illness, and subsequent consumption of harsh, potentially harmful drugs used to treat my disorder, you, my unborn child, would also have to undergo.
There was a point when I would go to an excellent children’s hospital for an ultrasound, where the most sophisticated, tech savvy machines, along with helpful and kind doctors, to my temporary delight at the time, conclusively informed me, that your heart was healthy and normal, despite the fact that I was taking harsh medications, that posed significant congenital heart defects for you.
I say ‘temporary delight,’ as it wasn’t after you were finally delivered by not one, but two, experienced doctors, both of whom, declared you a perfect little specimen, when, I, at long last, was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
However, that terrible onslaught of guilt didn’t completely leave me even at your birth. It was in my pregnancy, while developing a number of new physical illnesses, I would also, get to know, gestational diabetes. My weight, which had ballooned to its apex — a whopping two-hundred pounds, directly due to the side effects of my medications — you, my dearest child, were also subjected to the cruel slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that had, up until then, only been my reality to contend with.
You, a babe of few days, would suffer against a sea of troubles, my troubles — an inexplicable guilt, that was part and parcel of my illness, and also, closely intertwined with my newfound friend, a mother’s own guilt, which, by the way, I still grapple with to this day.
This guilt, and sadness, which perhaps no one fully understands, was further accentuated, by the fact, that ultimately, I couldn’t even breastfeed you. This was because, you had decided to pounce on us two or three weeks before your official due date.
This adversely affected my body’s ability to produce the right chemicals, that would help you get my milk. That, along with the fact — that although I tried, and trust me, I did try hard in my own capacity — that as I pumped regularly, and tried having you experiment at my breast, but alas, all strategies failed, as they required persistent patience, and continual pumping.
These characteristics, especially patience, had left me a long time ago. And then, I’d eventually give up, as I used to get more anxious, sad, and, angry at myself, and my situation. So, with my doctors’ consultations, I decided, that breastfeeding was just not in my cards. Also, let me mention, that although, whilst in my womb, you had already been exposed to bipolar drugs, they would also follow you, if I was successful at breastfeeding you.
But, on that momentous hot and humid day, on the twelfth of July, two-thousand-fourteen — a typical Toronto day, filled with the sweet summer air, and also, an oppressive heat, mixed with sweat, and car fumes — when you eventually graced us with your delicate-looking face and sweet little cries.
Your daddy held you first. Although, the nurses immediately wanted me to hold you, I decided to wait a few more moments until after I was helped with the afterbirth, and would properly welcome you in my tired, yet newly-rejuvenated arms.
When I held you close to chest, my heart to be specific, I, naturally felt a bond. And, in that moment, I was so overcome with an indescribable feeling of elation, pure joy, that I exclaimed, without forethought or hesitation, “I love her,” to your daddy, and also, to the kind and helpful nurse who guided me during the few hours of labour — that you luckily bestowed upon me, a necessary phase of the delivery process, that used to scare me and render me anxious.
Thankfully, you, even at that time, and have since, always somehow understood my emotions, of course, exemplified in your own ways, that I always appreciate. Nevertheless, the nurse, who helped usher your arrival, upon hearing my remark, cheekily commented, “well, you better” (love her).
Another point, which I should also mention, was when, post-birth, the nurse would come in to regularly prick your tiny feet with a special device meant for newborns. This was done to get blood from your veins, and then, that blood would be tested for high or low sugar levels.
I have not shared these feelings with anyone, up until right now. And, I’m sharing them through by constant best friend of decades past, through the art of writing. When the nurse would gently prick you, naturally, you’d cry out of excruciating pain. Pain, that I felt deeply, as I, too, would weep, but I had to be strong for you. And, somehow, as I suppose, because I am a mother, I still relate to that pain that was brought to you, courtesy of me, and my illness.
Things happen for a reason, as life, with a reasoned mind, is teaching me. Love grows, as I now know personally. And, it becomes abundant, better with age, just like fine wine. My love for you grows, too, blossoming into a gigantic balloon that will never pop, it can’t pop, because if it does, then our love runs the risk of never multiplying.
It’s the same type of love — that I introduced you to a long time ago, in your short existence — that is reminiscent of pretty flowers you eagerly like to hold and smell on our walks. Although, those flowers wilt and wither way, the fact remains that you stay untainted, and in turn, look forward to the next time when I hand you a flower, or, even when you yourself pluck one with your own cute little hands.
So, metaphorically, philosophically, symbolically that love between you and the flower, and the love between you and me, will not wilt and wither. Ever. And, this is the precise narrative I will tell you until you consciously, with choice, realize truth, and love, on your own terms, with my gentle guidance.
To end, I will remind you — in the words of your daddy’s favourite rapper, Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones, popularly known as, Nas — that when this narrative, these paragraphs, thoughts, and this line in particular, when ‘it was written,’ you, my precious miss, were adoringly adorning my face with stickers. My lovely little silly billi (cat in Urdu), Zara, I, from the bottom of my well-intentioned, though mostly misconstrued heart, have, do, and will always, adore you.
Your equally silly Ammi.