Power to the Mother: Huma Qureshi
Power to the Mother is a series of interviews on the transformative and empowering experience of motherhood.
We welcome Power to the Mother into 2019 with an interview with Huma Qureshi, author, writer at Our Story Time, journalist, and mother to three. I love reading Huma’s weekly long reads, they speak of simple living and motherhood in the most beautiful ways. Her ability to get to the heart of divisive issues in the most simple and generous ways in nothing short of wonderful. Speaking here about the creativity within pregnancy and motherhood, and raising children with honesty and truth at heart, I hope you enjoy the beauty in Huma’s answers as much as I did.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your family?
My name is Huma and I'm a writer living in north London with my husband and our three little boys aged 5, 3 and 1.
Would you tell us about your birth experiences?
Each one of my pregnancies has been pretty tough as I suffered with severe pregnancy sickness throughout all three. I won't lie - pregnancy was draining and at times debilitating. Yet I did it, three times. Each time, I hoped the sickness would fade and I hoped, illogically, that my body would recognise it somehow and somehow know how to cope with the cocktail of hormones it was dealing with. Even though I knew it didn't work that way, I had this really irrational belief it would. I was very weakened by it third time around. Yet we wanted our family so much; each pregnancy was a blessing and I held onto that thought, all the way through. I will never forget that feeling, when your baby bounds about inside of you, little punches and kicks; a secret code that only the two of us speak.
It is something of a paradox that even though I suffered with such sickness in my pregnancies, I also experienced creative peaks - writing my first book, planning my second book and launching my blog all coincided with each of my pregnancies.
My first birth was tough. I was induced because our baby was small and he was born early - a tiny little thing with a head full of dark hair. If I'm honest, I found that experience so traumatic that I swore I would do anything to not be on the labour ward again. So second time around, my little boy was born in the hospital's more relaxed birth centre and the experience was overwhelmingly positive - we were given the chance to rest and I felt we were all taken care of. We came home in time for spaghetti for dinner that my mother had made and we introduced our eldest to his little brother and it was so special to be home again. With my third, things happened very quickly. We arrived at the hospital at 10.30pm and I had a baby in my arms, delivered in the water back in the birth centre, an hour later. It was nothing short of magical and I felt very alert and aware of everything. My memories are very vivid. I remember when it was over, it started raining outside (it had been a very hot August night) and the sickness disappeared almost immediately.
And those early days, how did you find those? How were those transitions from one to two, two to three?
The early days with each baby were long and exhausting and even though I remember how hard those days were - all three times - they were also truly special. All my boys were born a little tiny and they were just the most delicate of things that I wanted to hold them constantly and be with them. It was however hard, especially the first time around, as I had lost a lot of blood and we were kept in hospital awhile and I struggled with feeding. But we got there in the end.
Going from one to two, with relatively small age gaps (they have about 20 months between them), seemed more challenging to everyone else than it did to us - people wondered how we'd manage but of course we did, for it was all we knew. You just find a way. It helped that my second son was born in the summer, so the days felt bright to begin with, and also it helped that my eldest was a good sleeper by the time his brother was born. That made everything seem much easier. Together, we settled into easy little daily habits and we found our rhythm.
I was a lot more confident the second time around and it helped that my delivery went well and I was starting from a better point in terms of my own health. That confidence remained third time around, and we were also more confident to make decisions for ourselves as a family. We knew it was important that we had time to ourselves as a family of five first, especially for the boys to meet their new baby brother, and we decided early on that we'd make sure we made that happen for us. I wanted that time to be special and private, so we gently asked the rest of the family to give us a few days to ourselves to do that, and I'm so glad we did. As far as transitioning for the boys, they've been just wonderful. All they know is a home full of siblings and I love that they have each other to grow up with.
Were there any unexpected surprises in your journey as a parent?
I'm surprised every single day by the things my children say and do but, yes, I've surprised myself too. I'm surprised by the strength I've discovered; the strength of patience, calmness in the face of storms, strength of conviction in standing up for our own family's values and for what's best for us. I'm surprised that I'm stronger than I think I was or gave myself credit for. I'm surprised by the sheer force of it all.
