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Laxmi Hussain On Her Changing Sense Of Self During Pregnancy And Motherhood

Artist Laxmi Hussain wearing black glasses and a black shirt sitting and looking away from the camera with a lined piece of art behind her on cream coloured paper

Photograph by Dunja Opalko

To mark International Women’s Day 2024, we’ve partnered with Hertility to launch The (Wo)man-Made Make Up Edit. Starring a host of must-have make up innovations, all just as iconic as the women who created them, this Edit comes in a limited edition beauty bag illustrated by artist Laxmi Hussain. Here, Laxmi opens up about her changing sense of self during pregnancy and motherhood. 

If you told me on my 26th birthday that I’d be preparing to give birth the following year, I would have laughed in your face. While 27 isn’t the youngest someone has had a baby, I definitely felt I had a few more years of weekly partying to go. My boyfriend (now husband) and I had only been dating for just over a year and while I can’t say that I hadn’t thought about what the future could look like, we weren’t there at the time.  

I’ve always known that I wanted kids – when I was a teenager, I wanted to have around six (how ambitious was I!). Apart from that initial shock, I embraced my first pregnancy and even enjoyed it. My partner and I thankfully both grew together in this new pathway – it could have gone so many ways – but I’m grateful that he eventually (quite quickly) became my husband.  

During my first pregnancy, there were so many daily changes. Not only was my body expanding, but I think what many of us are unaware of, especially if we haven’t been around many pregnant women or have friends who have young children, is that there are so many other aspects of change which have a huge impact on who you become, altering your identity and forcing you to leave behind so many aspects of life as you know it. I wasn’t able to socialise in the same way because I was ‘becoming a mum’ and everyone my age was still going out and partying. I was ’growing a baby’ and so I needed to be more responsible and spend this time focusing on what was good for my baby. I think we often don’t consider the myriad of things which a woman has to direct her focus on during this time. For me, it felt like a huge list that I needed to prepare for and that left very little time to understand what this meant to my own personal growth. Looking back, I was still so young, I’d not experienced anything like the reality of becoming a parent. 

a close up of a pregnant belly being held b a woman wearing a dark green bra and lots of rings in her fingers.

Photograph by Al Wilkinson

GIVING BIRTH AND BECOMING A MUM

I delivered a beautiful little boy (six days late), born in the sac, which is lucky apparently, in about seven hours. I needed a few stitches as I suffered a second-degree tear [second-degree tears go deeper than the skin, affecting the muscle of the perineum]. This is probably one of the things women fear the most anticipating birth: all the stories you hear about labouring, the pain, breastfeeding, tearing (I could go on), they are all unknown until you actually go through it.  

Post-birth, I was more tender. Long walks would make me feel sore afterwards, squatting to pick up things, I would feel a pang of pain for months, and I specifically remember the burn when the midwife tells you to make yourself urinate for the first time after giving birth. I did heal well though – I do have a bit of internal scarring [from the perineum tear], but I never notice it anymore.  

Although I took to motherhood really easily — I’ve always been mothering by nature and my little baby quickly became my world — I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of losing my personal identity.  I wasn’t ‘Laxmi’ anymore, I was ‘mum’. In many ways, this new moniker was a badge of honour, but it’s quite strange – you have a baby, and then suddenly so many people have forgotten your name.  

For much of this early stage, I really assumed that identity of being just ‘mum’. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing, but sometimes it can feel like people don’t see you existing past that. My friends and family have always been an amazing support network, but sometimes you can feel quite isolated. People visit to see the baby, they talk to the baby and often you want to speak up, but all you have to say is something about the baby. I probably sound a bit ungrateful considering how much I love being a mum, but the early days can be quite repetitive. It can be really hard to find yourself and find a moment to do something for you. 

I took 10 months off for maternity with my first. But I had personal goals and ambitions outside of being a mother and so I was excited to rejoin my peers in the office, although physically and emotionally, my priorities had changed. I felt that I hadn’t been around many adults for such a long time that I had nothing to offer in terms of intellectual conversation. I’d only started this job when I was two months pregnant and so I felt like I couldn’t really fill my boots prior to giving birth. I was looking forward to getting stuck in. I think this is something mothers can often feel guilty about – having something they are passionate about outside of being a parent. Wanting to pursue something which doesn’t involve your kids doesn’t make you a bad parent. 

COPING WITH GRIEF 

We decided to try for a second shortly after our eldest’s 2nd birthday. I became pregnant within a few months, and we were super excited. We didn’t try for a third for another five years. When my daughter was three my mum was diagnosed with cancer and died six months after diagnosis. As grief does, it changes who you are, your perception of time, life and everything else. I just wasn’t ready for another child. Over a year after losing my mum, I felt like we could try for a third. I imagine grief had quite a big part to play because it took us nearly a year to conceive.  

Considering how easy it was with our other children, we just assumed it would be the same, but it wasn’t. I plotted my period, I tracked my health stats via a Fitbit, and I mentioned it to my GP who said we had to wait until it had been a year before they would consider running any fertility tests. But as we were coming to the end of the year, those blue lines on the test appeared.  

Postpartum this time was a lot more difficult. I was really traumatised by how painful the labour was and woke up the day after labour with my face black and blue from broken capillaries from the strain.  

FINDING MY NEW IDENTITY 

Much like the loss of identity I experienced after becoming a mum for the first time, I felt pangs of this reemerge after welcoming my third – and this is a feeling that even now, as an experienced mum of three, I’m faced with. I know that the pandemic and having a lockdown baby contributed to this, however I also feel the care that was provided to me during and after having my third was strained and difficult, which made me lose confidence in myself as a mother. Eden was born a small baby and lost a lot of weight over the next couple of weeks – this knocked me sideways. I started questioning all my experience. Those early days made their mark on me, and I still struggle to look back at photos of him during that time. 

an image of Laxmi Hussain and her three children surrounding her shot in her art studio with pieces of her art behind them

Photograph by Dunja Opalko

MOTHERHOOD AND ART  

I didn’t realise until a couple of years later how much of an impact this time had on me as a mother – this is probably why my art moved into motherhood. My paintings often depict the close nature of motherhood, and in many ways are a reminder to myself of my confidence as a mother. 

I use my artwork to explore my experiences, from fleeting moments and times to remember to the closeness with those around us. I do this because motherhood has taught me so much. It’s taught me to love more than I ever thought possible. I’ve learnt patience and perseverance and that tough times pass. Most of all, it has taught me that I am a person too and that my personal growth is just as important. Being an artist, something that comes so naturally to me, is something I owe myself to pursue and something that will hopefully teach my kids that they can do anything they put their mind to. 

In designing the bag for The (Wo)man-Made Make Up Edit, I wanted to share an element of this confidence I’ve gained. We all deserve to give time to the person we wish to be, and I love how the forms of the body on the bag represent strength and self. One of the most rewarding things about my work is how powerful it can be. I hope those who purchase this Edit see my artwork and it reminds them how incredible they are. We all deserve to be reminded of that.  

 

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Cult Beauty

Cult Beauty

Writer and expert