It’s my 30th birthday, and for the first time in 5 years, I didn’t cry on my birthday.
I have always been very driven and an overachiever. So its no surprise I had BIG plans for my late 20’s. I was never a girl who dreamed of having a family. But as my 20’s unfolded I started dreaming of them. The only problem was, I was also having a really hard time letting go of my ‘plan’.
Every year my birthday came, I had mourned what I could have been and what I wasn’t when what I should have been doing was marvelling at who I had become.
Now at 30, I am so incredibly proud of who I am, NOT because of my accomplishments, but because I am HAPPY. Being happy whether you have the world in your hands or just sand is the most difficult thing to be. And I finally am. And here’s how…Every year my birthday came, I had mourned what I could have been and what I wasn't when what I should have been doing was marvelling at who I had become. Click To Tweet
I was enrolled in a PhD program in Boston for Cellular and Molecular Biology. I had my life planned out and I was right on track. I had finished my undergrad in 3 years, applied and gotten into graduate school as one of the youngest in my class. I was going to get my PhD, do a postdoctoral focusing on stem cell research and get on track for tenure.
Then… I met him… I fell in love. I really really liked him. And he was going to move to Boston for me. And we would live happily ever after…
What happened that wasn’t in the plan was that I changed. My dreams changed and I didn’t like it! I no longer wanted to stay in the lab as long as I physically could. I wanted to be home, I wanted to eat dinner together. I wanted a family that was very different from the one I had always imagined.
The tenure-track was no longer fitting into my dream. And I made the difficult decision to bow out of my program with a Masters. It broke my heart on my 25th birthday to no longer be on track for my “plans to succeed.”
I was actually embarrassed for having a new dream.
I was settled in NY, in a passionless job. I had gotten my Masters but it just felt like a piece of paper. We’d been trying to start a family for almost a year now. I felt like I was failing at starting a family that I had already paid for with my “career dream”.
My existence in the world seemed pretty insignificant. I felt replaceable at my job. My presence at home really didn’t feel significant either. Sure I cooked from time to time, but was I essential? Irreplaceable? My dream of a family life was not living up to my expectations. Regardless to say, the 26th year of my marvellous life wasn’t good enough.
I had no plan. I felt like I was wandering aimlessly.
I should have been so incredibly happy. I should have been on top of every rooftop in New York singing ballads of my own praise. BUT… I felt like a phoney.
I had been given the world’s biggest blessing: my beautiful daughter, Rukaya. I had my dream. I had my family. Yet I wasn’t happy. I was torn. I didn’t want to go back to work. But I couldn’t hand her over. She was my dream. But I missed having a career. The dream just wasn’t enough. I decided to do a career “arch”. I decided to try and get the best of both worlds.
I enrolled in a second Masters programme online in Public Health. What I told people was: I was hoping that it would open up the door to jobs that fit with a parenting lifestyle. But the reality was, I was ashamed to be a stay at home mom.
By being in school I felt like I could hold on to my career-oriented dream a little while longer. Being indoors in a small NY apartment, overweight and postpartum, I was pretty depressed and low.
I had not made many friends. I was lonely in the busiest city I had ever known. My plan had been fulfilled. I had a family.
But I wasn’t happy. Nothing was ever enough.
I started upbeat, ready to get back to work. My daughter was older and I felt confident that once back at work my life would magically be better. I’d have friends, and a social life… (the truth about parenting still hadn’t sunk in).
But around my daughter’s first birthday, we found out she was significantly delayed in her speech and other areas. They were recommending an Early Intervention which would mean she would need to see therapists in order to help her catch up.
I was torn. I couldn’t go back to work… Rukaya needed me. She needed me to be a hands-on mom. She needed me to advocate for her. She needed me to be her voice. I couldn’t go to work. I had to change my plans. But I couldn’t help being resentful.
My old dream was dying and my new dream just wasn’t enough.
I graduated. I had my Masters and I was in New York, the city of opportunities. I could have it all! But then my husband got an offer in Napa, California that he couldn’t say no to.
Do you know how awkward it is to be in an area famous for its wine and order grape juice? I am pretty sure most of the people that initially met me thought I was pregnant. Why else would I be ordering grape juice!
But a new state, a new home = square one. The worst part was there were no job opportunities in sight, everything close to my field would be over an hour’s commute. My daughter’s speech was marginally improving and I felt lonelier than ever. Time was passing me by yet my life wasn’t moving.
It almost felt pointless to plan because I could never realize them!
I was at a progress meeting for my daughter, and someone expressed how envious they were of my daughter and I. They said: “You really are living the dream”.
Living the dream? Me? And I realized I really was. Allah (S) had given me so much by not giving me my career dream.
What if not having was the true blessing? What if instead of being embarrassed about not realizing my dream, I should be proud of being able to dream a new dream. The new dream isn’t picture perfect, but it is pretty close. Thanks to the bumps along the road, the glue that holds my family together are truly undefinable. We work so well together, that nothing seems impossible.
What if instead of nothing being enough, anything is enough. The funny thing about disappointment is that you need expectations to be disappointed. The delays with my daughter really taught me to appreciate the little achievements. My only expectation now is that she is happy.
I finally started to look at things I didn’t have or things I wanted as opportunities. For example:
- I still don’t work. I am still a stay at home. And I crave the 9 AM -5 PM adult only environment. BUT being a stay at home mom has given me the sabr (patience) that has become essential to my parenting. I am blessed to not work.
- I am still a pretty chunky monkey. And I have struggled, I have tried every diet plan out there. Worked out till I literally tore my muscles. Yet I’m just a chubby short panda! BUT the struggle has finally given me acceptance. I am okay if I am never a size 2 as long as I feel healthy. I go to the gym now not to lose weight but to re-energize.
And I finally feel proud of who I am, and the characteristics that I can say that I am far from irreplaceable.
The key to my happiness is perspective. Every time I don’t have something, or I fail, or a plan isn’t realized or my expectations aren’t met, is an opportunity to gain a blessing. For each hardship, I know there will in shaa Allah be a gain in the end.
For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. (Al-Inshirah:5)
About The Author
Hira Rizvi is mum to a very active 3-year-old girl. She lives in Napa, California. She is a trained Scientist who left the Laboratory after the birth of her child. She holds a Masters in Public Health and loves teaching nutrition to the population without them necessarily knowing they are being taught.
She makes hands-on activity books for children and writes about making Islam a part of children’s everyday life.