I was five months pregnant when I willed my baby to stay put as everything else seemed to fall away.
I was admitted to hospital for severe heart burn. I did not know what it was at the time; just a tightening and burning sensation in my chest making me queasy with every breath. I wondered whether my heart was broken and, again, willed my baby to stay put.
My father had just murdered my mother. Two weeks earlier, I had undergone a procedure to prevent a threatened miscarriage.
Within weeks, people stopped calling and the flowers dried up. My baby was okay, thankfully, but my mind and home were crowded and dim. Clothes and junk accumulated in mounds around me. As my due date crept up, the room I planned to use as a nursery remained a dusty storage space.
I felt too scared to miss my mum, afraid of how that pain would affect me and the baby.
I was also afraid to forget.
I did not attend a birthing class. I didn’t walk, stretch, mop floors or wash towels. I wore my mum’s clothes as they were loose enough for my pregnant body. Mood swings came in waves of outrage and loneliness.
I bought a white one-sie with a raindrop print and a grey swaddle covered in clouds.
That August, I survived a difficult birth. When I took my baby home she seemed too small, too clean and too fragile for the world. Apart from compulsory trips to the doctor, I stayed home for two whole months. Putting my baby to sleep, feeding her, dressing her; it was all tinged with pain and exhaustion.
How could I celebrate my induction into motherhood when every moment was a reminder that I once too had a mother who had cared for me?
Curiosity about my infant-hood consumed me but I realised I didn’t know when I’d started teething, how well I’d breastfed, or when I’d taken my first steps. Every milestone in my daughter’s first few months of life left questions about my own unanswered. I resented that I couldn’t ask my mum those questions and no one else’s answers seemed to count.
I felt despair at being unable to share concerns about motherhood with the person who mothered me; the person who knew me best.
In the nights, when I rocked my daughter, she gazed into my eyes and I into hers like she’d brought the secrets of the universe with her. Had mum once looked at me that way?
Mum migrated to Australia as a young bride, leaving her own mother behind in war-torn Lebanon. Alone and so far from her family, had I given her solace in the nights?
I found myself missing my grandmother who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Lebanon in July 2006. I thought about how mum must have felt then, as a mother of four, having to keep mothering when her mother had just been taken from her.
An image began to form in my mind of myself, my mother, and my grandmother caught in what seemed to be an endless, tragic loop. Eventually, these thoughts would inspire my self-portrait, Insert Headline Here, which is a finalist for this year’s Archibald Prize.
But back then I could not imagine that I would be able to paint or even write about my losses. I was engulfed in a grief so deep, so abstract, I didn’t even recognise it.
I have now been a mother for nearly three years. I’ve mothered through anger, sadness and cloudy childhood memories. I’ve mothered through phone calls, research papers, counselling sessions and court trials.
I have developed an appreciation of the emotional and physical labours of motherhood. I have learned the value of parenting with resilience and compassion. I mother each day with the hope that I’ll pass this knowledge to my children.
My children cannot replace the motherly love I’ve lost. I will always live with that piece missing. However, they do help me grow a new, separate love in the part of my heart which belongs to them.
Amani Haydar is an artist, lawyer, domestic violence advocate and board member of the Bankstown Women's Health centre. Her portrait is a finalist in this year's Archibald prize. You can follow her on Twitter @amani_haydar_