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When I walked across the stage in June for my graduation, my mother stood up in the crowd – iPhone in hand, she cheered my name with pride as I achieved one of the most important milestones in my life so far. A milestone that I realize, more and more every day, would not have been possible without the sacrifices she made – big and small, near and far.

My name is Nadine Yousif and I’m a national reporter at The Globe and Mail. I recently graduated from Carleton University’s School of Journalism, and I’ve since moved out on my own to take on what is commonly known as “the real world.” Before that, I’d spent most of my life by my mother’s side. Nothing seemed too extraordinary about my living circumstances: My mother is a single mom of two, we lived in a small townhouse in Ottawa’s south end, and she spent most of her days hard at work treating patients at several family clinics.

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One day, I stumbled on a piece in The Globe titled “My mom, the free spirit.” In it, André-Jean Maheu reflects on the sacrifices his single mother with modest means made to ensure he had a fulfilling life. He writes, “To ‘provide for your family’ is a pretty vague concept. For most people, it is interpreted as working to get the money required to buy the things you and your kids need and want.”

I thought long and hard afterward about how my mom went about raising and providing for my 17-year-old brother and me. In 2001, my family and I lived in Baghdad. At the time, there were strict rules around who could leave Iraq. My mother was unable to emigrate because she is a physician and was considered an employee of the state. As the political situation became more tense, my mother’s survival instincts kicked in. She was eight months pregnant at the time, and we had to get out.

She doctored her passport, erased “physician” under occupation and instead wrote “housewife.” She packed our suitcases and stuffed them in the trunk of a taxi in the middle of the night. We drove 10 hours through the desert to Amman, Jordan. I was four years old at the time, and she made sure I slept through most of it.

In Amman, my mother always ensured I had everything I needed. She worked long hours, often having to spend nights in the hospital. Still, there was no parent-teacher conference missed, no Eid short of new clothes and gifts, and no homework left unchecked. Every night before a big evaluation, my mother would quiz me over and over until I got it right. I was the best I could be because of her.

Still, like in most mother-daughter relationships, we disagreed often. Colter Jackson writes in a moving New York Times piece that “The mother-daughter relationship is one of the most fundamental, informative and complex relationships of a woman’s life.” She describes trying to fill a “mother-shaped hole” in her life and longing "for the voice at the end of a late night phone call or an authority on how to thicken soup or remove a stain.” For years, I tried to distance myself from that authority under the guise of “self-discovery,” as most teens do. But as Jackson realizes, the influence of a mother-figure in our lives, whoever may fill that hole, is fundamental to who we are.

Self-discovery is an even more complex ordeal for a child of diaspora. But taking the time to understand and appreciate my mother’s sacrifices brought me closer to who I wanted to become. I realized this after browsing a photography exhibition titled “She Who Tells a Story,” recently on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. It featured photographs by and of women from Iran and the Arab world. The pictures allowed the women to construct their own identities, and ignore societal barriers in a region that often forced them into hiding. Through these photographs, the women displayed strength and resilience, and the courage to shape their own narrative.

That’s what my mother always did, from the taxi in Baghdad all the way to suburban Ottawa. I’ve tried my best to be just as courageous, both in my life and in my writing. And that bravery has propelled my career, allowing me to be fearless with every word.

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I think back to that stage I walked across in June, and wonder about all the mothers in the crowd. I hope they heard a much-deserved thank you – even if it’s shorter than this touching essay by Farah Ayaad. When we’re young, we often take things for granted. When we’re older, we become consumed with our own troubles, still taking those same things for granted. But one simple thank you, to those who are our number one fans, can mean a lot. I know my mother will always wait for my phone call.

What else we’re reading

Women’s reproductive rights have recently been a major topic of contention in legislatures across the world. Ireland ended an abortion ban earlier this year, while Argentina’s senate struck down a bill for legalization. In either case, and even at home in Canada, abortion remains a polarizing debate where everyone wants to have a say, from politicians to celebrities. A piece in the New York Times by Josephine Sedgwick aims to shed light on abortion from the perspective of women often forgotten – those who have had abortions. These women share intimate details about financial barriers, feelings of loss and feelings of liberation. It’s an essential read that looks at the decision-making process, as well as the procedure’s effect on mental, physical and emotional health. Abortion remains as complicated as ever, but I’d prefer to hear about its complexity from the women themselves.

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