My baby boy is now fourteen months. He is no longer a helpless, fragile bundle of limbs, but an eager explorer of the world around him. I remember the early days of his life and I marvel at how far we have come. The nights he wouldn’t sleep, the mornings when I felt like death, the throbbing, painful wound across my hips, and the agonizing struggle to get him to nurse, have all been replaced by peaceful nights, hugs and kisses, laughter and learning.
The journey as we got to know each other has not always been easy, there have been stumbles and false starts, the path littered with tears and heavy sighs, but we’ve made it. We have passed the colic pains, the crying fits and ear infections, and I am relishing his budding independence, his sense of wonder and his delighted reactions to every new discovery. There have been many highs full of joy, and some deep, distressing lows. The happy moments have filled my heart and given me a taste of what it means to love someone instinctively, before you even know them. The lows I could do without, but they too have taught me something, I have learned that they will pass, that a cool head will get things done, and that tantrums and crying fits don’t last forever. I have learned too, that sometimes I need help, and that knowing when to walk away and regroup is better than letting anger have its way.
Breastfeeding proved a most difficult, unexpected challenge. I considered myself a bit of an old hand to whom the act of feeding her child came naturally, and my first baby nursed well from the very first day, but none of that mattered with my new son. I decided to give birth in Pakistan instead of making the journey back to the United States, for logistical and financial reasons, and unfortunately birthing facilities here are not built with breastfeeding in mind, even the good, modern hospital where I delivered had a single recovery ward where patients are kept for 24 hours after surgery. My baby was not allowed in the ward due to the risk of infection, and by the time I was moved to my room, my son had taken a dozen or so bottles of formula in his first day of life. We suffered from nipple confusion because he learned to suckle with a silicon nipple, and he didn’t seem to like my breast at all. He was hungry all the time, and whenever I gave in and fed him formula, his obvious relief added to my guilt and anguish.
Sheer determination and my husband’s encouragement made me persevere, but I felt frustrated and useless, and many times I almost gave up. It was much easier to put the struggle on hold, just this once I would say to myself, and make up a bottle, but in spite of that I kept trying every day, hoping to give my baby a chance to learn to latch on properly, all the while pumping to maintain my milk supply and supplementing his feed with formula. I weaned him off the bottle when he was three months old, and now my boy nurses like a champ, the little bear!
My son is that rare thing in our family, a let-me-try-it, I-like-it, give-me-more kind of eater, who rejects baby cereal in favor of olives and tomatoes, bell peppers, chicken and lentil soup. He is easy to please, with a calm, gentle temperament, a healthy curiosity and a streak of wily determination that should serve him well in the years to come.
His wiry little legs carry him as fast as he will go, his face bunched in concentration, his hand pointing towards his goal, a look of expectation and a little bit of mischief shining in his eyes. He loves to be outside, sometimes he comes and grabs my finger, says something to me in his tongue-twisting speech and heads towards the door. Birds and lizards are his friends, he shrieks excitedly when they sit for a minute on the fence, and he hums a tuneless little song as he toddles around our tiny patch of grass.
Maybe the years that have passed since my daughter’s birth, and all the changes that have ensued since then, have made me see things more clearly, have enabled me to handle the unending responsibilities and constant exertions better, but mothering my boy feels much easier. I am more secure in myself as a mother, I trust my judgement more and I’m enjoying the little things in life with more enthusiasm. When my daughter was born five years ago, my life was very different. My husband and I worked constantly, and there was no barrier separating our work from our personal life, the stress and pressure seeping into everything we did, including parenting. Looking back on that time I feel robbed of the serenity that I needed to bond with my daughter as I should have. Living in Pakistan has its drawbacks, to be sure, but being here means that I can stay home and dedicate myself to raising my children without jeopardizing our financial stability, and for that I am grateful.
I am there to witness every milestone, to soothe away the tears and listen to every story. Sometimes I lie down on the bed with my little son, his eyes looking straight into mine, his legs curled against me, and I smile. I smile because I am happy, my heart is open and love feels natural, uncomplicated and free. I am keeping this special time in my heart, treasuring the hugs, the shaky steps and funny faces. I want to keep them safe in my memory forever, the looks and sounds and words etched in my mind so I never lose them, not even when I’m old and dried, and many years have passed.
This has been a magical time, full of fun and tenderness, despite the hard work. My son has been a beautiful, lovable piece of heaven, a soft, roly-poly morsel to hug and kiss, a cooing, smiley face that has kindled my affections with every curl of his lips and every twinkle of his eye. Yet the best part of all is that I know that there is more to come. I am eager to meet the little boy he will become, I am ready and full of hope for the future.