….Continued from Part 2
My maternity leave is not a time where I look back and see lots of happy memories. Basically, if you met me around then, you would’ve found me with a tiny baby in my arms, and I would’ve said that life is brutal. It’s unfair. It’s hopeless. And if you’re thinking it was postpartum depression, it really wasn’t. At least I don’t think so. Because I had no time to fall into that kind of depression! As you read on, you’ll see why 🙂
I had wanted to travel as soon as possible after the birth of my daughter to be with my husband, but my daughter was too little and too weak for that. So I decided I’d wait until she was a bit older. But things got complicated in a different way and I found myself in places and situations I could have never imagined.
When my daughter was hardly 1 month old, my mom was suddenly down feeling extremely sick. She went to emergency many times complaining of unbearable pain in her stomach but kept getting misdiagnosed and facing the same problem time and time again. That went on for almost two months and led her to lose a lot of weight in the meantime. When the right tests were finally done and results obtained, it turned out that she had colon cancer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t caught early like her previous cancer. It was already at Stage 3 and getting worse fast. It was also completely new, unexpected, and unrelated to her previous cancer. It’s just bad luck, I remember the oncologist saying. The next couple of months were a blur: home to emergency to home and back to the hospital everyday. My mom was to have two surgeries: one of them ASAP as an emergency, and then a bigger, more complicated surgery later on once her condition was less critical. After the diagnoses, they’d have my mom get ready every single day for the “emergency” surgery, only to not go ahead with it because there were always more serious or urgent emergency cases coming up in the hospital. I won’t go into the details, but her situation was getting worse and worse in the meantime. Finally, after a whole three weeks, that first emergency surgery was finally performed…
Soon after my mom came back home, my daughter had to be admitted to the hospital for some breathing issues she had. (See previous Part 2 for the health issues she had upon birth). It’s all a blur now but I was there, hardly two months post-partum, staying alone overnight at the hospital with a baby. During the day they would conduct what seemed to be the most brutal tests on my daughter. I just stood there and watched the doctors and nurses doing their thing, holding back tears and telling myself this was important for her…
During this time, my parents’ house turned upside down. We came to realize how much our mom did for us day in day out. My sister was now spending most days staying at the hospital with my mom, and I suddenly went from having a lot of help with my baby to having no one at home to help. We ate a lot of take-out food during this time, and slowly got sick and tired of it. My sister and I started to take turns cooking, and we’d call our mom at the hospital and ask her for recipes. When things would get confusing in the cooking process, we would watch YouTube cooking channels. This is the time when my sister and I really started to learn how to cook. And now we share recipes with you all on our Instastories and most people assume we have always known how to cook 🙂 But up until that point, not too long ago, we were just like most other girls our age – no idea what to do in the kitchen!
Back in Pakistan, my mother-in-law fell extremely ill around the same time as well. Her prognosis was not looking good and the doctors were not too hopeful for her health to recover. She really wanted to meet my daughter before anything happened to her. So days after my mom had her first surgery and was feeling a little better and starting to eat again, I mustered up the courage to go to Pakistan with my baby. I said goodbye to my mom and went to the airport with a baby who was hardly 7.5lbs. People on the flight kept asking if I was travelling with a newborn. And they would be surprised to hear that she was 4.5 months old. My husband traveled to Pakistan from Australia as well, and received us at the airport in Islamabad. He met our daughter for the first time and we finally had a family union!
Living in Pakistan with a little baby is a whole other story, but thankfully there were no major illnesses or any such thing experienced by me or my daughter. However, one month into my trip, something really traumatic happened. One of my aunts passed away. It wasn’t a normal death. She died having been injured due to gun violence during an armed robbery in Lahore. That too on the day of her own daughter’s wedding… I was on my way to the wedding when I found out. (She wasn’t actually related to me but I knew her since I was 2 years old… she was a friend of my mom who was like a sister). I don’t know how to describe all that I felt with her death. I was extremely saddened by the incident and shook to my core.
It became very hard for me to continue living in Pakistan in the weeks following that. I have been to Pakistan many many times in my life, and even quite recently as well, and it’s not so bad. But at that time, I was paranoid at best. My heart would be pounding if my husband got out of the car and went to, say, a bank or an ATM machine. I would be waiting in the car, looking around suspiciously at people walking by. Every stranger’s pocket seemed to have a gun in it. Every passer-by looked like a robber in disguise. And sitting there in the car, I would try to hide my daughter so as to appear less vulnerable. I couldn’t trust anyone and just wanted to lock my family in a safe place somewhere and hide!
At home, I would spend time chatting with the young maids who worked at our house. They were basically kids who had been taken out of school by their parents to work. But they were curious and hungry for knowledge. One of them would dream every night that she went back to school. I would feel bad for them and answer the innocent little questions they had. They would ask me about Canada, about the world, about science and religions, and were so easily amazed. But then friends and family in Pakistan would warn me – don’t get too close to the maids… you can’t trust them… they take advantage of people like you. They will get to know you well and all your routines, and one day they might harm you. I mean… it was really sad and scary for my already paranoid self.
