Black milk: an identity crisis

The moment I saw the title of the book, I knew what the author meant as if it was written for me. Black Milk by Elif Shafak, renowned novelist from Turkey, is a memoir described as ‘a thoughtful and incisive meditation on literature, motherhood, and spiritual well-being.’

Although I enjoy reading, I am not good at writing book reviews. As a lover of books, I can talk about what I read with friends, who, like me, are still amazed by the creativity of authors. I find it easy to talk about my favorite books, and the stories that stick with me, ones that I will never forget. However, writing an objective book review is something I find very challenging. Yet with Black Milk, I believe I owe mothers out there. I owe them sharing what I gleaned from reading this groundbreaking book.

Shafak wrote about herself – but it could have been about me. Me, a mother who experienced postpartum depression; a new mother who felt at a loss, and who thought that she should not feel this way; a woman who stopped doing things for herself and thought that motherhood should be more than enough; a mother who experienced fluctuations in her feelings 100 times a day; a woman who did not really understand what was going on.

Black Milk describes those ups and downs encountered by many new mothers, especially those experiencing anxiety about the huge change they’ve embarked upon – those mothers who overthink things and believe that they should be able to control the world, and not stop and ‘relax’ for a moment and ‘blend’ with the world.

In the book, Shafak has many inner conversations with her ‘Thumbelinas,’ who each represent an aspect of herself. These tiny ladies are constantly fighting, trying to overcome one another to be the dominant part of her personality. Shafak is very objective in writing about them, and instead of hating them, you feel the opposite. In writing about the competing characteristics within, she seeks to find some kind of unifying identity for herself.

Shafak writes about western female writers as well, including Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and Alice Walker. She explores their lives, the way they found balance between being writers and mothers, or the way some of them chose one role over the other. In these women’s lives, Shafak seeks balance between her life as an artist, and her new life as a mother.

Being a mother and a writer means seeking some sense of self, besides the role of motherhood. The same applies to any personal career or decision a mother takes. Such a choice was not common in the West until recently, and it is still not acceptable in many eastern societies to this day. Thus this subject, though some might consider it a personal issue, is more of a political one that is affected by patriarchal societies. Elif Shafak does not make judgements, and why should she – this is a subject that has no right or wrong to it. The ability to choose and be respected for whatever choices you make should be totally acceptable.

Shafek’s book touched me, as a mother, a writer, and a woman. I really identified with her struggle, her experience with postpartum depression, and her personal crisis as she adapted to motherhood.

How do you find balance between your own personal well-being and the demands of motherhood? What books have inspired you on your journey?

A reading dilemma

This was a post I contributed to for worldmomsnetwork.com here :

OMAN: A Reading Dilemma

Being a bookworm myself, reading has been an issue of interest for me for ages. I believe reading is what made me the person I am today and surely will keep adding more to my personality as I grow older.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
George R.R. Martin

Reading has been a crucial part of my life. As a speech and language therapist, I have used story books with my patients to work on speech, language and social skills. I have used them to break the ice and make the children at ease. I have also used story books while working on imaginative play, and more. Reading is essential for my work with children at my private business, and it is invaluable in my voluntary work with children in different settings. My son reads a great deal each day, and I read to my daughters almost daily as well. It is quite an integral part of my daily life, and that of my children as well.

This is all normal and would normally be nothing worthy of noting. However, in the region of the Middle East, it is an issue that has been of alarm. A study done by Arab Thought Foundationin 2012 revealed that Arabs read only an average of 6 minutes a year!

I am not exactly sure of the reasons that lead to such a lack of reading in our culture. In my personal experience, I found that many Omani families do not read to their children. Some do not even know why reading aloud to children is important, and very few are willing to spend the money to buy children’s story books. I remember a few parents asking me to provide literacy work (counting, alphabets, etc.) for their children instead of story books because the former will help with school while the latter is a waste of time and money. The number of women I met personally during my life in Oman who read for leisure are so few I can name them. Reading is almost completely unheard of.

I think this is an important subject to target in the next few years. There are some wonderful initiatives that focus on encouraging reading among children, like the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Reading Initiative, which encourages students across the Arab world to read more. Academics have begun researching this topic as well, examining the lack of reading culture and the benefits that would be gained in developing such culture.

What do you think about this reading dilemma? Is reading to children a part of your culture?

Motherhood- A Perspective

My blog post on world moms blog 🙂

http://www.worldmomsblog.com/2015/08/06/oman-motherhood-a-perspective/#comment-1159423

As a child, I’ve always loved being around younger children. I’d take care of them and moms in my family where always happy to leave their children with me to babysit.

As I studied to become a speech and language therapist, my love for children continued. I had this great empathy for them and I wanted to specialize in pediatrics in order to work closely with them, and so I did.

As I had my three children, the love just increased, but also the stress that comes with it. The stress that you don’t feel with other children when you have a stress-free young life. The stress that you manage to control when you work with other children at work, but it can easily appear the moment you enter your home.

This is the dangerous part of parenthood. It is when you are too stressed that you tend to take it out on the little ones, the most vulnerable ones, the children.

I admit I lost my temper hundreds of times, I failed them another hundreds of times, I wasn’t the pleasant mom always. I would go to bed at night feeling guilty for whatever happened on different occasions and for whatever went wrong.

