Zaida Ibrahim entered motherhood as the mum to 7-year-old Adam. Now that she is a mother of two, she is discovering how a woman’s capacity to love is not constrained to labels.

Due to COVID-19, our initial shoot with Zaida had to be postponed and eventually cancelled. However, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, we didn’t want to bury her story, which is one of the most beautiful tales of acceptance and true love that we’ve had the chance to witness, so we asked that her husband Arif Azizi be the photographer. All images in this story are taken through his lens and grant us a small snippet into their daily lives and, more importantly, their love at home.

(L-R) Adam, Aedris and Zaida

When Zaida Ibrahim said “I do” to Arif Azizi in August of 2016, she was saying yes to two new chapters of her life simultaneously. One was becoming the wife to the man she calls her “best friend”. The other was officially becoming mama to Arif’s 7-year-old son, Adam.

“Everyone takes time to adjust to being married, myself included. For me, it was not just adjusting to being a wife but also a mother,” she recalls fondly over our Zoom video call.

Apprehension did strike her heart. Motherhood is tough enough; will she be able to give Adam all the love and care he needs when she, at that point in her life, has never been a mother herself?

“I have a lot of nieces and nephews so I’m used to being surrounded by kids, but being a mother and being the fun aunt is very different,” Zaida shares of some of her early fears.

She took a chance – on love, on herself and on a boy she will come to love as her own. Almost four years later, her family picture is one she wouldn’t have any other way.

Subscription leaderboard

Two is company, three is family

Zaida and Arif hit it off almost immediately when they were first introduced by a mutual friend. It was at a time when Zaida herself was looking to settle down and she found in his loving and family-first nature everything she wanted in a husband. Learning about Adam was an added pleasant surprise.

“When we started dating, I’ve met Adam. When I found out that Arif has a son, I made it clear that if we want to make it work, I need to be able to see whether it’s something I can do. I’m very realistic in that sense,” she reveals. “I didn’t want to assume that everything is going to be rosy.”

Her concern was making sure Adam didn’t feel left out because of a new person entering his father’s life. “If I’m in, I’m all in,” she tells. “I don’t want it to be a marriage of me and Arif with Adam just on the side. I told myself going into this relationship that it has to involve me, Arif and Adam.”

Sweet-natured and precocious, Adam warmed up to her in no time through their weekends together and sleepovers during the school holidays.

“He was never difficult to accept me,” she notes gratefully. “He was the one who kept asking when we were going to get married because he wanted to move in with us.”

Adapting and adjusting, together

Following the wedding in Bali, new mother and son set out with high hopes to ease into each other’s lives. Zaida was looking forward to connecting with him while allowing him the space to learn to love her in his own time. It wasn’t without its own challenges.

“That change wasn’t just hard for him, but it was also hard for me,” she opens up truthfully. “He was used to just seeing me on the weekends or once or twice a week. Now we have to do homework and chores. I now have to play the parent card and discipline him. We both had to adjust to that.”

To nurture the process, Zaida also made the decision to wait a while before having another child to ensure Adam doesn’t feel overlooked. “I needed both of us to adjust having each other in our lives first before another baby. I don’t want Adam to feel left out, and I don’t want that guilt of him feeling left out make me spend less time with the baby,” she reasons

“Marrying or dating someone who has a son is a big deal… but I would do it again because I’m very happy with where I am now.”

Zaida looked to Arif a lot during these times in getting closer to their son. His patience and keen understanding of his own son added more to the list of things she loves about him. “He’ll try and get me to understand where Adam is coming from to help me put things into perspective. He will talk to me, he’ll talk to Adam and bridge us,” she exemplifies.

This calm reasonable side of him has not only strengthened her relationship with Adam, but also their own. “He’s a lot more patient than I am and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that he was divorced before,” Zaida shares. “To him, small matters are not worth to fight over. He knows what’s important and what’s not.”

Her family’s acceptance also played a pivotal role. Her parents considering Adam as their own grandchild set the trail of love regardless of blood for her. Today, she shares with pride how Adam comes to her for everything from guidance on homework to telling her about girls.

“Sometimes, I underestimate him,” she tells. “ I think it might be because he has gone through things that most people have not. He’s very sensitive to people’s feelings and he’s the sweetest with Aedris.”

Mother of two

In October 2018, Zaida got to experience motherhood all over again, in a whole new way. She gave birth to her second son Aedris, who arrived to complete them as a family of four.  She got to experience the journey of the pregnancy, the birth and the feeling of holding your child for the first time minutes after he entered the world.

“Some people say I’m already a mum so it shouldn’t be different but this was a new experience,” she regales. “I just started crying the moment he was put on my chest. I have never felt anything like it – it was immense happiness. It was a special moment.”

All the proverbial words of motherhood didn’t prepare her for the kind of love she would feel, each wave getting deeper as the days go by.

“It’s so crazy because no matter how old you are, you’ll always think you’re still young, but the moment Aedris came, I felt like a different person,” she lets on. “I see things differently now. I prioritise differently. Me-time is important but now whatever you decide is no longer just about you, it’s about the whole family. It’s taught me to be more patient and I’ve learnt how to see things from other people’s point of view. I’m softer. Everyone changes once they become a mother and the thing that most people can relate to is being a lot more patient.”

“A mother is a mother when she loves you and cares for you unconditionally.”

There were hard days, but they only make the good days all the sweeter to savour. There will be more hard days, but she rests easy knowing that she has the strongest support system and Aedris has an older brother who would protect him for the rest of his life.

“Having Aedris has also changed Adam,” she observes. “Now he’s the big brother. He’s always the one fussing over Aedris. I have to assure him that it’s okay for Aedris to fall sometimes. Aedris adores him. Adam can do anything and Aedris thinks it’s funny. Seeing that relationship between them is lovely.”

Love knows no boundaries – or labels

Growing up in a large family of five children, Zaida has always known she wanted to be a mother and had looked forward to the day she became one. Little did she know that her journey would be so much more meaningful, gifted to her by two distinctly different motherhood experiences. Being a mother to both boys have taught her different things, but they all stem from the place – love. A mother’s love exists not only from biological mother and birth, but shines where there is bond between woman and child.

With Aedris, she experiences every day the unconditional love of a mother who forgives faster than she angers. With Adam, she is learning the boundless capacity to love and nurture of a mother, which expands every day and certainly is not constrained to labels.

“He is my stepson but I’ve always seen him as my son,” she says on the topic of labels. “A mother is a mother when she loves you and cares for you unconditionally. That’s how I feel about him and that’s why he calls me mama.”

Helping Adam come to grasp the concept has also shone some light for her own situation. “I always tell him that it’s okay to love many different people because many different people love you. I think when he was young he was worried that should he love an extra person, he’ll love another person less.”

She understands that her situation may be unique but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I would do this all over again,” she tells without missing a beat. “Marrying or dating someone who has a son is a big deal because it’s a territory that not many have gone through and it’s difficult, but I would do it again because I’m very happy with where I am now. I am very happy being with my husband, having two children and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

It’s only opened up her eyes to so many different kinds of love that most may never get the chance to witness in their lifetime, and for that she’s forever thankful. Just as it had strengthened her and taught her the many capacities of love, she hopes her boys will also grow stronger from it.

“I hope they grow up to be as close as they are now, with Adam always protecting Aedris like right now. I’m very close to my siblings, so I’m glad that they are, too,” she says. “Because of their age gap, Adam will always be the protector.”

Zaida Ibrahim took a chance – on love, on herself and on a boy she will come to love as her own. Almost four years on, her family picture is one she wouldn’t have any other way.

Photography: Arif Azizi