It is hard to even begin thinking of how I would be able to put this year into words. But if I had to choose one word, just one word to describe, symbolize, and represent this past year, I’d say healing.
Carrying a baby for 9 months and eventually giving birth to him was the toughest thing that happened to me towards the end of 2017, but what came after it was much tougher. 2018 was about growing to actually become a mother, and oh what a bumpy ride it has been. I spent months without end processing and dissecting every single second of that fatal day, 12.9. I talked about it, i wrote about it, I cried about it, I yelled about it, I cursed my doctor for it, I cursed Egypt for it and ended up with a broken self and a lost passion for life. What was wrong? What went so wrong that day? Sometimes I didn’t know myself. But no, I wasn’t depressed. I was in some kind of shock for the first months of 2018. It took a harsh toll on how I felt about Yunus, and naturally my relationship with Ammar.
In February this year, I decided to go spend my holiday in Finland with my parents. I thought meeting up with all of them and getting together would piece me up somehow. I was desperate to find the glue that would make me feel whole again, make me feel like I was where I was supposed to be in life. I did spend some lovely days but what I was looking for was not there. The unity that I thought would be my glue was gone. I found myself in the middle of a fragmented family that was too busy trying to manage its self to notice my silent cries for help. Help. I don’t know what to do. I need an escape. During the last days of my stay I called Ammar every night crying my eyes out on how I wanted to come back. It’s not that I didn’t miss my family, but the situation was too demanding emotionally to someone in such an unstable state like me.
Back in Cairo, my desperate search for closure continued. I wanted to make a bold change in my life and in a matter of a day and night I decided to start wearing the face veil, niqab. Did I think it through? Did I know I wanted to do it? Was I ready to commit to such an elevated act of spirituality? I had no idea. Absolutely none. But I did it. So many people around me were elated, proud of me, supportive and much more. Okay, this feels good. Maybe this is the solution. That is what I thought. On most days I was even quite sure that I had done it for God, and on some, I started feeling shaky because the gnawing pain was still there, eating me up. I am somewhat disappointed with myself for being unable to continue. It truly is a powerful act of worship that I wish I can go back to someday.
Most days, I’d distract myself by going out, watching a movie, putting my all in studying, praying or any other activity. It worked partially. But just the mention of words like birth, delivery, hospital, nurse, contraction or God forbid, the name of my gynecologist, would be like a stab in my heart and I’d be spinning back right to the point of origin: gathering the shattered pieces of my sanity from the floor. Ammar would sit hours and hours after Yunus was in bed listening to my what had become mantras about that day: it was her fault, no it was mine, I felt so scared, why did she do it, I lost the most important moment in my life, I am a terrible mother. He’d try to talk me out of these thoughts, reason with me, and analyze it all. Sometimes it would work: I’d go to sleep without tears but the dreams came haunting me nevertheless. The images of happy birthing mothers hugging their babies right after birth being content of the decisions they had made for themselves with which I often tortured myself would pop in my head on random occasions and that would be it: my day was ruined.
By Ramadan (June) this year, we found ourselves completely consumed. Both of us had given up hope that we’d be able to get over all of this alone. However, I had no intention to do anything about it. Ammar disagreed. And one day I found myself sitting in a waiting room in Nasr City about to enter a psychologist’s office. The first thing she asked was what brought me there. I was completely honest: I was forced to and I didn’t want to be there. My problem was about a grave injustice that was done to me and it had nothing to do with mental health. Or that is what I thought at least.
Without going into details on the content of my several subsequent sessions, the psychologist helped me realize that my deep sense of pain and loss was not only caused by the birth. The birth was only a trigger and a symbol to an already accumulated pile of pressures to adjust and to manage life in a place opposite to the one I was born and raised in: adjustment disorder.
Wow, I have a disorder, was what I first thought. But it all made sense. How could I have imagined that I would easily manage the fully served plate in front of me and be fine? I had kept denying the fact that I missed home, my family and everything that was once familiar.
Dr. Nahla helped me rethink everything. I got an affirmation and a justification to the pain I felt, that it wasn’t just all in my head.
What if it happens again?
It won’t. Because now you know. Now you will make demands. Now you won’t be silent and accept other people’s decisions for you. Now you will fight and assert yourself. You will say “NO” and you will say it loud.
Armed with this belief, I felt somehow empowered again. The cliché of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” seemed to be true… Yes, you might be scarred for good, either emotionally or physically or both, but you’ll know better now. The same struggles will not knock you down. You will be able to make better decisions. Having fallen to the very pits of myself, I now knew what it was like there and hence, I knew myself better.
The end of 2018 seemed to take a better turn. Memories would sometimes come and flood my consciousness but they didn’t crush me anymore. Yes, they hurt, a lot, but I was finally able to pull my focus into something else.
We celebrated my sister-in-law’s wedding in October and school started again. Life goes on. Nothing stops for you, and that is not a bad thing. Birth and rebirth. The archetypes of life. You carry your bags of pain with you, but you can just drop some items from inside to make it easier to hold. I dropped self-blame and regret. And I embraced the fact that life in Egypt was and is not easy. Just admitting it to myself helped let out a whole lot of tension from inside.
Towards November and December, I finally felt that for the first time, in almost a year, I was able to enjoy the small things in life for real, authentically and without a shade covering them at all times.
Yunus would wake up, his hair a mess, walk to me, climb in my hold and start playing with my fingers and give me a warm smile. I would feel the happiest.
He’d draw in my books and throw his toys around, but I’d sit down with him in the mess and start building blocks.
My friends would tell me a joke. I would laugh till my eyes water.
We’d have a “girls’ night” with Alaa (my sister-in-law) and Ammar’s mom and giggle and laugh about anything and everything.
We’d sit late at night with our tea cups and watch a movie with Ammar. I’d want to be nowhere else.
2018 was a year of recovery, of healing and of growing.
If I was to ever meet the physician who delivered Yunus, I’d tell her:
I hate you, but thank you.
If it wasn’t for her, for how she saw me, as a weak, inexperienced child incapable of making decisions for herself, I wouldn’t have reached the point where I am now. And I like the new Halima better. She’s more confident, more loving, self-assertive and selfish enough to know what she wants in life.
I thank all those who stood by me during one of the most turbulent years in my life.
I thank my home front team, my husband Ammar, tant Lamya and ammo Yasser, Alaa, Mariam, tant Dalia, ammo Hassan, khalto Randa and tant Azza and Alaa without whom going to school, managing home and myself both emotionally and physically would have been impossible this year.
I thank my “school front” team, Sara, Yara, Hasnaa and Dalya for standing by me at school and helping me out in everything when I needed, and also when I didn’t.
I thank my Tuesday halaqa (gathering) girls who always boosted me up spiritually as well.
I thank my fellow mommy friends Sondos and Menna for the priceless tips and tricks on how to manage with Yunus.
I also thank my dear sisters, Asma and Fatima, who, although far away, kept cheering me on even if only via Skype and Whatsapp.
Here’s to what is to come. Goodbye 2018.
P.s I might claim that both of our smiles in that picture taken this week might be truly genuine and heartfelt for the first time in long time.