Rania met her husband through their parents, who were old friends. Thirty-five now, Rania was 25 when she got married. Five years into her marriage, she had her first child — a boy, who’s now four. The couple’s second, a girl, is two now. Earlier this week, Rania spoke with Molly Fischer for The Cut on Tuesdays podcast about her motherhood experience. Here, she discusses her initial concerns about pregnancy, the unexpected reason her husband was interested in adoption, and why she doesn’t feel like she’s raising her kids alone, despite her marriage ending.
On the desire to be a mother. I never understood that urge of like, “Oh, I want to have a baby.” But if I envisioned my future, I had a big family — and I come from a big family, so the idea of not having a big family seemed really lonely to me. Then I realized, “I don’t think that I’m ever going to feel that, and so, if I do want to have a family I should stop trying to actively block it.”
On finding out she was pregnant. When I found out I was pregnant with my first, I had not taken a lot of pregnancy tests. And so, I took it fully expecting it to come out negative. It did not. But it’s not like there’s some step like, Prepare yourself, because it’s about to turn positive. You’re just waiting for it to look like the other ones that you took, where it just shows up negative, and it’s just basically like a confirmation for you, that you’re not pregnant.
I was in my bathroom, in my apartment, and I immediately started crying. And it’s for the most vain, stupid reason, but I was like, “My body is going to be ruined.” Still, I remember when I was younger, my friends would joke that I had childbearing hips. It was this idea in my mind, that for me and my physical makeup, birth would be no problem. It was going to be fine, I could do this.
On what contractions feel like. There are certain things that you experience in life, that you hear about, but until you actually physically experience it, you just can’t comprehend. And a contraction feels like a vise grip all over your whole body, but coming from inside your body. It’s so bad. In labor, there was a moment where I realized, “Oh, there’s no option now, this baby has to come out.” You really realize there are other things in life that you shouldn’t walk away from, but you can if you want to. You cannot walk away from this, once it starts. You’re in it, you can’t. I wasn’t scared, though. I was in a lot of pain, but I was like, “Oh, there’s no option now, you just have to go forward.”
On her husband’s presence during the birth of their first child. During the actual labor, there were moments where he was really helpful, and then there were moments where I was too concerned about him and not the other way around. I actually remember when I was getting the epidural — they have you hunch over and your partner sitting in front of you, and holding onto you, to try to hold you still. Because you can’t move; they’re sticking a needle into your spine, and you’ve got to be really, really, really still. They have to keep that whole part of your back really clean, so they wash it very carefully.
My hospital gown, I guess, kept falling, and my husband would put it back up. The person who was working on my back smacked his hand away. My ex had a temper, and in that moment, I was more worried about him flipping out, and not focusing on the needle that was going into my spine. He started yelling at the woman, and because he was holding my arms, I was squeezing his arm like, “Don’t do this now.”
On having a C-section. My midwife came in and woke both of us up. She was like, “Can I talk to you guys? It’s time we need to do a C-section.” And that was that.
You’re numb, so you don’t feel the pain, but you feel a stretching. Imagine that you have a bathtub full of water, and then you take a bucket and scoop a bucket full out. That’s what it feels like when they actually pull the baby out. You have this big mass in you, and then all of a sudden it’s just scooped out. Immediately, I heard him crying. There was so much relief in that moment, and I didn’t realize, until that moment, how much I actually was afraid. But he was just beautiful and perfect. And yeah, I fell in love.
On very early motherhood. The first week that I was home, I was just … the breastfeeding makes you feel euphoric, the Percocet makes you feel euphoric. The combination makes you feel euphoric, and you’re just staring at this baby. I’d be like, “Why is everybody else talking about the baby blues? I feel so good. This is so wonderful.” Then, obviously, at some point, I stopped taking the Percocet, and I was like, Oh.
On deciding to have a second child. At one point, my husband said to me, “We should consider adopting.” And I thought he was trying to say it for some altruistic reason. But then he said to me that I had not lost the weight from my first baby and he was worried that if I got pregnant again, I would just never lose the weight. I remember telling one of my friends a little while after that happened, and she was just shocked that he could say that to me.
But then I did get pregnant with my second, my daughter, and it was during that pregnancy that my marriage started to crumble.
On the beginning of the end of her marriage. I was maybe six months pregnant when he came to me and said, “You know, I think we have a decision to make after the baby is born, about whether we’re going to stay married or not.” For me, this had come out of the blue, because we were actually at a point in our relationship that actually felt good. We weren’t fighting, we were getting along really well, we were having fun with our son … Yes, he was going out a lot, but he would tell me that he was with the guys.
Then he said, we don’t need to figure this out now, we can wait until the baby is born. He was like, “You know, we’re just co-parents now. Obviously, we’re more like roommates. Maybe it’ll make sense, but we don’t have to decide it now, you’re pregnant. You don’t need the stress.” But … he’d already said it.
I had a job, and I had a son, who I didn’t want to have him feel like something was wrong. I just had to act like everything was fine — and he didn’t want to tell our families. I was like, “That’s crazy.” I just had to hold it in for a while. I went on a trip to visit my cousin, because I was just like, “I need to get away from here.” It was actually the first time that I left my son alone with his dad. I found out much, much, much later, that that weekend, he had his girlfriend stay at our house with our son.
