All I wanted was to be a mom. To have a family. A few years ago, when I lived in Brooklyn, I thought I had a family – we talked about growing our family, we were house hunting, I was saving money for a down payment. It was a driving force for me in all the decisions I made: “what would be the best decision right now for the life I want now and in the future? What is best for my current, and future (hypothetical), family?”.
Apparently these are thoughts you have if you have a Type A personality (i.e. HAVE to plan all the things) and know you want to be a mom some day.
We were already raising two kids, one of whom was with us full time. It would have been a relatively easy transition – as easy as adding a child could be, since we were already doing it, even had a crib and spare bedroom ready and waiting.
It’s my experience, in speaking with girlfriends, female cousins, sisters, female mentors… that women seem to experience a few broad positions when it comes to motherhood. Some want to be mothers from as far back as they can remember. Some are open to the idea, but it’s not a “sure thing”, and don’t put too much thought into it at present (or, importantly, feeling into it, until the time is “right”). Some do not want to be mothers and either “grow into it” or continue to not desire to be mothers. I’ve always been in the first category. It’s just something I knew I wanted, felt it in my being, in my identity.
This is what made the blow so devastating when I found out that there would be a third child, but it would not be mine, it would be with an ex, someone I thought was in the past.
The blow was beyond devastating. I have never experienced that level of self-loathing, pure self-hatred, so visceral, I saw it in color – white hot, searing through my chest in a way I thought I would surely die of a broken heart. Or of shame.
Clearly, there was something incredibly wrong with me. I had proven that I could do it – I could be a full time mom while working full time (and commuting hours each day to do so), working on my masters, and still trying to be a 20-something female. I was right there, it was clear what I wanted in the future (to have my own child), and yet something must be horribly wrong with me if I was the one abandoned, I was the one tossed aside, lied to, betrayed. I wasn’t good enough to be seen as mother material.
For months after I found out I couldn’t watch an ad for Huggies or Pampers or Gerber. I went unnecessarily out of my way in Target because I could not walk through or past anything to do with babies. Any movie that had a pregnant woman in it got immediately turned off, or I left the room. The pain was too deep, it was full body, the emotional pain so intense it led to physical illness.
Our mutual friends, when they found out, had similar reactions. One was particularly spot on: “fuuuuuuck, that’s all Laura ever wanted.”
This secret baby, the baby that was conceived and birthed while I was still living in Brooklyn, was not only the literal embodiment of betrayal by someone I trusted the most at the time, it was the deepest insult anyone could have incurred on me – “I know this is what you want, but you’re not good enough, so I’m going to do it with someone else.”
A few years have passed and I am incredibly happy where I am. I wouldn’t change a thing, I even feel (know) that my life will be beautiful, whether or not I’m a biological mother. This past few years has forced me to focus on myself, something I didn’t do my entire 20s, and, in doing so, I love my life and myself, enough to be accepting and okay with whatever my life ends up looking life.
Maybe I’ll experience motherhood one day. Maybe I won’t. Life happens as it will, and we don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we react to what happens to us.
I’m proud to say that I’m finally at peace with where I am right now. I am grateful for what I’ve experienced because it’s forced me to learn to accept things as they are, to accept myself as I am, something I always struggled with before, trying to control everything to a compulsive extent.
It’s forced me to find enough things I like about myself, and things that make me fulfilled and happy, that don’t require any other person influencing my happiness.
Interpersonal relationships (family, friends, lovers, partners) are what make life worth living. But we have to learn how to be happy on our own, to be happy with our life without depending on anyone else for our own personal happiness.
This experience has taught me how to be happy, how to create a life worth living, how to see a beautiful life ahead – whether I become a mother or I don’t – no matter what happens.
I used to feel like I was somehow a lesser woman because I didn’t know the experience of having a child my own. This was perpetuated (or maybe started?) by said ex, who was a mother of one of the children I took care of in a step mom-type role, since she would make comments about how “clearly you aren’t a mom” or “you wouldn’t understand, you’re not a mom” or “you can’t hold him, only his mom”, as if I wasn’t experiencing very similar parenting situations as she, for children that, yes, were not my biological children. But I still helped with homework and planned birthday parties and meal-planned and packed lunches and spent my weekends at baptisms and baby showers and went through potty-training and calmed temper tantrums and soothed nightmares. I both recognized and hated myself for feeling like a lesser woman for not being a biological mom, especially given my feminist-leaning ideologies of women and gender roles. Yet…I always felt as though I were failing. And this betrayal just validated that.
Yet here I am, emerged with experience, scars, insight, and self-confidence, and I believe with every fiber of my being that I am exactly where I need to be. It’s amazing what two years of journaling, supportive and nurturing family and friends, therapy, meditation, and trail running can do. 😉
I also believe that women – all women – can make a difference and inspire young minds and lives whether or not they have children of their own or not – whether the “not” is by choice or not.
We women have to stick together, we have to empower each other, we have to truly believe that we can have the lives we want – even if our lives look very differently than we thought they would. Only you can give yourself permission to determine your level of self-worth – don’t let anyone else (whether directly or indirectly) do that for you. Don’t let societal expectations for what boxes you should have ticked by a certain age dictate your level of self-worth, or how successful you perceive yourself to be.
Life will have its ups and downs. But as long as you have confidence in yourself and in your ability to make life the best it can be, you can get through it all.
You can survive more than you think you can. You really are stronger than you think.
I am living proof that, even when you want to give up on life because it feels impossible and the totality of your internal pain and self-hatred are too much to bear… don’t. Choose to get up off the floor. Choose to take that first breath.
A thought as we reflect on 2018 and look ahead to 2019…
We are all given this one life, how can you make the best of it, even when (especially when) it doesn’t look like you thought it would?
Run on, my friends.