Life teaches us, and as we strive to be better people, we also tend to accept that we are allowed to make mistakes, even as adults. I didn’t realize that, as a mom initially. I believed I have to be perfect. I couldn’t understand how you can be so good and competent with other children, while you keep losing yourself with your own children.

Things do change with learning.

I learned to stop blaming myself, and realized that it is fine to make mistakes. I believe that the more I remember myself within my hectic life, the more I become a better person and hence a better mom. It can only be possible by managing myself well. It can be through realizing that, as mothers when we do tend to lose ourselves into our daily routine we forget who we are, what makes us happy and what cheers us up. We lose our hobbies, we forget to indulge ourselves in what brings us joy. We stop reading, going out with friends, going to the gym, laughing, getting a pretty haircut, having a cup of hot chocolate while thinking of nothing.

That time spent for me as a person, lets me to resume my mom role happier, more content and I can give more and more. Life is about giving and receiving.

We do not eat our hearts for what we did, but we learn to forgive ourselves, work on improving ourselves and giving ourselves some quality time in order to be able to give to others part of our beauty self.

Ibtisam

Between life and death

Yesterday, I stayed up late. It has been the case for the last month or so.  Sleep hasn’t been a priority initially, but for the last week it has been a privilege that takes me away from the reality.

Yesterday after midnight, I thought to myself that maybe writing will do me some good.

On a painful day, 12th June to be precise (Evening of 24 Shabaan) filled with sorrow and grief, my mother passed away. It happened after a long and painful fight with cancer. I saw it coming the last few weeks as her body functions were lost one by one.  

I can still feel the sense of despair, the feeling of hopelessness, the inability to do anything when your loved one is in severe pain. My brain brings the memory of the day with her face, her body there, my brothers getting her body for burial, the women hugging me and the cries, I wasn’t able to breath at some point and needed to be away from  the 100s of people.

My aunts say that I have been very strong. I believe it is not strength. At that time, I thought to myself she is in a better place as my heart was aching with the pain she was going through before her death. I can feel my weakness now, trying to keep strength for the sake of my father and brothers. For the sake of my sanity.

رحمها الله وغفر لها واسكنها فسيح جناته..

اللهم آمين

Ibtisam

Photos of over two months..

What would you call an over-a-month without blogging, Craziness maybe,, deserting the blog during the hot desert weather, hah, I am trying to be funny so I can be excused :D..

As I promised, I will be posting some pics of my ‘iPlay Smart’ place after the long wait. It has been over two months since we opened, the business is still slow (very slow) but well, isn’t it true with any new business, I guess. 

These are only some of the photos I’ve been taking.. Enjoy 🙂FullSizeRender (1) IMG_0154IMG_0139

IMG_0888
part of a hospital exhibition we contributed to show the importance of reading for/with children
FullSizeRender (2)FullSizeRender (2)q FullSizeRenderIMG_0153IMG_0731 IMG_0778 IMG_0795 IMG_0824 IMG_0830 IMG_1562

More about iPlay Smart on:

Instagram: @iplaysmart

Twitter: @i_play_smart

Facebook: iplaysmart

Love,

Ibtisam 🙂

Empowering Women, the reality

Untitled

My blog post I wrote for world moms blog,, in the following link:

http://www.worldmomsblog.com/2015/04/01/guest-post-empowering-woman-reality/#comment-1007971

Sometime in the late 1960s, there was a six-year-old girl whose father did not believe education was of any benefit to her. However, because her eldest brother took a stand that education was her right, she went to school and was quite intelligent in her studies.  She did not make it to high school, but those first few years meant the world to her.

Fast-forward to 1998.  There was 18 year-old girl who just graduated from high school with grades that enabled her to receive a government scholarship to further her studies. She had a dream of studying somewhere abroad. Her father supported her endlessly without having a second thought about it.

Two women, my mother and me, received a life-changing education made possible by the men in our family.  In our part of the world, and specially for some women, it was like asking for the moon. The sad thing is, that is still the case for many other women.

In 2010, my husband registered me for a Master’s degree course in business administration. I had two children at that time who were 2 and 4 years old. I had a house to take care of, but he believed I could do it, and I did do it with his full and endless support. He ‘empowered’ me to do the course before himself, although it is what he wanted to do for many years.

I worked for ten years at a hospital, then I quit to start my own business. I still can remember one woman I know crying as she wanted so badly to start her business and follow her dream, but her husband gave her a hard time and made it impossible for her.

Initially, the thought of quitting my job scared me to death.  Then, the moment that moral support from my husband was there, everything seemed easy. This year, my sister-in-law had an opportunity to work abroad. She found the courage to go for it when her husband, my brother, told her not to worry and that he would support her decision, no matter what it was.

Maybe many will think, ‘how does a man’s decision affect a woman’s choices?’  Well, in my society it does. You can find few girls who managed to follow their dreams despite the resistance they faced. However, this can be so tough and risky in a collectivist society where family ties are sacred.

Maybe we are living the good time for women empowerment in my country and many other countries around us. I hear and read the word ‘woman empowerment’ everywhere in our media.  There are conferences, workshops, lectures etc. on this specific issue. This is the reason why I decided to write this. I have this deep feeling of gratitude towards the men in my life, and for men like them who recognize the rights of women. Without their support, love and encouragement, ‘woman empowerment conferences’ would be a story with a sad ending for us.

omani woman

Love,

Ibtisam