I’m visiting my family in the UK and was looking through some old photo albums stored in my bedroom. I came across a sepia toned photograph of my mum smiling as she happily held me – a three day old baby – in her arms.
I must have seen this picture a handful of times in the past but today was different. For the first time, I noticed how young she looks. And seeing the happiness in her face as she looked down at her baby – me – filled me with warmth. I carefully pulled back the plastic covering, peeled the photo off the sticky page and took it downstairs to the kitchen. Once there, I grinned, hugged my mum and showed her the picture. I’ve always known I was born on a Saturday morning by caesarean section but I got to hear a little more today as mum nestled into the nook of my arm and recalled her first birthing experience.
The drugs were so overpowering in those days that mum woke up the following morning. She felt her bump-less belly and began to cry. The last memory being on the operating table, She didn’t know what had happened to her baby. Looking around the ward from her bed didn’t help – all the other women had their babies either in their arms or in a cot next to their beds. My mum’s cot lay bare.
“I was new in the country. At this point, I didn’t know any English,” my mum recalled.
She continued to cry – unable to ask the nurses what happened. For six years, my mum had had to put up with hearing people’s jibes about her not being able to conceive. Perhaps their taunts of being barren were to be true after all?
The nurses tried to comfort her by rubbing her shoulders and saying things in a language she couldn’t decipher. Moments later, a cot was wheeled into the ward. My mum saw the soles of the baby’s feet and wondered if it could be hers. She stopped crying and held her breath as the cot approached. When it came close to her bed she knew it was her baby and despite feeling quite numb and in pain, she sat herself up in bed and wiped her tears away. The nurse gestured as if to ask if she wanted to hold the baby. My mum nodded eagerly and she was promptly united with her first born for the first time.
I loved hearing this story and realised that our parents (and any significant elders) are the key if we are to piece together our past and theirs. This is especially important because some of our elders come from a time and place where little or no photographic or written documents existed – experiences were shared and passed down through storytelling.
If our elders are alive and well, we must take full advantage. Ask them questions – the answers to which, only they will know. For when our elders pass away, they take the knowledge about our past and theirs with them.
© Rabia Bashir 14th November 2013 All Rights Reserved
Image: My Mother & Me © Rabia Bashir 2013