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Listening to Muniba Mazari speak is like being lifted up into the air and held aloft in hope. How amazingly articulate she is for all her grief and struggle, how extraordinary her vision and courage for all she had to face. Hearing her say the line, “And I would overcome my fears, one by one,” made me wonder if I had even begun scratching the surface of overcoming my fears. Do we even know what our fears are? Can we articulate them in the way that she has? And more importantly, do we know the steps we need to take to face them? She did, over and over, with more clarity and courage than some of us could experience in a lifetime. She’s done it with her life ahead of her.
“Because it’s just you at home.”
“You only have to worry about yourself.”
“Life is so much simpler because you’re on your own.”
“You don’t have to consider meals, other events, uniforms, and everything else.”
And my heart overflows to brimming. Yes, you’re right. On paper, in theory. But hear me PLEASE.
When I see you work as a mother, the extraordinary lengths you will go to for you children, my heart overflows with respect and admiration, did you know that? Did you know that I completely admire what you do, respect your tenacity, celebrate your love, and lift you up in your tiredness? That I thank you for your work because, bloody hell, you came in and gave when you had nothing to give. I see it. I see it with my whole heart, not just my eyes, and I think it extraordinary. I think that what you do is exceptional.
So hear me please when I say that your words cut me right to the core. There’s every world of assumption in your words. That I live a carefree existence. That I don’t have a single ounce of understanding about what you go through. That I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be in the mothering role. That I only have to worry about myself. That my worries are of lesser value than you. That I have no other considerations. That I have, in essence, less of a life, and far less value than you.
Forgive me if I am stuffing words into your mouth. But that tiny little throw away sentence HURTS.
So DAMN much.
And do you know why it hurts so DAMN much?
Because I CELEBRATE YOU. When you come in exhausted, I ask you how your children are. I ask about how they are doing at school, and hi-five them as they are going past. Not for show, not to pass time…but because I LOVE CHILDREN. I have no biological children of my own. But I love children, I love young people, and I think they are such extraordinary beings, full of hope and potential. I celebrate what you do. I see the extraordinary in what you do. I think how you somehow stretch your time goes beyond understanding. I thank you for your work.
And the real truth? If I could have been married and a mother at age 21, I would have chosen it with all my heart. But life didn’t give me that blue print. My blue print, let me say, goes off the charts of what normal could be. I am making waves even when I don’t want to. But I am living a good life, a life of joy, authenticity, and service. I am living a life of agency and industry, compassion and love.
So don’t you FUCKING DARE reduce me to a stat.
Hear your words, hear their resonance, and PLEASE. Take care what comes out of your mouth, and into my space + heart, because if you are not careful, I will not be ready to receive or celebrate you.
There is a grief that is like no other, the grief of childlessness.
Of wanting to be a mother, but not yet having the time or space, the gift, nor blessing…call it what you want, there are not enough words of the right colour + weight to describe this.
But what makes this grief ripple outward, far beyond me, is all the other griefs that come from this epicentre, this core.
The grief of not being able to make my parents grandparents.
I had the capacity, once, two Chinese New Years ago, to tell them that I wanted them to meet their grandchildren from me more than I wanted to meet my own children. It not only breaks my heart, but it breaks me, to imagine the complete love they would give to my children, and the joy they would experience.
I have not yet had the courage to say it again, except to myself, because I cannot form the words and speak them again without doubling over. That I could want them to be grandparents more than I want to be a mother tells of the magnitude of this grief, because my longing to be a mother is deep and immeasurable.
The grief of not being able to turn to my friends who are parents and share that bond. And yes, they turn to me, and I turn to them, and some are exceptional enough to see me for the childless mother that I am in nature. But do not for a minute tell me it’s the same.
Unspoken brokenness. That bond is but a dotted line.
The grief of having to live my life, day by day, finding every ounce of courage sometimes to just get through the very minute I am standing in because something has caught me unawares. And I am a beautiful, courageous young woman, lit up from within. I know this to be true. I love life with a joy and fierceness that even I cannot explain, I am completely in life. But, there will always be times, when, because I am living life with my whole heart, open arms, heart alight, something will undo me. Unravel me. And the fact that I am not a mother is tattooed again, raw and red, onto my open, vulnerable heart, my aching self.
The grief of my joy of living and life being misinterpreted, though lack of understanding, through pity or pain. That others around me do not see the courage, minute by minute, of how I choose to live my life, that I call myself to stand in my truth every single day. With compassion and joy, with courage and strength, with tenderness and not an ounce of scarcity or sacrifice. That costs me more than I can explain, but it is the only way.
The grief of pity and judgement. In my own self, I may stand, tenderly and authentically. I can find my equilibrium and self because I am fierce, and free, and beautiful. I love life too much to live any other way. But all those careless words, those stupid encourgements, those throw-away comments about being too good, too picky, or, the most heart-breaking, such a career woman, or how good a mother I’d be…you don’t know how much they hurt, and how long they take to recover from. The sting is there for months, that one careless word, that one comment. And then there is my own grief to carry, without the assault of careless comments. That grief is enough.
