In this series, MOJEH asks society women in the region how Covid-19 changed their world. Designer and brand ambassador, Maha Gorton, is the first to tell her lockdown story
“Do people really eat bats?” my eight-year-old son asked me, eyes wide as he clambered into the car after school. As I tossed the backpacks, kit bags and lunch boxes in the boot, a discussion broke out – my 11-year-old daughter and eight-year-old twin boys had gained a wealth of information about a deadly virus that had reportedly originated from a bat in China. Half listening as I navigated the school run traffic, I was entertained by how they debated the alleged facts they had gathered in the playground.
This was at the start of February, when current affairs were not at the top of my list of things to keep up with. In the process of finalizing a collection for Ramadan and preparing to return to London for surgery, I dismissed the furore of coronavirus as media frenzy, and didn’t have the headspace to attempt to try and process it. I had surgery at the beginning of March, and suddenly everything changed.
A heady combination of post-anesthesia haze and painkiller-induced fogginess made it incredibly difficult to process the news flooding my phone from Dubai. The spring holidays were being brought forward two weeks; schools were being closed, and people returning from abroad were being quarantined. My heart broke. Leaving Dubai, I had looked forward to the children joining me in London for their school holiday. But how would they manage distance learning without me? Everything was incredibly surreal.
“Yes, it was now a pandemic…and for the first time in my adult life, I had to put myself first”
In London, things appeared to continue as normal. Yet back home, life was about to become very different and I wasn’t there to guide my kids through it. On the work front, assignments were being cancelled because of budget constraints, and the factory were struggling to find what were usually readily-available materials, jeopardizing the completion of the whole Ramadan collection.
Ten days later, I learned I would need more surgery, but it would have to wait until the pandemic was over. Yes, it was now a pandemic. Surgeries were being rescheduled, oncology appointments conducted over the phone – and flights were being cancelled. My instinct was to rush to the airport, and in any other circumstance I would have, but I was still too weak to travel, let alone be isolated in a room by myself for a fortnight as the law decreed. Guilt consumed me.
Other mothers were navigating the pressures of being a parent and a teacher on top of everything else that lockdown and isolation brings. I should have been there dealing with the same, but I’d just had major surgery, and for the first time in my adult life, I had to put myself first. I couldn’t sleep wondering how my children were going to cope without me there, and if their father would be able to handle it all.
A little over two weeks later, I was advised to fly back to Dubai immediately – or risk there being no flights at all for the foreseeable future. If I didn’t go right away, I may not see my little ones for four months, if not more. So I took the flight, and write this from the confines of a hotel room, where I will ride out the Government-imposed 14-day quarantine alone.
It has been an incredibly emotional and anxiety-fuelled few months. In our fast-paced world, especially as mothers, we rarely get the opportunity to truly reflect; to allow the metaphoric dust to settle and really process what is going on in our lives. In my situation, I’m very aware that my experience has been strikingly different to others – almost one of reverse empty nest syndrome.
The life I’ve dedicated myself to for the last 11 years just kept ticking along without me. We raise our children to be independent, and set up our businesses to be capable of eventually operating without us, a true marker of its success. And so daily distance learning commenced with nothing more than a few technical glitches; orders were processed and deliveries dispatched without error. It’s a bitter-sweet moment of realization – feelings of guilt for being away during this time mixed with pride of the children’s independence, gratitude for my family’s support as well as the regret it took so much and so long to truly put myself first.
“This crisis has forced us all to strip down our daily lives; to simplify things and focus on what we really need”
I’m aware of the emotional heaviness that hangs over me. In the confines of this room, the silence is crippling, but even the quietest music is too much to endure. I cannot wait to feel those arms around – yet I sit here anxious and aware that my homecoming is likely to be incredibly overwhelming. Coming out of this, as I sincerely hope we are, I carry many lessons with me. Firstly, that I need to have more faith in the incredible resilience of my children at such tender ages. They’ve powered through and adapted to change with such positivity and maturity, I couldn’t be prouder.
Second, this crisis has forced us all to strip down our daily lives; to simplify things and focus on what we really need. It’s forced me to delegate, relinquish control and allowed me the headspace to focus on ideas I never made time for, and get inspired once again. Finally, and most importantly, this time has reminded me to be kinder to myself. I’m just a human; this myriad of emotions is normal, and this too shall pass.
- Compiled by Lucy Wildman