words YMH  |  images ahmad diab

I was born with my aunt’s thumb, my grandfather’s toes, and my grandmother’s smile. I have Amti Zainab’s jawline, Amti Fouzia’s lips and calves, and Hiba’s nose. My lower incisors overlap the way Asma’s do and Fatimah Fathallah and I have the same receding hairline.

The first words ever exchanged about me were about my pronounced eyebrows, dark and unusual to my first audience: my Vancouverite mother, a Swiss doctor, some nurses, and my mother’s friend (my father was on his way to a conference in Japan, and found out about my birth in an airport in Australia). No sooner had I come into this world than my mother’s friend remarked: “Your daughter has the most beautiful eyebrows.”

I do not know how my mother felt when these words pierced the anesthetic haze that, in those moments, engulfed her, the room, and, by extension – or so I imagine – the room’s other occupants. For me, the moment of my birth is entirely my mother’s. When she began pushing, that cramped room expanded, became her empire, her contractions the hills the nurses lived on, the beat of her whimpers the doctor’s pulse, her insecurities the faint musty smell that they all inhaled, together, intoxicated and utterly permeated by my mother. Maybe this is God’s first gift to the infant, this magical time when – in my case, at 11:38 PM – the delivery room becomes the womb, and a tangible maternal omnipresence seeps into this small and invisible empire above the dimly lit street, binding me still to the dejected sovereign, who is laying on the bed now, contemplating my eyebrows.

I have never asked my mother how she felt when I was born because I am afraid of the answer. I have heard that women with post-partum depression begin to feel as if their children are strangers. 

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