Which are the moments that make you feel like a mother?
What a beautiful question. I feel like a mother come bedtime, when our clumsy dance from dining table to bathroom is complete, when all the tribulations of tooth-brushing and hair-washing and the who-did-what and the bags-packed-for-tomorrow is done. Somehow, all of that doesn't matter when we're all piled into bed, when a hush falls over them as I begin to read. All that matters then is my children, our closeness; one with his head on my shoulder, another tucked under my arm, the other (the smallest one) rolling around between us all. Everyday, come bedtime, I forget that my patience might have once been tested at all. Everyday I feel the comfort of our routine, but mostly, the comfort of what my children need from me. Warmth, the reassurance of the rhythm of words spoken aloud, the steadiness of breath, the collective beat of our hearts. This is when I feel they need me close, not for tears or noses that need wiping, not for any sense of urgency, but just for peace. These moments are the treasures I feel I'll always remember even when they're long grown and I hope it's what they remember of their childhood to.
You write the most beautiful long reads on your blog, and you’ve just launched a new series ‘Ways to Strive’ which is brilliant. How did you find motherhood affected your voice?
I feel that motherhood helped me find my voice in a different way. I was already a writer, having worked as a national journalist for many years both in print and radio, but I'm not sure I ever truly trusted the way in which I wrote. With each child, I have grown stronger in my voice, my beliefs, my opinions, my decisions and I feel that has flown into my writing too. I'm no longer worried about what other people might think or say - this is not to say I don't choose my words with care, I always do - but I have more conviction in what I want to say. Motherhood informs my voice because I write about what I think about in my daily life, and my kids are a big part of that. I find myself thinking an awful lot about the responsibility we have to our children to make the world a kinder place to grow up in and I think the way you express yourself goes a big part towards that.
Do you bring your philosophies on writing, and on life, into raising your boys?
I try to. I try to think about the values that mean the most to me - honesty, truth, love, generosity. I try to write in that way and I believe you can be all those things in the way you express yourself and communicate with others so, yes I do think those are values I try to instil in my boys. I believe that clarity in communication - whether that's spoken or written - can only lead to better relationships with both the ones closest to you and also the ones furthest away. The more honest and true your words, the more understanding there is, and with that too comes compassion. I do try gentle ways to talk to the boys about expressing themselves and I am always looking at simple ways to enrich their vocabulary so they have ways to find words and articulate what they mean. I think guiding children to this sort of self-expression can also avoid a degree of frustration because they are better understood, because they can find the words they need to describe how they feel.
How do you find time to write?
At the moment my writing time is scheduled around my youngest's daily nap times and early evenings. This gives me around two hours of writing time a day - I use this time to work on my online writing course, The Quiet Words, and my writing mentorship, Writing Friends as well as to write my blog and any freelance articles I happen to have commissioned.
What advice would you share with mothers expecting, brand new mothers and mothers far into this journey?
Enjoy the surprises that will come, that do come. There is only so much you can plan ahead for; for the rest, just go with the flow. Find delight in that. Don't rush. Our children live in the present and I think that's one of the most important lessons we can learn from them - to not wish away this time but live in it, right now, for now, for real. And there's no need to know all the answers either; wait for the answers to unfold and you will know the truth of them when you stumble upon them. Allow yourself to be humbled by your children every day; every day I am reminded of how they love unconditionally, so fully, and how they always forgive. I thank them so much for what they teach me.
And finally, how do you find pockets of mindfulness in your day?
I'm training to be a yoga teacher and I try to start my mornings with at least five or ten minutes of sun salutations before I get to the kids. It's an absolute bare minimum, and nothing super challenging, but these few precious minutes to myself allow me to focus and wake up before the day fully begins. I also like to spend as much time as I can reading and writing. I find both reading and writing stretch me in different ways - in terms of language, in terms of metaphor, in terms of imagination, creativity and escape. I find writing calms me as it helps me connect with myself, what I'm thinking about and also simply figure out what needs to get done. It's not necessarily mindfulness, but it's something I do for me.