Tomorrow is Mother’s day. If you are like me, you are not a mother, but have experienced a parallel mother-universe called Caregiving.
When my boyfriend Patrick sustained his Traumatic Brain Injury, we were fresh 30’s something that still felt like 20-somethings. Life was pretty consistent, but I remember things beginning to change around me. I had a group of girlfriends at the time, that had just begun the inevitable late-twenties-early-thirties shift, and were separating into the two female camps: married/mom and single/childless. In fact, 9 women in my life gave birth the year that Patrick got hurt. Nine.
I’ve known women who’ve wanted to have children, more than just about anything, ever since we were in grade school. And I’ve known women who’ve always been 100% certain that they would never have children. For me, it was never a passionate choice to not have children. I always assumed that one day I would have them. It was more that ever since my youth, I’d been driven to somehow get my art out into the world. I felt constantly pregnant with creative ideas, and spent most of my 20’s finding ways to give them birth. I really did, (and still do), think of my artistic projects as my babies. There is a painful labor of love in creating art. And there is nothing more powerful than starting with an idea, and then being able to look at it a year later, laying finished in your hands. It’s incredibly fulfilling, and it satiated my desire to give birth to children for a long time.
Then, Patrick got hurt. Consequently, our early 30’s have gone by in a blur of relentless, hard work throughout his recovery. Today, Patrick is doing amazingly well. We have made it through some crucial stages of TBI, and have hit our stride managing things. As a result, I’ve recently been experiencing the beginning of a “coming up for air” in the waters of TBI. (I’d been down in the deep water for such a long time, that I’d become somewhat oblivious to life up on the surface). Patrick is becoming more and more independent, and there are occasional bouts of down-time for me. So, I’m trying to find my place back on the surface again. But then something comes along like Mother’s day, and its a reminder to me that despite my efforts, I am still a bit lost somewhere between the two female worlds.
There is the mom camp: women exchanging recipes and tricks-of-the-trade, passionately posting their infuriation about laws restricting breastfeeding in public, and issues surrounding transgender bathrooms, that their children may or may not have to use. My FB newsfeed is flooded with images of their children’s freshly-scrubbed, adorable faces. These were women that a few years ago, I used to hit the clubs with dressed in tight dresses and heels. We’d eat chicken fingers and french fries at 2 a.m, and laugh about the ridiculous antics of the night. Now they’re moms, and their lives revolve around taking care of other human beings.
(“But wait”, I ask myself. “Hasn’t my life revolved around taking care of another human being for years? Are we so different?”)
And there is the single camp: women who are established in their careers; dating, possibly traveling, hanging with other singles, and even still hitting the clubs and bars on a friday night. My social networking newsfeed is flooded with their adventures too, and their freshly scrubbed faces as they walk out the door to go dancing, or meet up with friends. Some of them are even still eating chicken fingers and french fries at two 2 a.m, laughing together about the antics of the night. They’re childless, and possibly single, and their first responsibility is likely to themselves.
(“But wait again”, I think, “aren’t I childless and youngish too? Are we so different?”)
As I racked my brain for the answer, I realized that there is a third women’s camp out there that no one ever talks about: The Childless-Caregiver. And there are many more of us than most people realize. We are women who do not have children of our own, but have sharpened our maternal instincts so intensely, through love of our injured husbands or boyfriends, that we could blend in with a crowd of mothers with our eyes closed. We do not have children, but we have a mother’s heart.
We are not mothers, but we have changed diapers, given baths, dressed and groomed our men when they couldn’t do it for themselves.
We are not mothers, but we have been elbow deep in body fluids and throw up, too many times to mention.
We are not mothers, but we have transferred our men to the bed, wheelchair, shower-chair, and to the carseat.
We are not mothers, but we have taught our men to speak, to read, to dress, to tie their shoes and to walk.
We are not mothers, but we sat and did puzzles with our men, laid by their bedsides when they were sick, did exercises with them, and worksheet “homework” from rehab with them.
We are not mothers, but we have advocated for our men. Fought for them. Nearly died for them. And we did it all, hopefully, while recognizing that these men needed the dignity that grown men deserved, even if they needed the guidance of a child, of at one point or another in their recovery.
We are not mothers, but we can’t imagine a pride more intense, pure, or fueled by love, than what we feel when our men against all odds, achieve new levels of recovery.
We have in an essence, re-raised our men. So no, we are not mothers. We are however, some kind of rare, beautiful hybrid that exists between mother and childless women.
Life on the surface is now strange for me. It may be for you, too, if you are living like I am. I don’t know if I should be hitting the club in a dress and heels with my childless friends, to gab about their latest adventures, or grabbing coffee with my mom friends to talk about the struggles of making time for yourself. Maybe I should do both… or neither? Because the reality is, that I don’t seem to fit in either world anymore. I don’t feel at home in either camp. And in a time in my life, where everyone seems to have chosen theirs and built a community, I often feel lost without one of my own.
But then I remember that I am not alone. I remember that I have a camp of amazing, strong, fierce women to call my own. Even if we are scattered all across the globe, I know that these women are my closest, dearest friends. They are my blood-sisters. So to all the women in the third camp, I just want to say Happy, Non-Mother-Mother’s Day to you. Go get a massage. Get a pedicure. Take a bubble bath. Go for a walk on the beach. Drink a damn mimosa. Because you know what? You deserve it. We all do.
Love and light,
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