The next few months were really, really stressful. Because he was the one that initially brought up the idea of us getting divorced, but then he would try to act like he wasn’t sure about it. And then would say, “No, it’s definitely happening.” But then would say, “If we work things out, great, if we don’t, blah, blah, blah.”
On giving birth to her daughter. Flash forward to the point that I actually have my daughter. He’d asked me up until then, over and over again, like, “What’s the plan for the delivery?” I was like, “You’re not going to be in the room.” He was like, “You’re going to want me there.” I was like, “I literally would rather have a stranger off the street in there with me than to have you in there. My sister is coming, my mom’s coming, you’re not going to.
It’s just a control thing. He didn’t want to be told that he couldn’t be there. What ended up happening, I was at home when my water broke. Which was an interesting experience, because I hadn’t had that experience with my son. I remember lying down on my couch and feeling it, and jumping up, because I didn’t want to get my couch dirty. I went to the bathroom, and I was not expecting this feeling, but I just got so, so, so sad. Because I realized, like, “I’m about to have this baby, and I’m doing it by myself.” That was the first moment that it really hit me.
And so I told him, “I will keep you in the loop, I will let you know when I go into labor. You can come to the hospital, you will see the baby as soon as it’s born.” Then, he had showed up — even though I told him not to. He came to my apartment, because I told him that I was in labor and I would let him know when we were at the hospital, but he just came.
So, him, and my sister, and I went to the hospital. On the way out, my mom was hugging me and saying something about just considering having him there, or something. I think, at the time, our families were still hopeful that we would stay together. I mean, I didn’t know, at that point, about the affairs, or anything like that.
The first time around, I didn’t feel like he immediately took to being a parent. It was already hard on him to feel connected — and he’d seen my son being born. So I felt like if he was a part of the experience, it would be good for her, and it would help him to bond with her. Because he wasn’t going to be living with her, like he lived with our son. He already had a relationship with him, he was already a known thing to him, but he wasn’t going to be in her life in the same way.
So in the end, I did have him come into the delivery. Him and my sister. Having my sister in the delivery room was wonderful. My sister is a doctor, and she had just finished medical school at the time. She was like a good advocate to have there.
He, on the other hand, was sometimes there for contractions, sometimes on the cell phone. But I tried. I remember, at one point, I was in the middle of a contraction, in so much pain, and seeing him on his phone, and I was just like, “Can you put that away?”
On giving birth to her daughter. It was a very different experience, the second time. I went from having a private room and being really taken care of, and having Percocet, and being in a marriage. To having a shared room with somebody else’s crying baby.
I remember being in the hospital bed and just crying, to the point that the nurse came in and they were like, “What’s wrong? What happened?” But I couldn’t even talk. I was tired, I had been in labor for a long time. I was physically drained, and I felt so overwhelmed and alone.
That first night, I was trying to sleep, and that’s when the new couple came in and they threw on all the lights. And you can just hear them all talking, and you hear their baby, and they’re getting them … but I was just silently crying in my bed. It was so sad. I couldn’t even talk, I was just like, “I’m fine. I’m fine.”
She was born a couple days before Thanksgiving. So, the day we got home was Thanksgiving. My mom was there, and she made a little mini Thanksgiving feast. My sister was there, and my cousin was visiting. I named my daughter after my mom, and that was when I told her. She was so shocked, she was not expecting it at all. It was so nice, actually — I had a bunch of women around me, and my son.
On ending her marriage. One day, he left my place and apparently went over to his girlfriend’s place, where he was staying. Then maybe they got into a fight, I don’t know, but she called me, some unknown number. It was like, “Is this Rania?” I was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “Did you know …” — this is vulgar — “Did you know that your husband’s been fucking me? And fucking this person, and this person. Fucking everybody, and you.”
The color just drained. Even though I had seen so many things and confronted him about so many things, and he’d lied to my face about so many things, it was a shock. But it was also the best thing that ever happened to me, because I got my sanity back.
It was like, “No, your judgment is not off, your instincts are not off. You are not crazy.” I feel so lucky because not every woman has that, the benefit of having somebody explicitly tell them everything that happened, you know? It’s like, I know exactly what happened, and I know I’m not crazy.
On being a single mom. I definitely don’t think that I’m doing it alone. I’m very close to several of my cousins and my sisters, and my brother, and my sister-in-law.
In the beginning especially people were taking turns just coming out every week to visit me, to help me. There was never-ending supply of people coming to my house. I never felt like I was alone. It felt good. Like I said, when you’ve got a houseful of women, everybody’s just, “Oh, the baby needs something, let me do it.” Nobody is passing you the baby and saying like, “Here, take care of this.”
But it was hard, because I was still dealing with him. I would be nursing my daughter and fielding angry texts. I felt like she wasn’t getting my attention in a way that she deserved, and it was such a blur. My pregnancy and the very first year of her life, were just such a blur.
On how motherhood has affected her. I feel like it makes you a lot more no-nonsense. It’s like you have a certain amount of patience for the world, and then you have kids and they’re going to take a significant chunk of that pie, and everybody else is going to get less.
You also become way better at time management. You think you don’t have time, and so you have kids, and then you realize how much time you were wasting before. It could be motherhood, it could be all of these things together, BUT I definitely feel more confident, and I feel more empowered as a woman. I feel like I’ve already done a lot of really hard stuff, so, bring it on, you know?