“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, And dealing with fears you didn’t know existed” (Chinese proverb)
“He was born prematurely and came into this world 20 years ago to completely change our lives!”
At this point Farah Haq takes a deep breath before continuing with her story. As a new mother, I find myself instantly drawn to her every word. Motherhood is that beautiful, yet complicated journey of continuous exploration; each day brings with it a fresh challenge that teaches you something new about yourself. The surprises that come along the way often make you see the world through a different set of eyes and will probably take you down a path which you could never have imagined before.
Basil (The brave), Farah’s second son, was born prematurely. As the family adjusted to the tough and exhausting lifestyle of managing a premature baby, Basil was further diagnosed with a hearing problem.
Soon Farah and her husband, Asad, had to face the stark reality of a son who could not hear.
The mother of a special needs child gathers strength gradually, in the beginning, it feels as if the floor beneath your feet has fallen through: “I felt as if the whole world was spinning around me. I almost fell off the chair in the doctor’s office in complete denial as we received the news, while Asad struggled to remain calm and take charge”, recalls Farah. That moment changed their lives drastically.
During this turbulent time, Farah gave birth to her 3rd child – a beautiful daughter, Eman. As Basil turned 5 years of age, his doctors suggested reputable rehabilitation centres for him in Dubai, L.A, Australia and Singapore.
It was to Singapore that Farah and Asad decided to bring Basil, for a two-week trial class at a school for children with special needs. They subsequently admitted him into a private school here called Genesis.
Asad had to remain in Pakistan due to work commitments and would visit Singapore every 2 to 3 weeks. Very soon after he arrived though, Farah would find herself at the airport waving goodbye to him, amidst a sea of tears.
It is, indeed, a challenge to leave your loved ones, support system and home behind. Usually, when life throws a challenge your way, you take the support of a loved one in facing it and fighting it. For Farah, the challenge was two-fold. Not only did she have to leave loved ones back home, including Asad, she also had to handle Basil’s adjustment to the new system and routine in Singapore all by herself. Explaining to Basil the absence of his father, grandparents and cousins, and especially his older brother, was a monumental task.
“Those were tough times. Initially, we had planned to get rehab for Basil for a year, and so I left my firstborn, Ammar, back home with Asad, and I missed him terribly. In Singapore, each day was a new day of getting Basil onto the school bus, a challenge, as he usually refused to go to school. Eman was almost 2 years old, and every day, our routine consisted of walking down to Holland Village, sitting at Starbucks, grocery-shopping and going back home. I had no friends and almost no time for any, so sometimes I would go to the movies by myself after the kids were in school, just to take my mind off the loneliness.”
The mother of a special needs child has that much more to challenge her. Dealing with things on her own – school reports, parent -teacher conferences, wonderment if Basil would benefit from this new system – had become her new life. There was a silence that surrounded her when the kids were asleep, and she spent her time waiting impatiently to discuss the progress with Asad on the phone at the end of the day. Such a demanding situation would take its toll on the best of us, and as Farah confessed: “I would often break down and think about just wrapping up our lives in Singapore and going home.”
When audiologists informed Farah that Basil was a candidate for a second implant surgery at age 7 years, it became clear that the original 1-year rehabilitation was to be prolonged. The decision was clear in Farah’s mind; she had to be the brave mother to her brave Basil, and she resolved to do whatever it took to build a life for herself in Singapore for the sake of her son. The first thing Farah and Asad did was to bring Ammar, their older son, to Singapore to be with Farah. Slowly, Farah began to reach out and make friends; keeping herself busy and involved in the children’s activities. With a newfound determination, she pursued and completed a Diploma in Early Childhood and Special Needs. After the kids were asleep by 8 pm, Farah would study. She succeeded in working her way up as a teacher in a Montessori school, working with children with special needs, which also gave her a better understanding of Basil. She bought a car and hired a helper to assist with chores at home, and her positive attitude soon started to reflect in the progress Basil made.
When Asad was not in Singapore, he made sure he was by her side through phone calls, text messages and Skype – whatever it took for him to be there when Farah needed him. Whether it was by giving her directions on how to get onto the Central Expressway (CTE) from the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) to navigate around Singapore or being on Skype as the kids did their homework. Asad ensured his presence in her life to the utmost. They journeyed together – visits to the doctor, audiologists, speech lessons and occupational therapy sessions almost every other day. While their relocation did separate and split them as a family, taking its toll on each family member, Basil – the prime reason Farah moved to Singapore – benefitted by leaps and bounds.
Farah reminiscences with pride, that her children are the reason she has made it so far, along with the full support of her family and friends. She exclaims wistfully:
“Special kids are gifted to special parents and we are so proud of ours! When the time is right, we will return home and be re-united as a family once again, and it will be a beautiful feeling.”
Today, 20 years later, and now settled back in Pakistan with family, when Farah looks back, it seems like everything passed within the blink of an eye. Basil is studying at Riverview School Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He is an independent young boy, making his parents proud by living the dream they had so carefully and lovingly built for him.
Ammar has graduated from Lasalle Singapore and is currently working with Asad in Filmmaking while awaiting admissions in a specialized institute for a major geared towards films. Eman attends school in Pakistan.
Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore was one of Fuchsia’s founding members, its first content editor and a regular writer and contributer for the magazine. Mariam holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Holyoke College in the United States, and has 7+ years of experience in the finance and corporate world. She is also the Co-author of the book “Export Success and Industrial Linkages in South Asia” published in 2008. She is a travel enthusiast and a long-term expat, having lived in 7 countries in the past 12 years, but is still hopeless at packing suitcases and an expert at getting lost in every new city she calls home. She currently resides in Dubai with her husband and two children. To follow her expat adventures, you can read more on her blog “www.andthenwemovedto.com”.