x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Born into a better life than her kin

My anxieties about the vast gulf between my life here in Holland and those of many of my baby's less fortunate compatriots in Afghanistan began when she was born.

My baby was born three months ago. She is our first, a little girl with big blue eyes who becomes wildly excited, flailing her limbs and grinning toothlessly when mummy leans over the crib in the mornings to pick her up. My heart bursts every time.

Motherhood is supposed to be chaos particularly in the early days but we are settling into a gentle routine. An early feed around 6am, then a nap together, followed by a walk in the woods or the nature reserve behind our house. The Dutch air is fresh and green, the linden trees are in blossom now, releasing a sweet floral scent after a rainfall.

I carry Serena in a sling and hum or chat as she gazes at everything in this clean, new world with wonder and curiosity. When it becomes too much she turns her face inwards and falls asleep contentedly.

I will remember these precious moments for the rest of my life, well aware that they pass too quickly.

All babies in the world should have such love and security. They do not, of course. My mind sometimes wanders into dark corners, unexpectedly.

What will I tell my child about her Afghan heritage, about the little Afghan boys and girls who are not as lucky as her? I would like to collect all the toys and clothes she outgrows and when she is older, send them to a charity to help young Afghans. It would be a start.

There is a risk here of sounding trite, like parents telling children who refuse to finish their meals that people are starving in Africa - which only prompts much eye rolling. But my anxieties about the vast gulf between my life here in Holland and those of many of Serena's less fortunate compatriots began when she was born. I had a terrible experience with labour and had to undergo an emergency Caesarean.

Without a doubt, one of us, probably both, would not have survived if we had been in Afghanistan, where mothers often give birth at home on the dirt floor and their babies die as a result of unsanitary conditions. Instead I was in a wealthy country, in a hospital with access to every modern technology.

Although we have both recovered from the ordeal, I still feel privileged even doing everyday things like taking a stroll in the woods without having to worry for our safety: in Afghanistan, of course, it would be unthinkable. The villages are not safe places for mothers and their babies. Many parents will not even send their older children, particularly girls, to school because it is so dangerous.

We stop sometimes in a café so I can feed her and have a coffee. The customers are often retired couples and they smile indulgently as my baby screams for milk then settles contentedly to finish her bottle. At such times I often think of my aunt who lost her husband during the civil war but kept all six of their children safe and alive. There was no fresh milk so she gave her youngest soured milk, shaking it so the curds mixed in as much as possible. It was either that or starvation.

Even as spring turns to summer in the calm of the Netherlands, dark thoughts intrude. I want Serena to remember her childhood as one of kindness and happiness, but I don't want her to grow up ignorant of the pain and evil that also exists in this world - a world that could so easily have been hers. Is that going to be possible? Or is the divide between the two worlds impossibly unbridgeable? The doubts of motherhood …

Hamida Ghafour is a former staff writer for The National