One always feels so special on a birthday. You’re the centre of everyone’s attention, people call and write and there are always presents. Everyone is extra kind and you are indulgent to yourself. It’s an all-round stellar day. I had one recently myself, but I got to thinking about it and I realized anyone’s birthday exists because someone have birth to them, so all our birthday love is really down to our mothers (yes, one has a father too but we all know who does the actual heavy lifting when it comes to the actual production of a child, so fathers get to sit this one out).

Our mothers are the ones who made our birthday happen, and more often than not, no matter how old you are, they are the ones organising your birthday party. Us parents of currently small children find ourselves throwing big themed parties with bouncy castles and balloon arches; when we were younger our mothers made our cakes and drew donkeys on chart papers to pin the tail on. There was always jelly. A friend’s mother used to make jelly in sheets and cut it up into big squares, which was fascinating and guaranteed said friend’s eternal popularity. When you’re older they are the ones who have the tea or lunch or dinner at their house and have all your family over, and for a little while you get to feel like you did when there was jelly and musical statues.

Motherhood is made into such a dreamlike narrative of nurturing, self-effacing sacrifice for a reason: from the minute you make your entry into the world, your mother is the one at the fore of the action. It’s downright ridiculous how enormous the demands of a child are on a mother, even in an ideal world where fathers are hands-on and helpful and involved parents. It is almost indescribable. Nothing is your own any more—not your body, your life and certainly not your bathroom. It’s annoying at times to encounter the stereotype of the Good Mother, but one can see where the obsession stems from. Everyone needs to believe their mother loves them, and it is a mean and horrible world when mothers fail to do so. The trouble is, the world sets up such a binary of love—either you do or you don’t—that many mothers feel guilty and troubled when they feel they aren’t living up to the ideal standard we’re shown on television and in magazines.

It’s all right to be overwhelmed, resentful and swept-away by your children. It’s all right to mourn the stretch marks, the thinned hair, the never-quite-right-again body while simultaneously delighting in the perfect tiny ears and ten fingers and small round nose that came from it. It’s perfectly normal to love your children fiercely but also want to hide under the bed from them sometimes. Motherhood, like mostly everything else, is a state that is frustrating sometimes, inexplicable sometimes and sometimes the best thing you ever did in your entire life. Which is why you find yourself every year up to your elbows in cupcake batter, child-size chairs and plastic tat for goody bags, swearing that next year you will not give into this lunacy and yet, there you are, fishing children out of a slowly deflating bouncy castle because the electricity’s gone and hoping the goody bags won’t run out because some people took an extra one. All because of a child’s shining eyes on a day when everyone around her agrees about how special she is.

It’s the classic paradox of motherhood. You spend nine months carrying a baby, a day or two giving birth to it and your entire life raising it. And whenever the baby has a birthday—which is all down to you—nobody gives you a present, and you don’t ever mind. Why would you? It’s enough that everyone else celebrates the unique and beautiful person that is your child, and acknowledges how wonderful the world is because they are in it. It’s all true. None of it is exaggerated or put to sentimental music in an advertisement for chocolate. But this column is dedicated to all the mothers out there who are doing the best they can for their children, every single day. This is for my mother, who was very young and far away from her own mother when she had me. This one is for all our mothers and their extraordinary courage, for childbirth is still a mysterious and dangerous process that all of modern medicine hasn’t really been able to entirely control or predict. It’s for all the mothers who throw the birthday parties, even if it’s a candle stuck into a pastry at teatime.

It is exactly the reason why our government needs to direct state funds towards maternal health facilities and labour wards in public hospitals. It is foolish and ignorant to pooh-pooh childbirth with the dismissive “but so many women do it”. Just because women have given birth in fields and rickshaws doesn’t mean they should, or that they shouldn’t have the option of a hospital birth. Abroad the trend of home birthing is on the rise, but in a country like Pakistan where even basic water safety isn’t a given, it is far too risky to trust the life of a precious baby and it’s mother to a midwife alone or a dodgy clinic. Pre and post natal care is an issue that should be taken robustly under the Ministry of Health’s wing so that no woman has to suffer. Birthing is celebrated, but the majority of the ones doing the birthing are doing it in unsanitary conditions under the supervision of relatives or midwives. They must be supported and protected, so that a birth is always a joyous occasion.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore. She can be contacted at m.malikhussain@gmail.com