Someone asked me what it was like being a twenty-year-old mum, and I had to pause and think because from where I sit now I am not even sure how I made it. I keep telling people that I would study up to PhD level and it still would not equate to the kind of pressure I felt then.
Imagine being 20, married to a man 11 years your senior and having this human being that is completely dependent on you and your small boobies for existence. It is tough right? People often say motherhood will toughen you, give you perspective, but they never tell you that it will first break you. For someone who considers myself structured/independent I struggled with including someone else into my life, make that two people. I have gone through traumatic experiences in my whole life, but I never went to therapy until I had a baby.
Naturally, I wanted to do well, I always do, I read, researched, asked questions. Believe me what they say about parenting, it has no manual. I do not know why for some reason in the African context the weight of parenting lies with the mom. For instance, I had to pause school, make sure the baby was not underweight, wake up in the middle of the night to change diapers and make sure the baby does not cry so loud lest we wake the father.
I remember trending in those high school groups we created; very few people ever asked me if it is true, I had really had a baby, damn fornicators!
My friends that actually came to see my Shuks were so terrified of children, that I too became scary to them because they did not understand what it means to have a baby at 20. Neither did I, but they did act as if it was contagious. In hushed tones, some of my family members said I had wasted my youth, my time and a fair shot at life. At that point, it felt like they were right, because in any case, I was only 20. Few had the courage to face me and ask about early motherhood. The adjustments that I needed to make, especially with school, early adulthood weighing their demands on me. I remember this one time, the woman I named my Wachuka after came to my house, it was around 10am, but she found I had cleaned the house, made food and even given Shuks a bath. I still remember how astonished she looked as I offered her tea calmly. Perhaps she had expected that I would be overwhelmed.
Motherhood comes with milestones; good and bad. Kids start teething, and then they nibble at everything, your boobies included. Then they start crawling, you move the television higher, but they also grow taller with time. They walk, and then you finally start using all the shoes you bought before she was born when you were anticipating her arrival. One day you wake up and they call you mum, you melt a little inside, this is love.
Then they go to school, and you’re no longer just a campus student. You’re a mom. I remember writing a long list of questions on Shuks’ diary that I hoped I would find the answers to. In class, lecturers would teach, my mind would drift off. In the undertones of their voices, sometimes I would hear a voice saying ‘relax’. I cried a lot.
Children are always children nonetheless, my daughter already has a friend called Sky at school and now let me tell you; Sky is not just another human, she is the real deal. My daughter hates ballet (sometimes I underestimate how alike we are), during her graduation presentation for the ballet club she was so bored she stopped mid performance to take a break and stare into the horizon. Either way, those ballet outfits are so beautiful, so who knows, maybe in the future I might just ‘blackmail’ her into doing ballet for me, because mothers!!! (I almost added an emoji here, yes, that emoji that has just come to mind).
Yesterday I was a bit sad; I have been for a while now, so I started crying. She got me some water and mara moja then she said “mum don’t cry” then she fell asleep right in my arms. I felt whole. These are some of the joys of motherhood, despite the pains.
I am now 24; in fact, I will be 25 in exactly 17 days. I am still a mother, Mama Shuks to be precise, I have 4 years experience in parenting (I am of the opinion that should feature somewhere in my resume). Throughout these 4 years I have learnt a lot about motherhood, in fact it doesn’t scare me at all now, I am actually looking forward to it. I have learnt that motherhood is personal, so personal the decision to have a baby should depend on how you feel as a woman not how anyone wants you to feel, your partner included. Motherhood teaches you to consistently love yourself; you cannot pour from an empty cup. It is having your heart outside your body, walking through life, eating, living, misbehaving and thriving. Motherhood is reliving your mother’s life all over again, this time with less judgment.
I love being a mum; I just wish I took more photos while I was pregnant. Next time I will! Oh, and one more thing, motherhood teaches you tough lessons, one that I have picked over the years is that people will say things behind your back, when you’re a mom, that doesn’t matter. Your kid does.
Story by Lucy Kimani