Mama Wa Wili and the Battle for Independent Hally
I thought for a long time about whether or not I even wanted to be a parent. I liked my life the way that it was before - traveling the world and whatnot. I didn't even tell you about my parenthood deliberations until the scale tipped and I made the decision to break with society and become a mother the brave new world way. (And let's admit it - some of you were quite surprised and maybe even a little bit upset that I didn't ask your opinion earlier.) Sorry about that. But even public Hally has private thoughts.
It took me 12 long, emotional and sometimes painful months of trying to get pregnant via multiple fertility treatments. Looking back, I think I took my eyes off the point of trying to get pregnant around month 7 and just focused on the misery of being in a failure cycle - something that doesn't happen to me very often.
When I finally got pregnant I experienced complications... most importantly bleeding in the first trimester which kept me from believing that my body was going to do the work of growing babies, and of course the gestational diabetes at the end. However, if you'll allow me, I think the gestational diabetes was actually good for me. It kept me focused on how much I wanted to have healthy babies and made me see that I was capable of doing the "right thing" by them.
But really... the biggest shock was the fact that I was having twins. It changed everything. It meant that the image I constructed of myself as a mother - the one I spent all those months thinking about and never telling you about - was totally out the window. I would not be a mom who straps on her compliant baby and jumps a plane for Bangkok or Calcutta or Dar es Salaam. (And YES I'm well aware that I probably wouldn't have been able to do those things for long even if I had had just one. But we are talking about my fantasy world here, so please do indulge me.) News of twins brought images of being burdened. Of never having a moment to myself. Of never leaving my apartment. Of needing to move to (god forbid) the suburbs for public schools and backyards. And all of this was NOT what I had in mind when I pictured parenthood.
Even after Jaden and Rowan were born and I fell in love with them I was still burdened by the loss of INDEPENDENT HALLY. Independent Hally is an extremely important person to me. She is the Hally who had Bill Clinton tell her (with his hands on her shoulders) that she was doing a "great job". Independent Hally is who hung out with her gay friends at JRs until 3 AM - trying to get everyone properly hooked up before the night was out. Independent Hally roamed the island of Jamaica with one crazy but special Turks islander who thought he could change the world. And independent Hally managed to work in or visit 60 + countries prior to procreating.
Mom. Mama. Mother. Maman. Mommy.
These are words that compete with Independent Hally. They are words of Hally's dependents. And all of what I've said above is to tell you that I spent the first 2.5 years of being a mother struggling with my identity.
And so I find it ironic that it is here in Tanzania - a place where EVERYONE calls me Mama - that I have come to find a happy place between Hally the Mommy AND Independent Hally.
Seriously... everyone calls me Mama here. All the people working for me. The lady I buy my vegetables from. And even my colleagues. Here in Tanzania a woman - even one as young as I am - is called Mama as a sign of respect. Actually, many women choose to give up their birth name and start calling themselves by their Mama name... which would be Mama ________ (insert name of first born child). As a mother of twins, I have special status here. Instead of Mama Jaden - which would normally be my name, I am Mama Wa Wili (Mother of Twins).
In the beginning I couldn't stand it. It was like every Tanzanian knew that I struggled with motherhood and they were trying to rub it in my face.
But, three months in Tanzania seems to have cured me my reluctant parenting identity. Seriously. I can't quite explain it. But I think that the level of household support that I'm getting has allowed me to enjoy being a mom better than I have in 2.5 years. I get lots of stress free - no need to cook, no need to run around, always a second pair of hands - time with the kids. I am such a better mother for it. And for the first time I am a seriously happy mother. I feel like I'm doing a good job. No, a great job. All the guilt of urban parenting in the US is gone and I'm able to make decisions and choices without worrying about what I should do (because god knows the neighbors are watching and even though I always thought, screw them, a piece of me still cared what they thought). I never wake up in the morning wishing I could just get a break for a day. I wake up to my babies and I'm happy for it.
The morning battle of Jaden and Rowan - deciding whose mommy I am ("No, my mommy." "NO, MY mommy." Etc.) now makes me smile instead of cringe. I love reminding them that I am indeed both Jaden AND Rowan's mommy.
And funny enough... I'm also Independent Hally.
Here in Tanzania, away from the pressures of home, and with the help and assistance of lovely nannies, housekeepers, etc., I am BOTH Independent Hally AND Mama Wa Wili.
And you know what? I'm really happy about that.