This is a look back. My life today is wonderful and I am grateful to God for every day.
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me—who? —Langston Hughes, “Theme for English B”
I read those words as a young woman, in college for the first time at around twenty three years of age. I was too old to be in college, I thought. My 15 month old son had just died after a lengthy, fatal illness. I didn’t fit in anywhere. The question, “Me—who?” was one I was asking almost every day.
I was definitely a daughter, sister, niece, granddaughter and friend. But the question didn’t go away.
There was a reason I questioned my identity so much just then. My sense of self was damaged from the ordeal of caring for and losing a precious baby. I was unsure if my husband wanted any more children and it was unclear by my history of infertility if I could even have another child even if he wanted one. I wasn’t even the same woman he married. I was stronger. Fearless in someways but scared of more loss but really, what could be worse than losing your child? I found out. Losing your child and your husband within a few years of each other.
Was I still a mother? I was no longer a wife. Would I ever be a mother or wife again?
I was every woman’s worst nightmare. I was happily married, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and even though he looked perfect, he had a fatal disease that took his life. Worse still, it was genetic between my husband and me. Meaning, if he met a woman on the street and had a child with her, he would have an almost 100% chance of having a healthy child with her.
And he did just that within a few short years after I read the question, Me—who? I was replaced utterly. She even worked at my old job. Had a healthy child for the man I once adored completely. The man whose child I bore. My heart broke. I was a failure as a woman in that man’s eyes and I feared, the eyes of those closest to me and even strangers on the street. Friends chose their sides. More loss. I rallied and made a comeback but I was hollow. Nothing I was doing then made any sense until I finished college.
It took me years to heal.
Am I still a mother? Before you say, “of course,” think about it. You are sitting with a bunch of women who are chatting about (complaining about,usually) their children and the subject of childbirth comes up. Someone describes a situation you encountered in your labor and delivery but do you share your story? Or do you become quiet because you don’t want them to ask you the typical questions such as, “how old are your children?” or “how many do you have?” You don’t want to see their horrified or shocked reactions to your truth. So you stay quiet. You are a mother in secret.
Then when someone learns you had a child who died and your husband left you for someone he worked with it is awkward. People so don’t want to be you they avoid you. They don’t want that fate!
Nobody says, “when I am a little girl I want to bury my only child and have a man I love grow away from me and leave.” It can be a very lonely place. I am someone nobody wants to be. Ever.
But, I don’t let it get to me. I am my son’s mother certainly and my identity has been shaped by my son’s birth just as surely as any other woman, but people don’t want me to own that part of myself. It makes them uncomfortable. They want me to move on. They want a tidy ending for me. It makes them angry at me at times. It sounds kind of mean but it happens.
In a way I got my own happy ending. I am grateful to God that I finally found a man who loves me even though I cannot bear children. He actually just wants me. So, the answer to “Me, who?’ became clearer. But the “mother” question nags at me.
So, what am I to do?
I pretend that I am just a childless woman who has dogs, a cat, chickens and a loving husband. The mother part of me is still there, but not doing anything, like an old, rusted car in the yard.