Kuli Kohli was born in India with cerebral palsy. Now lives in Wolverhampton, married with 3 children. She’s retired from Wolverhampton Council after working 32 years. She runs the Punjabi Women’s Writing Group. Her poetry Patchwork and A Wonder Woman are published by Offa’s Press. She’s performed at universities in London, Berlin, Liverpool. She writes for Disability Arts Online. She’s performed at the British Museum in London. She has been appointed Poet Laureate of Wolverhampton 2022 to 2024. She’s been awarded an honorary doctorate degree, Doctor of Letters, by the University of Wolverhampton in 2022. She is involved in various projects around the country. www.kulikohli.co.uk, https://linktr.ee/Kulikohli
A few questions …
What surprises you the most about motherhood?
The Asian community said it was impossible for me to get married, let alone experience motherhood. Becoming a mother was a big surprise. I was extremely anxious about how I would cope with being a mum, but I’m glad I did it. It felt like an experiment for me to see how I would manage with motherly duties. I have cerebral palsy which affects every aspect of my life, from getting up in the morning to basic personal care, to falling down through losing my balance, to cooking meals and eating. Carrying drinks without spilling them is a problem. It takes me three times longer to do physical activities. I need a walking stick, these days, to help with my balance, so, how on earth would I be able to raise my own family?
What do you find most challenging about motherhood?
I was extremely ill throughout all my pregnancies. I thought ‘What I have got myself into?’ I suffered low blood pressure where I saw stars before passing out, I had morning sickness which felt like 24-hour sickness. I suffered indigestion and heartburn which meant I couldn’t eat very much. The migraine attacks were horrendous where I had to stay in bed for 2 days or more. My sickness record was at the highest.
When I had my children, I was worried about dropping them or hurting them. I couldn’t give my baby a bath without my husband or grandparents’ support. It was difficult to dress and feed my children, but I found a way to do it. Through the tough prods of my fingers and tight holds of my hands, my children adapted to a special kind of motherhood, not experienced by many.
What are the highlights of motherhood?
It was fascinating that a woman with multiple disabilities could give birth to a perfect human being. The first time I saw my baby’s face after giving birth I was delighted. It was such a relief when I heard the words: ‘He or she is fine, fit and healthy’. To hear these words meant the universe to me, I soon realised I was just like any new mum/dad/guardian, but for me it was extraordinary.
Another highlight was when my in-laws came from India to live with us, it felt like a huge weight being lifted off us. As working parents, it’s always hard to find trustworthy childcare facilities. I didn’t want to feel like a duck with three ducklings following me all the time. I am so glad that my children had their mother and father, and grandparents in one house. This is the best kind of mother/parenthood a child can get.
Do you feel like a mother?
When my children were babies, I did feel like a mother because I did what I could to comfort them. Now they are older, 26, 22 and 17, I feel more like a friend than a mother. I give them freedom to develop the way they want to. I give them guidance when they need it and ask them questions about what they intend to do with their lives. I will always be their mum but most of the time they need a friend to confide in not a parent. I enjoy their feedback, their thoughts and their aspirations. I believe that motherhood brings together so many responsibilities that need to be credible for your children to become good human beings. Motherhood’s main goal is not just to bring a child into the world but nurture, encourage and love that child until the end.
What has shaped your mothering or parenting philosophy?
A Mother’s Philosophy
Everything around me has helped
shape my experience as a mother.
The joys, the losses, the fears,
the anxiety, the beauty, the tears,
the love, the loathing, the bumps,
the doctors, the medics, the dumps,
the midwives, the nurses, the NHS,
my husband, my family, my in-laws,
the household chores, the screaming,
the crying, the soothing, the calming,
the singing, the shopping, the juggling,
the teachers, the schooling, the cuddling,
the out of school activities, the sharing,
the joking, the laughing, the caring,
the feeding, the laundry, the bathing,
the accidents, the listening, the playing,
the squabbling, the sickness, the quarrels,
the problems, the tackling, the solutions,
the ambitions and most of all the love
that we have taken and given
to our children has all impacted
on my life as a mother in a family unit.
Never give up, never think you’re alone,
support is always available if you ask.
Becoming a parent or guardian
will change your life forever.
About your writing …
You performed Black Country Wonder Woman in the lockdown of 2020, with your son rapping some of the verses, twenty years after your experiences of miscarriage and having a baby born premature. What was it like to revisit the experience two decades on and in the lockdown?
I wrote Black Country Wonder Woman for a commission by Multistory for a project called ‘Sandwell Stories’. Revisiting the birth of my second son, Roshan, was something I thought about a lot, so when the commission came along it was the only story I could write about in connection with Sandwell. The lockdown and the pandemic gave me the appropriate tone of mind and feelings to revisit my experience as a mother who had endured a few miscarriages and the strange circumstances of the birth of Roshan. Whilst feeling lost and anxious during lockdown I could easily link my experience to my Sandwell story. It was hard to write the experience down in a ballad type of poem. I wanted to write it as it was then, and suddenly it became relevant to the lockdown and pandemic. I quickly realised I was writing for other new mothers and not just for myself.
Staying in and working from home was a shock to everyone’s system. I had never worked from home because I worked as a Welfare Rights Support Worker which meant that I had to support the officers, managers and clients. To give this support proved very difficult over the phone, email and Teams calls. This new experience and the emotional side to it gave me the ability to think in terms of my personal story about giving birth in difficult circumstances especially the petrol strikes of September 2000. Considering all these poignant feelings, I could then retell my experience in a dramatic way.
