May 7, 2020

The joys of motherhood

‘Mommy?’ I look up momentarily disoriented. The nurse has put a hand on my shoulder. She is smiling down at me with a gentle but perplexed look on her face. My twin girls, Sufi and Soleil, swivel their huge anime eyes at me. I’ve been waiting at the clinic for a check-up for my twin daughters and I had not only drifted off- which is my habit- but also completely ignored the receptionist’s increasingly loud calls. ‘Mommy? Come on in…it’s your turn.’ Mommy. I am a mommy. Not just that. I am an awkward, hot-mess mommy parenting in the age of the anxious mom cult. And I love it.  

When my husband and I got married, we captioned our marriage ‘Doing it our way’, just like Old Blue Eyes. Jason is pragmatic, sensible, efficient and detail-oriented. I’m not any of the above. We joke that he makes plans and I mess them up. I am the crazy counterbalance to his belief that everything can be plotted on a spreadsheet. And in order for us to become parents at 46, we had to join opposing forces: both the practical and the divine. 

I had long believed that children were part of an inherited narrative, at odds with living an independent life. And ‘mother’ was a cannonball piercing the sealed smugness of an imagined life of chicness; child-proofing the art, was never covered in AD India. Neither did spit-up on my handwoven jamdani silk dress. But despite everything my mind said over 20 years, I wanted kids. And, there was the little issue that an incurable cancer I was diagnosed with in 2009 –multiple myeloma- had hurtled me into premature menopause. There was also no way I could carry a child on toxic, lifelong maintenance therapy. 

Surrogacy became our beacon of hope. When India pulled the plug on commercial a mere week before we were to begin the process, I thought it was a sign. ‘Yes a sign we have to find another place,’ said my husband. We hired an agency and sent our zygotes to Mexico. And in those months of waiting for news, I infiltrated the virtual world of mother groups on Facebook, wading through soul slings and strollers, Tinder for moms and attachment parenting. The parenting books piled up bedside, each one contradicting the other. When Mexico didn’t work out, Jason sighed. ‘Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it’s not meant to be for us.’ ‘Yes, it’s sign,’ I said. ‘It’s a sign we must go elsewhere.’ Eventually, we settled on the country of Georgia, where gestational surrogacy is a legal, transparent, fair process. When we began to receive ultrasounds and updates on our twins, I tucked away those imagies in my heart. 

On the flight to Georgia, I felt my anxiety lightly swishing about my shoulders. I’m prepared for my babies- but am I ready to be a mother? I was also deeply grateful to our surrogate but ambivalent about meeting her in Tbilisi. But when our twins were born in the Chachava clinic on June 22nd, all my apprehensions and anxieties spontaneously dissolved. It was as if a switch turned off the stream of doubts and I was completely present. We named them Sufi and Soleil- the mystic and the sun which, as my husband pointed out, in combination becomes Souffle.  

The love was instant but what no one tells you is that you must grow together. We were strangers, my girls and I, and slowly they taught me who they were in those first two months in Tbilisi, when I was alone with them and a nanny. On one of my more challenging mornings, with both my babies’ cries ringing through the apartment like jackhammers, my friend and recent admit to the mom club, Leonie, sent me a message: 

Everyone will have an opinion on what to do but what is paramount is instinct. You are their mother and use that as your guide. 

Souffle doesn’t need a perfect mother. They need a happy mum. Try to relax and not lose yourself in motherhood. Don’t worry about scheduling and sticking to all those routines in parenting books. 

I threw away all those parenting books, one by one. And I’m surprising myself. After months of soap-boxing about gender neutral clothing, I’ve bought them a wardrobe peppered with frills. I mastered the hands-free bottle chin feed, so I could Facetime with my husband and edit entire chapters of my book without neglected my child. I’m fatally mismatched most days whether in socks or prints, but we are doing it our way. Including piling my three-week-olds into a car for a trip into the Caucasus mountains with a driver so alarmed by his fragile cargo that what should have been a two-hour drive is stretched to five. 

But my girls are not fragile. They have initiated me into motherhood- a middle-aged, proud, hot-mess mother. My heart is full at how I’ve been able to take my seat and my assignment- ‘mother’- even if I don’t always respond to the name when called. And father, another lens through which to see my beloved partner. But parenting- doing it our way- means we are in it together, juggling and struggling and thriving in our new family configuration. Two individuals invested in bringing up two other individuals with love and care. Doing it our way.  

Originally printed in Vogue India, January 2019.


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