The grief of wanting to connect. And others with children being too tired to cross the boundary, or I am too tired to cross the boundary, because I am different, but I am not.
The 4:30am grief that rips my heart and drenches my pillow in tears, unannounced, before I am even awake and understand what is happening. What is this unrelenting, bodily ache that clutches me and takes every ounce of my courage to pull myself through? Every conversation with myself, that I am enough, that I am loved, that I have the courage to love in my life, to stand in this place without hiding, without fighting, without poisoning the world around me, without apology…just telling my story, with all its grief and sadness, and living completely…there are days I am buoyant from life and I know all the different colours of joy. But this roller-coaster ride is as regular as it is as painful, every single time. And every single time, I find my pathway back to myself.
Know this of me, please.
Hear me, that I love my life so much that I intend to live every minute in colour and joy.
But know this grief of me, simple, accurately, completely.
Know my strength.
Know my tenderness and courage.
Know what I do that I may be at peace when I talk about your families and children.
That my not being a mother is not the choice I want, but my life is absolutely the choice I want, and that I will do everything I can to live a good one.
That I am more than myself, and more than enough, and I need to be seen, valued, and heard.
That I am truly beautiful.
That you have the courage to meet me in the middle.
Hear me please.
Raw and unedited, here are my words, as they arrived.
Dear Friend + Mother-By-Birth,
When we get in touch, we are taking a leap of faith. It seems that society says that the cost is greater for you, in energy and time, and by default, you are more because you are…a parent and mother. Yes, the cost IS great for you, but it costs us, the women who would love to have children, but have not yet had the chance, the fate, or the means through circumstance or design…the cost is great for us too. And how did it happen that I, of full grace and value, somehow find myself a little less through no fault of my own, with a full heart, and living life with complete grace + integrity, joy and authenticity?
Please do not think that we flit around carefree, that we are simply free agents. We have lives to which we contribute. We care for the world around us; we care for the people around us, the mothers, the fathers, the children. We love the children around us, even though we do not have our own. We ache all over, and still we are brave + courageous in sharing our love. When we pick up the phone to make a catch-up date, we are taking a leap of faith that you’ll understand that we are loving you unconditionally, that we might be on the edge + exquisitely vulnerable ourselves, that we very sight of those beautiful children makes us ache all over and overflow with love simultaneously.
Has it occurred to you that when we pick up the phone to get in touch, that we have factored in the tolerance of unconditional love that covers sick + tired children, a messy home, your split attention, and our own tenderness? Everyday living and expressions make our hearts flip; everyday interaction undo us. But we are courageous, because we ask ourselves to be. We are here to see YOU, to love YOU, to talk to YOU, whatever condition you are in.
And do you know the cross of grief we bear? Namely, the badge we wear, bequeathed to us from society, expectation, and in many cases, culture, that says we are somehow LESS than you because we are not mothers? I ask, with completely open heart, and a pure joy of living life…how is it even possible that I am living an extraordinary life, and I am not anywhere near 100%? A number is nothing; I know my own worth. But there are days where I want to yell across every rooftop that society see me for all that I am; really see me. The way that I see and know myself.
When we call, we are asking ourselves Herculean courage sometimes. We are asking a tolerance and love which does not grow out of love for our own children, but an even more courageous love, borne out of wanting to connect. When we call, we are going far beyond the connection of motherhood, but we are asking you to remember and tap into the connection of love. When we call, we are taking a chance on you, in the hope that you understand our love, our thoughts, our struggle, and our joy for you. We want you to understand that there is pain when you talk to other Mums about your children’s health worries, or growth progress over the tops of our heads like we wouldn’t have the capacity to understand.
Well, here’s my question: if I never become a mother, does that mean I never have the capacity to understand? I might never be mother. But am a mother every single day; not to children + young people borne from me, but so many I love dearly + with all of my heart. So how do you define “mother”? One who has borne a child, or one who has not, who loves like one? It MUST be both, or is that too much for society + culture to get their heads around? It must be possible, it’s not too much for me, but it swallows my heart whole.
Let us love you. Love us back. When we call, we are being courageous and generous too. We are asking you to share with us your beautiful world of children and love, without judgment. If you dare to do this for us, we will dare to love you as well. But we cannot do this if you do not meet us in the middle, and take a leap of faith too. And that leap of faith is this; that we are capable of loving you as Mums, from a Mum’s point of view, even though we have not borne our own children. There is no world where love does not cross boundaries; you just need to courage to see it, too.
So please, don’t stand at the barrier, mute and afraid, hiding, thinking it cannot be traversed, and that I, on the other side, do not have the capacity to understand you. That’s just a perceived barrier, and that thinking is what cements barriers that absolutely need to be broken by tolerance and love.
Break that mindset now, for our sake, and I will do everything I can to meet you in the middle, despite my fears, despite my grief, despite it all.
Because of love.