Bringing Raneem Home: The Early Days

It could have been any regular Sunday in our house: Ahmad and I lying down on our couch, enjoying food just delivered from our favorite, Crepaway, while watching the latest season of The Crown on Netflix. Except right next to our coffee table, a 5 day old Raneem slept soundly in her bassinet, blissfully still unaware of the world outside.

“I can’t believe she’s here,” I said in a hushed voice, so afraid I’d ruin the preciousness of this moment by waking baby up. I’d later learn that when this little girl actually slept, nothing (and I mean not even clashes just two streets away) could wake her up.

To say those early days felt surreal would be an understatement. It still feels surreal to this day.

Welcome home balloons courtesy of my sister. They are still standing today.

I think deep down I wanted to keep things as they had always were, even though nothing would ever be the same. I’d just given birth but I still wanted to wake up and do my skincare routine, maintain our home in its usual organized manner, have food in the fridge, catch up on all my newsletters- all while physically recovering from labor and a nasty stuffy nose, and figuring out how to care for a newborn. Needless to say, even though I am fortunate to have the help of our mothers, I wanted to prove to myself and everyone around me that I was cut out for motherhood, that I could do it without any help.

In those early days, I’d even left my usual alarm of 6:30 am before realizing that on maternity leave, time is a construct of my imagination.

As my days and nights blended into one another, I think I lost track of myself and the world around me. For the first ten days of her life, we shuttered ourselves up in our house- which I think only made things worse.

Family photo. Along with the many unnecessary things I didn’t have to do in the early days: put on eyeliner.

I remember sending Ahmad to the pharmacy and grocery store almost every day in those first ten days- when they could have all been consolidated into one visit. When I realized the hassle I’d put him through, I was so angry at myself for not being able to maintain a clear head and give him an actual list, like I usually did. I was also upset that despite all my diligent preparation, we still needed things for the baby . Who knew they needed this much stuff?

Then came the crying. As Raneem started to gradually become more and more awake and the newborn grogginess faded away, it was replaced by some intense crying sessions- always when I thought it was safe to take a nap. I told myself I could handle it-it’s not the baby’s fault crying is her only way of communicating.

But like many a new mom, I could not handle it. After one particularly long crying session, and after I’d done everything I thought I could do, I found myself losing control. In my worst moment, I yelled at the helpless baby- I still feel awful about it.

Only when my mom showed up, did I feel a little at ease. When I opened my mouth to protest that I was burdening her by constantly asking for her help, she shot me down in a way only my mother knows how, “It’s too early to leave you alone.” She was trying to tell me she believed I could do it on my own, I just had to allow myself some time to get there.

I’d come to gradually learn there was no harm in letting someone else change her diaper or give her a bath while I snuck in a nap. There was no harm in my mother-in-law filling my fridge with home cooked meals while I figured out how to nurse. This was a good thing and everyone could bond with the baby too!

Baby watches her first football match, a Juve one, so she can learn to hate them early on (according to Ahmad)

Those early days were not without the wonder and amazement that comes with having a newborn, thankfully. Every time Raneem did something: open her eyes, stare blankly at us, attempt tummy time, gripped onto a finger, or whatever babies do, we were all over her, gushing and thrilled.

When her umbilical cord stump fell off at 12 days, I was hit by a strange wave of sadness: there went the last physical element that had connected us for the past 9 months. I wondered if we would ever be as close, vowing to work hard on strengthening our emotional connection. This would take time too.

“Isn’t she just the cutest? Isn’t she just amazing?” we’d ask one another in utter disbelief as we peered over her crib making sure she was sleeping okay. After some hardship and so many tears, she was really here. And she was really ours. Our family was complete.

And while I couldn’t do everything all at once, while nothing would ever go back to usual, maybe that just wasn’t the point anymore. This was the new usual- and I was so in love.