While I was still dealing with my aunt’s death, my mother-in-law got extremely sick. She was admitted to the hospital and just ten days later, she passed away in the ICU. I had seen her just hours before her passing, and it was the most heart-breaking thing I had ever experienced. I was seeing death so closely for the first time ever in my life, and that too of a family member. The weeks following that were difficult too, with us trying to deal with our grief and hundreds of family & friends coming over for condolences at home, as they do in Pakistan. I thought I knew Pakistan well, but I guess for the first time ever, I was there as a married woman with a child. And I couldn’t help but experience some extreme culture shock during this time. The funeral, the rituals before and after it, people’s ideas and conversations. It was all very different and a lot to absorb.
Back in Canada, my mom was constantly in and out of hospital admittance throughout this time. I don’t know the daily struggles of that time well. She was then scheduled to have her major surgery while I was still in Pakistan. The day of her surgery, I stayed up all night praying, asking God to give her health and life. The surgery lasted 9 hours, and at the end of it, my mom was in the ICU in a critical condition. She had lost too much blood and had extremely low blood pressure. The doctors couldn’t tell us anything one way or another.
After three months of being in Pakistan, I found myself taking an emergency flight back to Canada, once again leaving without my husband, and with a little baby in arms. I was hoping to make it back to see my mom and be with my siblings and my dad in this difficult time. I literally broke down when the airport staff started to give me a hard time about not being able to board the flight because of my daughter’s visa. It turned out to be all fine but they surely sent me in a state of panic thinking I won’t make it. When I finally got on the plane, that 14-hour airplane flight was not easy, to say the least. I got to Toronto, went to the hospital and finally breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my mom sitting up in a chair in the ICU, with all the scary tubes taken off of her.
Sorry, it doesn’t end here. A few weeks after that, my cousin’s wife passed away due to some complications days after giving birth to her son in the UK. I wasn’t close to her at all or didn’t even really know her, but her death just added to my miserable state. What is happening? Why is God doing this? Why is He taking mothers away? And this time from an innocent little newborn who will never get to know his mom? Such times can really make you weak in your faith. You experience the height of hopelessness and realize that, in fact, life isn’t fair.
My mom’s hospital visits continued, with one infection after another following her major surgery. She then started chemotherapy and had an extremely severe, life-threatening and rare reaction to it. I won’t go into details, but we were basically back to the hospital-to-home situation. The chemotherapy was completely halted because it was unsafe for her to continue. She was to live with the risk of her cancer coming back… Once again, my sister would stay overnight at the hospital and I would stay home with my daughter. Sometimes we’d switch our “shifts” and she would stay with my daughter at home. I had already graduated and was on mat leave, so I wasn’t all that affected from a career/studies standpoint. But my siblings were still in school, and of course they were greatly impacted on that front.
My daughter’s appointments were on-going as well, and there were a whole bunch of other little issues that I won’t go into (yes, I’m still skipping a lot). At my daughter’s appointments, doctors would sometimes ask me to go get certain equipment or try a new technique with her. There were growth charts to be maintained, medication times and dosages to be tracked and what not. Sometimes I would just sit there in disbelief thinking, “Do you guys know how much I have going on? You’re really asking me to do one more thing while I can barely keep my head above the water?” But obviously, that wasn’t their problem. They were only trying to help me with the problem I presented to them. They couldn’t see what else was going on in my life.
I couldn’t even fully absorb one situation before something new happened. It was really scary because I started to expect bad things. If there were an uneventful couple of weeks, I would wonder what was about to surface and feel so scared for it. It was hard to think about the future, or plan anything at all. Because who knew what was lurking around the corner…
Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to be alone with myself throughout this time and sink into any depressive thoughts. I was always with family, busy with my daughter, surrounded by people and just trying to make sense of all that was going on. But I do remember that whenever I was alone and recapped on all that had happened in such a short period of time, I would end up being extremely overwhelmed. Those nights, I would wake up from nightmares where I would see giant snakes and spiders trying to attack me and my daughter.
But thankfully, those feelings were rare. They say comparison is the thief of joy, but I learned that sometimes it can even bring you some hope and positivity. I would think about my husband and that he had just lost his mom. I would think about the tragic death of my aunt. I would think about what her kids were going through, all of whom, by the way, were younger than me. I would think about what my mom was going through day & night with the constant physical pain and mental suffering. I would think about my cousin’s innocent little baby who didn’t even know that he had lost his mother. And then, none of my problems seemed like problems anymore. I was alive and healthy and here for my daughter. Alhumdulillah!
Needless to say, this tough year taught me empathy and truly made me who I am today. Now, if someone tells me that their loved one is in the hopsital, I know what they’re going through. I know how hard it is for single mothers. I know how tough it is to deal with sickness. I know that life can turn upside down without a moment’s notice. And I know the feelings that come with that.
By the time my daughter was 11 months old, my husband had finally moved to Canada permanently. The bigger health issues seemed to have subsided – both for my daughter and for my mom. At month-11 in my maternity leave, life was starting to become a bit “normal” again. I had about a month to try and get myself together before I was due to go back to work. But did I even want to go back? Moreover, going back meant studying for and writing two CPA exams, and working those long hours to gain all my remaining required practical experience. Could I even do it, especially with a child? Going back to work honestly seemed no less of a mission than a hike on Mount Everest would be. It wasn’t going to be easy at all, that much I knew. But I would think about all that I had been through and wonder – how bad could it be?
To be continued…