A Mother’s Guilt

Every night around 11PM, as soon as my 1-year old son begins calling for me with his unique cry, I feel like a failure; a “mommy-fail,” if you will. He’s a happy, energetic, social and curious toddler by day, and a semi-monster by night. He goes down in his crib most nights without a struggle, but 3-4 hours later, he wants nothing to do with his crib and wants nobody but me. I have tried many a sleep training methods, read several sleep training books, consulted countless mothers, but to no avail.

One morning last week, after a rough night, I coaxed him into eating his oatmeal and fruits, I watched my ritual Aljazeera English news brief. Images of East Africa scrolled across the screen, as the reporter relayed accounts of misery in many parts of the Horn. Women and children appeared to bear the brunt of the worst drought in 60 years. As the camera zoomed in on children with flies covering their faces, all I could see was the desperation in their eyes. What could be worse than seeing the face of a hungry, displaced child? Seeing the face of his/her mother.

I could see some mothers holding back tears, while others couldn’t hold back– tears or words. Appeals to the world for help, complaints about their inability to provide for their children, and stories of agony traveling tens of miles by foot in search of drops of water and pieces of bread. In the coming days, I am inundated with images and news updates of the drought stricken region. Two images and stories cycle through my mind everyday.

The first, a mother who kept the corpse of her seven-month-old son so she wouldn’t lose the portion of food ration allotted to him. Tied to her breast, was the boy’s twin sister, still alive, but barely, and desperately in need of her dead brother’s food ration. The second, Nikale, a mother from Mali who lost not one, not two, but six children to waterborne diseases and the drought.

The looks in these mothers’ eyes speak volumes. As they shy away from the camera, I can see the guilt in the corner of their eyes. If I feel like a mommy-fail because my son doesn’t sleep in his own crib and doesn’t eat his full serving of vegetables, protein, and dairy everyday, what on Earth must be going through the minds of these mothers? How can you NOT feel like a failure when you go out in search of water and come back to find two of your children dead? How can you NOT feel like a failure when you lay next to your child’s dead body, wondering if your other child will make it through the night?

I cannot help but think how many worlds apart we are. Me, in the comfort of my air-conditioned, 3-story house with an over-stocked fridge and pantry, and them in the bare and desperate Dadaab refugee camp. I wake up worrying about my son’s sleep patterns and picky eating, while they worry about their children waking up alive and getting a sip of water and a few crumbs of bread.

We are thousands of miles apart, and our lives couldn’t be more different. But our motherhood connects us through simple images across television and computer screens. I can read the pain and guilt in their eyes. They would understand the concerns I have for my child– no matter how trivial they may appear– in the end, they are a mother’s worry.

Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for their pain. 29,000 children under the age of 5 have already been killed by the drought and subsequent famine. By the time you have finished reading this post, another mother will be mourning the loss of her child. If you have ever felt guilt as a mother, no matter how big or small, please take a moment to say a prayer for these mothers. And if you can, make a donation, no matter how small, to help ease their pain.

Islamic Relief USA

Muslims Without Borders

UN World Food Programme


Tuqa Nusairat

Tuqa Nusairat is the mama of an energetic one-year-old boy who loves fruits, books, and monkeys. She enjoys reading, writing, and working on issues of foreign policy, international development, and social justice.

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