So far, I’ve survived the hustle and bustle of this program by keeping my head down and burying it in whatever task I’ve had to overcome that day, week or month. However, on the rare occasion that I’m not brisk-walking (like I’m trying to win gold at the Olympics) to another class, the convenience or the cafeteria, I look up and notice my environment. On one of these anomalous occasions, I caught myself staring at this painting. My classmate (for privacy sake, let’s call the person “Jimmy”) noticed my focused look, traced my eye-line and, after realising what I was looking at, asked a very thought-provoking question, “Why would they paint her to look so sad?” At the time, I didn’t have much of an answer (because…hustle and bustle, remember?) but the painting, Jimmy’s question and the short conversation that followed lingered in my mind even after I left for home that day. I caught myself asking the same question, “Why DID she look so sad?”
I should start by saying that I am (and would never really be) in no position to answer this question directly, but I’ve always believed that everyone is entitled to curiosity.
When pain and sickness made me cry,Ann Taylor (1783-1966)
Who gazed upon my heavy eye,
And wept for fear that I should die?
What usually follows the fanfare of childbirth and the celebrations (by family, friends and even strangers) of bring a bouncing baby into the world? For few, it’s more celebration, fun and great times! For most, however, it’s the unglamorous, unpopular and grueling reality of around-the-clock love, care and supervision. From the outside looking in, I (and others like me) believed that being a mother means always knowing what to do, always having a plan. What we didn’t understand was that being a parent is the ultimate learn-on-the-job role. You could spend your entire adulthood getting everything set for it and still not be prepared when it happens. One doesn’t slowly transition into motherhood like most other roles in life.
Another misrepresented aspect of motherhood is its effect on relationships. I had paid little to no attention to the fact that bringing a child into this world and raising it also challenges the mother’s her relationships with other people in her life. It is not rare for mothers to lose bonds with their friends due to big changes in their social lives and become isolated as a result. This leaves them with their one true companion, whose list of demands is endless.
The most evident challenge of motherhood (even to the people most oblivious to the trials of motherhood, like me) is the sleep deprivation. Culturally speaking, we pay less attention to the fact that a mother’s sleep is no longer priority when her child arrives. It is no difficult to see why.
I did not make this write-up heavy laden with statistics, graphs, research findings and figures (like the fact that reportedly, 1.5 million Nigerians suffer from post-partum depression annually) because it is not difficult to look under the hood and see that the sacrifices involved in motherhood are more far-reaching than advertised. But of course, it is certainly not all gloom and despair! To me, the most remarkable thing about the mothers I’ve come across is the joy, love and passion they display for their children.
So maybe the woman in the painting wasn’t “sad” as Jimmy suggested. Maybe she was just very, justifiably tired. In any case, I have to come to understand that every part of motherhood is beautiful AND the sheer physical, emotional and psychological strength it takes to be a mother, is nothing short of inspirational.
You are the real MVPs.