Motherhood is full of conflicting emotions. It can be beautiful and joyful and fun, but it can also be demanding and confusing and overwhelming at the same time.
In artist and poet Azalia Suhaimi’s illustrations, the Malaysia-based mother of two offers comforting reminders to parents navigating these ups and downs.
Many of her illustrations, which she shares on her Instagram account, @azaliasuhaimi, begin with the words “Dear Mama.” But she said they apply to dads and other caregivers, too.
“My artworks are titled ‘Dear Mama’ as they mostly began as love letters to myself, like self-reminders on a bad day,” Suhaimi told HuffPost. “When I decided to share them with the world, I then began building a community of like-minded mothers, all of whom I have really loved connecting and exchanging stories with.”
Suhaimi started her Instagram account several years ago when she was “going through the postpartum blues.” At that time, she would share her own photography with poetic captions that talked honestly about motherhood.
“I scrolled through social media and saw all these picture-perfect Instagram photos of mothers enjoying their new babies,” she said. “I felt weird and alone and left out, like I was the only one struggling with these difficult feelings while every other mother out there seemed to be having the best time of their lives.”
Then, during the COVID lockdowns, she took a digital art course online and began creating illustrations for her posts.
In her work, she enjoys capturing the raw and real moments of parenthood, raising awareness of maternal mental health issues and offering solidarity to other parents in the thick of it.
Suhaimi’s kids are now ages 8 and 4. She said this is her favorite phase of motherhood so far.
“I can finally sit a bit and reflect on all the lessons I’ve learned from the struggles of early motherhood the past few years. And you can see these reflections on my artworks.”
As an artist, Suhaimi hopes to make parents feel less alone in their own journeys, whatever they’re going through.
“Parenthood is hard and messy as it is, so it’s nice to have solidarity, and a safe space where we can talk about the hard things without being judged and where our feelings are validated,” she said. “And I hope my artworks provide that safe space.”
Another important part of Suhaimi’s message is reminding parents to give themselves more grace.
“Some of my darkest moments of parenthood were really made darker simply because I wasn’t kind to myself,” she said. “I easily judged myself and concluded myself as a bad mom when what I faced was simply just a bad day.”
For Suhaimi, learning to practice self-compassion made “a whole lot of difference” in how she parents her kids and in her motherhood experience.
“So I hope that my artwork can help remind other parents and myself too — I still need the reminder — to practice self-compassion,” she said.