x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Children are the roots of our lives that give us wings

My mummy peers and I have had university educations, worked for the largest global companies, set up our own businesses, travelled the world. But now we wish we didn't have to work, that we could just look after our babies. Is it heresy to say such things?

In the darkness of the night when I wake to feed my baby, I hold her close to me as I have each night since she was born. Yesterday was her seven-month birthday.

I know her facial expressions from every angle, the way that she gently sighs when she has drunk enough milk and is ready for her nap. I know that when she drops her head to one side she will slither away through my arms to escape. I know that she loves to poke her curious little fingers into my mouth and then smile. I imagine it's baby code for, "I love you Mummy."

When will she able to say these words out loud, I wonder, because already at seven months she feels as though she is a little person.

She and I have created our own social network. We get together with other new mums and babies to compare notes on nappies, sleeping and weaning. We attend baby classes with catchy nursery rhymes and twinkling lights that mesmerise the tots.

But while the classes are purportedly to aid baby development, they are really a release for us mums. We need it. For the first time we are no longer out in the world but tied eternally to these creatures that are at once gorgeous and frustrating, delicious but utterly restricting.

My mummy peers and I have had university educations, worked for the largest global companies, set up our own businesses, travelled the world, and have flown the flag for the modern woman who maximises her opportunities, and appreciates every gift the women's equality movements have given us.

But as we now sit together, cuddly little babies on our laps, words cross our lips which we had never imagined we would say: We wish we didn't have to work, that we could just stay at home and look after our babies. Is it heresy to say such things?

I dare not look the aunties and grannies in the eye when I am thinking these thoughts, for fear of eliciting tuttings, raised and knowing eyebrows, and "we told you so". But I also wobble when trying to assert my feminist credentials - after all, shouldn't I be supermumming it and having it all?

I thought I had it sussed but the baby has made me reassess everything I thought I knew about being a woman. It's not just questions about career, travel or public participation that she has made me confront. I thought all of those male-dominated arenas were the bedrock of running the world which we women had to break into.

I still think that's important. But I've discovered that while those men are busy trying to run the world, it is the mothers who are busy running real life.

It makes me want to shout out "Let's hear it for motherhood!"

In the blossoming of my love for the Little One, I have also seen myself grow even more loving and compassionate towards my own parents. After all, I now understand and appreciate their toil in nurturing me, through the joyful milestones that go hand in hand with the hardships of childcare.

This process of self-redefinition has recast me from lonely individual into a link in the human chain. And it has brought home the truth of the words: "There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings."

Surprisingly, it is my new little appendage that has helped me strengthen my roots and given me wings. Let's hope I can do the same for her.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk