An Open Letter To My 21-Year-Old Self

Dear 21-year-old me,

You’re stronger than you know.

At this point in time, you’ve been married for over a year, been through a miscarriage, and are currently in the hospital freaking out over your rainbow baby who has been admitted in the NICU with congenital pneumonia. He’s going to be there for over a week and it’s going to be touch and go. He’ll have regular check-ups through his toddler years to assess for any brain damage. But it’s ok. Because that baby is a fighter, and he’s going to pull through.

Be kind to him. You don’t know this yet, but that tiny human is autistic, and you won’t find out until he’s 7 years old. People are going to tell you he’s normal, that there’s nothing wrong with him and that you’re just a bad mother who doesn’t know how to take care of your child. They are wrong.

You’re going to be a good mom. And your son is never going to be ordinary, but extraordinary.

Nobody, nobody, knows your child the way you do.

It is not your fault that he has tantrums and meltdowns. It is not your fault that he has trouble communicating and understanding. Love him with all that you are, because that’s the way he loves you.

You’re going to suspect he has ADHD and the people closest to you will get angry that you could even say such a thing. Don’t despair. You were right. And ADHD is not a bad thing. You’re going to bring him to doctors and speech therapists and have his hearing checked because you feel his speech is severely delayed; it will be the right thing to do. The diagnosis from the ‘experts’ will be wrong. But it’s ok.

The people who love you will turn against you. When you speak out about this child, or the situation you’re in, the people who love you the most will shut you down. They will blame you. They will say it’s your fault. It is not, and never will be, your fault. But it’s ok.

For a long time, it will be just you and Ayub. The two of you will be as one.

There won’t be people there to help or support you. So you’re gonna have to be strong. For Ayub and yourself. Because you’re going to be alone. And that’s ok.

A few years down the road and you’re going to be back at the hospital, giving birth to your second son. He’s going to be the yang to Ayub’s yin. They will balance one another. A weakness in one child will be the strength of another, and vice versa. Of course they will fight like hell and piss you off and annoy the shit out of you too. But you’re going to love the crap out of them.

Hang in there.

These years will be tough. And it’s going to get worse.

Just hold on.

Because when you turn 27, in 2014, your whole world will change for the better.

But until then, you’re going to have to deal with a pathetic excuse of a man. He will drain you financially, emotionally, and spiritually. He’ll make you believe it’s what you deserve. He will guilt you into giving in, and guilt you into asking for anything. He’s a dick. He will abuse you. Emotionally and physically. But it’s ok.

You will try several times to leave him. But you will still take him back. Even though he will hit your child, you will still take him back.

He will lie and manipulate.

Your parents will be on his side.

Your sister will be on his side.

Because you aren’t going to tell anyone about the abuse. But you are going to fucking tell the police, who won’t really help. Yet. It sounds shitty, I know. But the police will eventually get involved.

Yeah, things are going to get worse.

Your heart will be broken many times over and you’re going to cry a lot of tears. You’ll be misunderstood and shouted at. You’ll be turned away from people when you ask for help. But young Laila, believe me when I say, it’s going to be ok.

There will be good things. Your kids will bring you joy you never knew existed. Spend more time with them. Don’t look at your unmarried, childless peers and feel envy. What they have cannot be compared to what you have. Enjoy their stories, don’t waste time trying to create your own.

Your best stories will star Ayub and Sulaiman as the protagonists.

Now this is really going to suck but your sister is going to die. And you’re not going to see it coming. You will feel like shit for not spending time with her, or speaking to her, or telling her how much you look up to and respect her. But still, it’s ok.

All these things that will happen to you, will bring out the best in you. You’re going to discover just how strong, smart, brave, and fucking awesome you are. You are going to be invincible. Ain’t nobody gonna bring you down. Nobody.

As I said, when you turn 27, that’s when shit’s gonna hit the fan. You will pull through. You will finally leave. People will finally understand, and accept you. You will have to fight like hell to get that shitbag out of your life. You’ll have to fight like hell to keep your children. Don’t worry, at the end of the day he has NO INTEREST in the kids. He won’t ever call or ask to see them. Even on their birthdays.

Then, out of nowhere, you’re gonna meet a guy who is going to pick up all the pieces of your shattered heart, put them back together, and wrap them safely in his being. He’s going to fix things you didn’t even know were broken. He’s going to love the kids as his own. He won’t leave or hurt you. He’s going to give you and the kids the family you all deserve.

But that’s only going to happen in 2014.

So until then, 21-year-old me, hold on, be strong, and remember that whatever happens, it’s going to be ok.


Your 29-year-old self.


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Laila Zain

Laila is a working mama who married young, had two beautiful boys, went through a shitty divorce, met an amazing man, remarried, and had a beautiful girl. Her eldest boy is a rainbow baby and special needs child. Her second is ridiculously smart. Her baby is a baby.

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