Sunday, May 8, 2016

Reflections on Mothers Day... from a non-mother

As a kid, I had a pretty good idea of what life would be like as an adult. I would be taller. I would be allowed to stay up late. I would be able to drive. And I would have my own kids that would make sense of all the One day, when you have kids of your own, you'll understand comments from my mom.

In my early twenties, I was sure I was on the right track. Heading in that direction you assume you're supposed to be going. College, Job, Married, House, Kids (maybe not necessarily in that order). In my mid-twenties, after graduating college, I got married. Friends, family, peers, even acquaintances started nudging and asking when I was going to start having kids. Even the nurses at my family doctors office would remark on the way I engaged with the kids in the waiting room and sweetly ask when I was going to bring in news of my pregnancy.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I started to feel like I had made some kind of tragic mistake or series of mistakes somewhere. While my marriage fell apart, I watched those around me continue heading in the direction I'd once thought I was headed. They were having babies, buying houses, sending kids off to school... and I wondered what I'd done wrong.

Now that I'm into my thirties, reflecting on what I thought my life would be leaves me with what feels like a mixture of nostalgia and sadness.  Two of my little sisters and almost all of my friends have kids by now. It's been years since anyone asked when I'm going to start having kids (the only exception being my mom). There's a threshold you reach, it seems, after which people stop looking at you expectantly.

I'm 33 years old now. And I'm in a place in my life that I never, in all the possibilities of how things could turn out, thought I'd be here. I am finding myself falling in love with two kids who I didn't give birth to. And my heart is ripping wide open like nothing I've ever experienced.

I didn't get to feel the anxious excitement looking at that positive pregnancy test. I never felt that first flutter of movement. I never whispered loving promises to my growing belly. I never waited with growing anticipation over getting to finally look into the face of these incredible little people I had created. I didn't hold them after they were born and marvel at the features on their faces that reflected aspects of myself or their father. I didn't feed them, burp them, or rock them to sleep. I didn't change their diapers. I didn't stay up all night with sicknesses, nightmares, or colic. I didn't worry about rashes, fevers, or whether I was making all the wrong choices. I never watched them sleep and saw in these little humans the miracle of life that I had brought into this world.

I am not their mother. I do not know motherhood. I don't know what it's like to wake up each day with the thought of my children being the first thing on my mind. I don't know what it's like to hear a sound in the middle of the night and wait, listening to see if was one of mine who may need me. I don't know what it's like to hear your baby say 'mama' for the first time. I don't know what it's like to wipe tears from your eyes the first time you see your kid walk, or feed themselves, or learn something new and see the look of wonder in their eyes.

There is a lot about motherhood that remains a mystery to me. There is a lot that I wish I had. I still want to know what it's like to love another human being with so much intensity that your whole being is wrapped up in their happiness and security. I wish I knew what it feels like to see this little human and know that you'll never love another person the way you love them. I wish I knew what it was like to wonder at the reality of being able to love each of your kids with that much intensity and marvel at the depth of that love. 

In all the ways I imagined my life as a kid, I never thought would have imagined the possibility that I would love someone else's children, and that they would have such a profound impact on what I thought of who I am and what my life means. I never would have imagined how difficult, confusing, and emotional building a relationship with someone else's kids might be.

Life around someone else's children isn't easy. I am not their mother. They know it, I know it. Our relationship is a different one. And because my role in their life isn't assumed based on parentage, I must carve out my role around them intentionally; with care, consideration, and a lot of respect.

My feelings for them is fostered in a different way than a parent's would. I understand their limitations and their possibilities, and I am overjoyed that I'm able to participate in their exploration of the world around them and their growth as people. I see their wonder at the world and am excited to be able to keep that feeling of awe alive for them in all things.

There are many things I had assumed I would come into automatically when I gave birth to my children. Things I am only now beginning to realize can be grown into without ever giving birth. And while I am still navigating an unknown relationship dynamic, I am also beginning to look at where I thought I would be with reassurance that I may be headed there anyway.... just taking a slightly different path than most people.

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