I was a young mother; I had my first child at 24. That was eighteen years ago. In retrospect – while it didn’t seem ideal at the time – it was the best thing that could have happened. I know that a lot of young girls believe in waiting a few years after getting married before having their first child. They want to wait and settle down in their married relationships, they want to enjoy the company of their husband and most significantly, they want to wait and ensure that the marriage will have long lasting stability. At this point in Pakistan, when single-mother adoption still isn’t acceptable and so many single, independent and educated women are deprived of motherhood because they cannot easily adopt, a baby can possible be the best thing to happen in a marriage, whether it’s short lived or a forever after.
Back to Musa, he was born Muhammad Musa Ali Isani. Three weeks before his due date and six pounds in weight. I had breezed through my pregnancy without a single day of discomfort or morning sickness or illness (another benefit of being a young mother, I think). I had started working at the age of 18 and fortunately I had the liberty of working through my pregnancy as well. I worked, traveled and even enrolled for French classes, as I wanted to stay healthy and active. My labour was just as easy. But nothing could have prepared me for what I had gotten myself into.
Musa was angelic, the picture perfect baby with soft curls and a rosy complexion. He slept through the day, loved his bath time and goo-gahed all day, much to the delight of everyone in the family. His skin was velveteen and he smelt of a heady mix of Johnson’s baby lotion and fabric softener. But once the lights went out this doll turned into Chucky; he had murder on his mind and started killing me. He was a colicky baby and as with all colicky babies his single purpose in life was to ruin my rest time. While I had all the self-help books and an endless supply of gripe water, nothing worked. Gradually this angelic little cherub became a demon; all he would do is eat, poop, spit milk and cry. I was an obsessive 24-year old and didn’t believe in nannies. I also had an OCD for cleanliness so I would spend my days and nights bathing him and changing his clothes.
But despite everything, and this is what I want to convey to my young readers, I loved being a young mother because I raised my child exactly as I thought best. He got his first scolding within forty days of birth. When no amount of gripe water or rocking worked, I started dunking his pacifier into coca cola (not at all advisable!) and allowed him to suckle on the fizz. It worked wonders, much to the horror of my friends. There was no time or patience for baby food so at six months, Musa went straight to normal food. I was told that I did everything wrong. I’d carry him, half naked for a bottom wash in the middle of the night, when it was 4 degrees outside (Islamabad winter). I didn’t believe in being gentle and was reassured by my doctor that babies were a lot tougher than they appeared. I had seen and experienced enough of ‘Chucky’ to know he would be okay. When he started moving around the bed he would roll off and fall. He would poke his fingers in sockets that I hadn’t bothered to cover. And he would pick discarded cigarette butts and chew on them when he started to crawl. And sugar. The pacifier would go into honey quite frequently and sugar was never an issue.
We had moved to Lahore for Haider’s MBA (at LUMS) and I rejoined Libas. Musa, at two, would accompany me to work. His little bicycle would go with us and he would come running in as soon as Mrs Saigol’s black Mercedes pulled up…”Mrs Cycle is here! Mrs Cycle is here!” he would warn everyone. He couldn’t say ‘Sai-gol’ and ‘cycle’ was a familiar word. Quite the chatterbox, Musa started singing before he could properly talk and his favourite words were ‘article’ and ‘lo-putt’ (laptop) because he heard them so often. Haider was quite the conventional father – he believed in keeping a respectable distance from the boys (which fortunately I agreed with) – so he only “took Musa out”, like a car he wanted to show off, when the girls at Uni had to be impressed. There’s no chick magnet more effective than a cute baby. Especially when that cute baby has a colourful vocabulary, which Musa did. His favourite bad word was ‘dalla’. Don’t ask why.
Musa survived it all. He grew to be an intelligent, ambitious and responsible young man. A straight-A student. Health conscious and conscientious. He earned distinctions, he won credits and certificates and competitions. He’ll be going to Harvard, Boston as part of the KGS MUN team in January. He’s applying for college this year and will fly the nest next year and when I look back I feel an incredible amount of love and pride. Love for him but pride for myself. I had a baby very early in life but he has grown up with me, and we are more like friends than next of kin. When I make mistakes he asks me what went wrong so he doesn’t repeat them. He confides in me and shares things with me and we both respect each other’s personal space enough to not get on each other’s nerves all the time. And now as he’s ready to leave, I love the fact that I have a life that will keep me as busy and occupied as his will keep him. 24 years apart, we’re on a satisfying scale of equal. And there can be no feeling better.
My point: Personally, I am a big advocate of having a baby as early as you can. Of course, it all boils down to economics and you have to ensure that a baby can be afforded (because they do come at a price) but if you are economically stable, and if you have a man in your life (another important prerequisite) then I feel that twenties is the best time to have your children. It’s when you’re still carrying enough recklessness from your teenage years to have a mind to do as your please without worrying excessively; at the same time you have acquired enough maturity to be able to nurture another human being.
- This is an opinion piece based on my personal experience. This is, by no means professional advice nor is it meant to be taken as professional advice.