“[My mother] had handed down respect for the possibilities—and the will to grasp them.” – Alice Walker
Today has been a strange day. It feels like one of those lifetimes where heaviness burdens you everywhere you go and shrouds everything you do. I still haven’t arrived at a satisfactory narrative for this recurrent feeling, but I’ve been acquainted with it more than a few times. Today also happens to be the eve of my mother’s 50th birthday. By the time you read this, she’ll be 50. And I can’t help but be led – perhaps by the Universe – to believe that the heaviness I feel has something to do with this milestone.
Mama Sundus shared the first six months of her life with her twin brother, Ja’far. In 1966, my grandmother went into labour three months early. Ja’far arrived first, healthy and alive. Ten minutes later, my mother came. When she was delivered, the nurse could not find her pulse. As far as the nurses were concerned, she was stillborn. They wrapped her tiny skeleton in cotton and she was thrown in a bin. The end. That should’ve been the conclusion of her brief six-month life. Had the story stopped here, I would not be here and neither would these words.
It goes without saying that chapter two transpired. The doctor who was assigned to my grandmother, (ironically) a British woman working in Baghdad, entered the delivery room and asked about the newborns. The nurse informed her that the boy survived and the girl did not. She then asked where the girl was, and was told that she had been thrown in the bin. In a flurry of angry disbelief, the doctor went to the bin and collected my mother in her ball of fluff. She inserted a tube into her mouth, and held her by her minuscule leg, suspending her premature body upside down in mid-air. The doctor tapped her gently on her back, and my grandmother heard a nanoscopic sneeze. And thus, my mother was officially alive. Resurrected even. It still blows my mind how a different set of circumstances would’ve committed Sundus to a grave. Had she been delivered in another hospital, and assigned to another doctor, she wouldn’t have made it out of that bin.
What I’ve just narrated happened exactly 50 years ago today. Sundus is now 50, and my uncle would’ve been too had he not been cruelly taken away from us in the mass burial grounds of Iraq. My grandmother Wedad, who birthed these two giants of my life, hasn’t lived to see this day either. Perhaps 50 isn’t a significant milestone as convention has us believing. But whilst we may dispute its significance, Sundus making it to her 50th is special to me. She is resilience defined. The story of her birth is the perfect analogy for her continual defiance of austerity.
Someone I recently met told me of his conviction that women are one of the most sacred existent’s in the world because they, unlike men, give birth to life through a physical and emotional strength that men cannot begin to comprehend. I don’t think he fully understood what he was saying and how consequential it ought to be to his life as a man and his dealings with women, but I’ll still eagerly mention him here because it meant something to me. Our mothers are temples – they are the root of everything we are and will be. Without them, it is ridiculously simple: we would not be.
Sundus is the most loyal person inhabiting my life. She has been my biggest supporter, my most avid fan, my backbone in times of pain and failure, and the reason for everything I’ve accomplished. But more than this, my mother is my best friend. I tell her about everything that I get up to – the good, the bad, and the mischievous. She could recount my life story to you. We also rock the same creps, have tattoos on our left arms, and you’ll often find us cotching together at the local shisha lounge. When I call her my best friend, I mean it. She’s one of the homies.
Happy birthday mama. These words do not do justice to how deeply my heart has beaten for you for 25 years. And I think that’s what was weighing me down today – realising how much I owe you and for loving me like nobody else ever could.