Could you tell us more about ‘Black Country Wonder Woman’, in particular these lines:
The baby will be fine
It’s you we’re worried about
Kind nurses and the hospital staff were great
Just as I deserved
I have cerebral palsy which means I don’t have much control over my body, I also fall down quite a bit. So, when I got pregnant, I was extremely worried about falling down and losing my baby. I was told by family members that I must be careful at all times. As the pregnancy progressed, throughout various illness, bumps and tumbles, the doctors and nurses told me that the fetus was safe in its amniotic sac. I needed to protect myself from all the external hazards around me. For someone with CP everything is a potential hazard!
The nurses in the maternity unit and all the antenatal hospital staff always gave me extra help and gave me a lot of motivation to keep going and carry on. They understood how disability affected me so they needed me to understand what was expected in the process of being a fragile mother. The NHS staff were quite astonished with how I was coping for a woman with cerebral palsy. They knew I needed that extra bit of help, encouragement and guidance. I remember when I was a child and throughout my life I was in and out of hospital. I was always anxious about going into hospital because I’d had so many engagements with the medics and consultants that sometimes I felt like a guinea pig. My CP created so many aspects for the doctors to investigate, they were fascinated about how to cure my spasms, my hearing loss, my inability to balance and my bodily pains. Life didn’t get easier, I just got stronger.
More on motherhood …
When I took on this commission, I thought this is a very good idea to give mothers and others an insight into becoming mothers, fathers, parents, guardians. I thought if I could tell my story about my experience of motherhood, I could provide it from another perspective to encourage new mothers.
As a woman with cerebral palsy and multiple other disabilities, being a mother was something I thought I would never experience. Even my own parents and the Asian community had doubts about it. They would say, ‘Who is going to marry her? She can’t even look after herself let alone look after a husband or have a family of her own’. They pitied me and felt sorry for me, but I didn’t want pity or sympathy, I wanted compassion, empathy and respect. I needed someone to say, ‘Yes, beta, darling, you can do this!’
I was young, naïve but had some motivation. I was a ‘wobbly woman’ with a dream to gain everything I could in this lifetime. I wanted to do it for myself and wanted to prove everyone wrong. After years of anguish and heartbreaks, I finally got on track to finding the life I loved and valued. Now when I am out with my growing children and husband, people say ‘Is that your brother or sister?’ and even thought that my husband was my father (he’s the same age as me!). When I say, ‘No, it’s my son or daughter or husband’ they are flabbergasted and say, ‘You have been blessed!’ or they say, ‘You must have done something good in your previous life to achieve all you have’. I say, ‘Excuse me, no, I have achieved all this in this lifetime because I don’t know of any other lives.’
Motherhood is my best friend because she gave me all the encouragement and awakened my intuition to the parenting instinct we all have inside us.
As a disabled woman, I struggle with life,
the challenges I must face every day –
from the moment I get up in the morning
right through to the end of the night,
these challenges make me who I am.
Relentlessly, I found a way to get through.
Like a worthless cow for sale whilst
I searched for a suitable husband.
Who would love, support me for who I am?
Finally, I found a diamond, my partner for life.
I thought motherhood was for someone else,
something I never thought possible.
Yet, I wanted my own family, a unit of love,
something I could call my own.
To take care of a baby seemed a million
miles away, “What if I dropped it?
What if I hurt it? What if I couldn’t cope?”
All these ‘what ifs’ crowded my mind.
When the moment came, after the pain,
a tiny bundle was delivered…
The first time I held my son Akaash,
all the doubts, worries and fears dissolved.
Motherhood… you came and took my hand.
It didn’t end there; my journey had started…
I am a swan with a new signet,
Motherhood like a magnet
a bond that tied us together.
The water below treacherous,
I knew I could swim with support,
Motherhood stood by my side
with arm bands, a paddle and a float.
With all the excitement in the start,
I was fragile with ill health.
My husband was extremely happy
with the birth of our son.
Another set of eyes and ears,
a new sensibility in a world
of incapacities. I was a mother
like no other, but it felt perfect.
Like every mother on the planet,
be it human, birds or animals,
parenting is an experience,
a change of a mindset,
a change of attitudes, duties
to safeguard new life.
Maternity leave with my baby
was a precious, valuable time.
A proud Dad, he helped in every aspect
except the changing of nappies,
poop was left for me to clean,
I didn’t mind – made it Mummy’s job.
Motherhood you provide, you guide,
you send the extra helping hands
when it’s quite a trial,
fill me with magic, mile upon mile.
To every mother, father, guardian,
you know you give it your best,
love is out there like a light switch
always on, always bright.
Now, my children are growing up,
‘Mum you’re our mum,
a very special mum!
With all your difficulties,
you raised us like any other mother would.
A wonder woman, a super mum,
if you can do it, so can everyone else!’
Motherhood, you took my hand.
Don’t Forget to Take Time Out as Mum
Take time to think,
it is the source of power.
Take time sit and watch,
and uncover your eyes.
Take time to read,
it is the fountain of wisdom.
Take time to laugh,
it is the music of the soul.
Take time to accept, sustain,
it will heal the wounds of pain.
Take time to walk in nature,
it is a way to link up with unity.
Take time to meditate,
it is discovering how to connect.
Take time to love and be loved,
it is a human right.
Take time to work,
it is the price of success.
Take time with your children, your family,
it helps to build a positive future.
If you are always rushing in life,
you can forget the value of time.
When it comes to a full stop, you realise
life and time walk together, hand in hand.