Being separated from your mom (and dad) was a norm for some of the kids I grew up with. Their families made arrangements for them to come to the states from the Philippines and live with extended relatives to get their education and other opportunities. I’ll be frank; at the time I thought that was some cold isht. How could mothers let their children go like that?
Really I knew nothing about poverty. Although I lived close to the line, I didn’t feel it, and I didn’t know its expanse. Later I would learn about mothers who have to leave their children behind in order to feed them. These moms go to work overseas. I still know nothing about the sacrifices they make, the danger they face, and the pain they suffer.
It’s not an ideal comfort formula, but during this time of being separated from my own children, I think about my sisters in similar situations. I run to the store and see young refugee women, separated from their parents, maybe from their children. My massage therapist told me about her own children back in Turkmenistan, how her eldest daughter cares for her younger brother. Some divorced women in my social media groups are struggling to see their children who have been placed with or snatched by their fathers or ex-inlaws during corona lockdown. Suddenly I am able to see more and more mothers who must mother from a distance.
Other scenarios that have come to mind:
A practice that has been difficult for me to wrap my head around, Halimah bint Abi Dhuayib took the infant Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) to the desert, away from his own mother, to nurse him, teach him Arabic, and raise him in a healthy environment. This was the norm at that time, and actually it was a bit of a challenge to get Muhammad a nursemaid as he was an orphan, and it was feared no one could pay for his care.
Another example of a mother’s sacrifice is Imam Al-Shafi’s. His (also single) mom sent him off to study at a young age. Look at the legacy that came from her choice.
In the 1940s, facing Nazi invasion, a woman handed her infant son over to a stranger on the street. The mother wasn’t able to care for her child and somehow this stranger not only agreed to the monumental chore but also was able to return the child some months later. Lately, I have been studying this son’s wisdom about attachment trauma, addiction, and healing. I was already quite enraptured with Gabor Maté’s work when I learned about this trauma that happened to him. It shocked me that I had experienced something vaguely similar, but had dismissed it.
My mother was partially paralyzed when I was born. I was put into foster care for six months as she couldn’t even hold me and didn’t have any extended family to help with our care. With somewhat of a fight, my mother reclaimed me when I was six-months old. I suspect I was very wanted by both mothers, but wonder how this situation of abruptly being separated from my mother and then again abruptly separated from a foster mother may have affected my development.
It doesn’t feel good to be unwillingly separated from my children. It has tested the boundaries of my faith, illuminating cracks in my belief. I burdened myself with more than humanly possible. I believed that I could protect my children more than I could and that their suffering was more my fault than it is. I may say that I trust in Allah’s plan, but my practices have said otherwise. It will take time to reveal the many lessons I have learned in these four months, but one thing I know now is that we falsely idolize mothers. We put them on pedestals and quickly knock them down when they don’t fit the image we have created them in. Mothering is a human state. Each mother is in an entirely unique position, mothering through all the incomparable issues they face. I mother as I am, where I am and that is enough, it is everything.
I immensely appreciate all my friends and even strangers who have had the empathy to see how painful my situation is and how much of a financial burden it is too. The safety net my sisters quickly set up under me has no doubt helped me to get through this period with far more grace than I could have on my own. I work as a professional editor, yet there have been days that I can’t even comprehend a few words written in English. At times it has been impossible to work. All these moms who carry on, I’ll never know all their tricks to do so. It’s a leap of faith I never would have taken on my own. And I am thankful for the shove. I always knew mothering was a great trust, but I never considered that it is also a privilege.