‘Motherhood is a great equaliser. You have that solidarity’

Aradhana Ghai, from Kenya, moved to Dublin in 2014. When her father died three years later, her young son helped her cope

Aradhana ‘Kuxi’ Ghai: “For Ishaan, Ireland is home and it’s very important for a child to know where his home is.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Aradhana ‘Kuxi’ Ghai: “For Ishaan, Ireland is home and it’s very important for a child to know where his home is.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Aradhana “Kuxi” Ghai always imagined she would return to work shortly after giving birth to her first child. A career-driven woman, she was eager to get back to working as a producer and media consultant as soon as her son was born. These plans disappeared as soon as Ishaan arrived.

“Before I felt that I could do everything and have it all. But having it all completely changed its meaning when I gave birth. I fundamentally changed when my son was born. When I look back at the person I was before Ishaan arrived I can’t relate to her.”

“When he was born I made the decision that I had to raise him. A career is a career; you can restart it or get another one. I didn’t go through 44 hours of labour so that someone else could raise him. From everything I’ve read the first five years of a child’s life are the most important. It’s when you set their foundation.”

Ghai, who is from Nairobi in Kenya, was already in her second trimester when she moved to Ireland with her Irish husband. The couple had met in Tanzania, were married in Kenya and then moved to Valencia in Spain, where he was based. However, when Ghai discovered she was pregnant, they made the decision to move to Dublin and arrived in August 2014.

“We felt it would be nice for Ishaan to grow up with family and in terms of opportunities and standard of living, it was much better for him to be here.

The first trimester of Ghai’s pregnancy was difficult, and Spanish doctors had warned of a strong possibility that she would miscarry. As soon as she arrived in Ireland she made an appointment with the Rotunda Hospital. “The midwife there became my best friend. I was probably a bit clingy, but I had so much love for her because she was helping me with the most important thing I was ever going to do.”

Kindred spirits

Going through a pregnancy without the support of her parents and brother was very difficult. She idolised her father. “It’s like we were kindred spirits. If something bad happened in my life he’d know to call me. They say your grandkids are your reward for putting up with your own kids. I would have loved to have him there with his grandson.”

When she arrived in Ireland in 2014 she only knew her husband’s friends, but over time, through prenatal classes and pregnancy yoga, she began to build her own friendships. “I met my closest friend here when I was pregnant. She was pregnant, too, and our kids were born three weeks apart. But I’m also one of those people who will make friends with people at the bus stop. I’ll chat to anybody.”

“Motherhood is a great equaliser. You see another mother and you can see her struggle. You have that solidarity and you know how it feels.”

She also developed relationships through her work with Akidwa, the national network of migrant women living in Ireland. Ghai had met the president of the network during her time in Spain and was asked to join the board of the charity after moving to Ireland.

“When Ishaan was just a couple of weeks old, he came to the board meeting with me so he’s grown up as an Akidwa baby. They were so supportive of me as a mother and now if I’m going to a meeting it’s almost a given that Ishaan will be there too.”

In 2017, two years after their son was born, she and her husband decided to separate. That same year her father suddenly became ill and died. “In one year I lost my marriage and lost my dad, but the thing that almost broke me was understanding the reality of housing. You read that things are bad, that hundreds of people are queuing to rent a tiny house, but then you see the queues actually do go around the block. Last year was about growing for me and learning to navigate through those challenges while keeping the happiness and security of my child as paramount.”

Time to sleep

Looking after her young son distracted herself from the pain of losing her father. “Ishaan knew I was sad and he knew pops had gone to sleep. He had told my dad over Skype that it was time to sleep. I don’t know if I was looking for greater meaning but it was like Ishaan gave him permission to go because that night he died. Ishaan has really helped me. It’s because of him that I’m not falling into grief.”

Ghai plans to stay in Ireland so that her son can grow up close to his father. “We are both very committed to Ishaan and providing the best for him. His father will do anything for him and will be there in a heartbeat. We don’t have the same philosophies as parents, which is fine, because there’s a reason why a kid has a mother and a father. We shouldn’t be the same person, that’s how you raise a balanced child. For Ishaan, Ireland is home and it’s very important for a child to know where his home is.”

She hopes to return to university next year and would like to become a solicitor. “I don’t think I can be a producer any more. Now that I’m a mum things like a mortgage and pension are much more important than a really cool idea for a film. If you only have one income it better be a good one. When Ishaan is in school I’ll have more time for studies. I’m intensely passionate about justice and democracy, so human rights law feels like a given. The way I was proud of my dad, I want Ishaan to feel that about me.

Sorcha Pollak’s book based on this series, New to the Parish: Stories of Love War and Adventure from Ireland’s Immigrants, is out now

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish