"I'd like you to meet my grandson's mom." I looked up from my plate of over-fried fish and chips to force a smile and extend my hand. My pseudo mother-in-law was introducing me to a friend during our most recent visit, and the introduction was what I've now come to expect from her. I don't have a name. Any information about my life, aside from the fact that I procreated, does not matter. I was the vehicle by which her grandson came into this world. That's it. I wasn't ever even asked a question that didn't revolve around my son. After a week of this, I started wondering if I weren't a mom, would I even exist? As a woman, I must admit that I'm reluctantly used to my identity being attached to and solidified by my relationships to men, but there had never been a time in my life when I was constantly bombarded by the power my relationship with my son apparently has over my entire identity.
A part of me is holding onto the hope that these endless and identity-erasing introductions are just a byproduct of my would-be mother-in-law's excitement. She loves my son deeply, is infatuated with every new milestone he has surpassed, and is entranced by every new mannerism he acquires. I have no doubt that she would do anything for him, and perhaps it is that deep love that has blinded her to the fact that I am more than my son's mother. I am more than a woman who brought another human being into the world. I am more than the 3 a.m. feedings and the frantic pediatrician visits and the diapers changes. My relationship to her son and my title as her grandson's mother is what brought this woman into my life, and me into hers, so perhaps those are the connections she cares about the most.
But that's not all I am.
After spending an entire life being whittled down to nothing more than who I am in relation to the men in my life, it all feels so ominously familiar. Perhaps it's not a conscious decision, but positioning procreation as the end all, be all of my existence mirrors every other instance I was referred to as my father's daughter or my brother's sister or my boyfriends' girlfriend. I was a footnote in the lives of the men who came into mine — the background music, adding something to the overall narrative but somewhat lacking when standing alone; humanized only when a man in my life cared enough to claim me as his own.
Now, as motherhood threatens to erase all I was and all I could grow to be, I'm left wondering if I would exist without my son. Who am I, if not my toddler's mother?
Would I have existed if I grew up without a father? As a prominent member of our small Eagle River, Alaska community, I was his daughter before I was ever myself. The daughter of our church's deacon, the daughter of a former police officer, and the daughter of a assistant dean to a private college. I was also the daughter of a physically and emotionally abusive father, but that quantifier was never spoken of outside the four walls of our violent home. I wasn't the girl with good grades, the girl who loved to read and write, or the girl who was obsessed with basketball. I wasn't a girl at all, unless I was someone's daughter.
Would I have existed without my past relationships with a variety of men? As an outgoing college and post-college student, I was seen desirable only because I was the singular desire of a few men. My relationships solidified my worthiness to be lusted after, loved, and cared for. Without my boyfriends, how would anyone know I was worthy of their time, efforts, or admiration? How could I quantify my worth? How could I stake claim to love or my right to experience it if a man didn't show others that I was worthy of his love? After all, when I was sexually assaulted at 25 years old, the detective mentioned that I had a boyfriend. "That will work in our favor," he explained as I filed a police report and regurgitated the painful details of the night I was assaulted by a coworker. "It'll send a message we will want the district attorney to hear," he continued, positioning my relationship status as a way to prove I was someone who was loved by a "good man," and not a promiscuous woman who was "asking for it." Without my boyfriend, I was a shadow in the background of someone else's life, worthy of assault because I was unworthy of love.
Who am I, if not the keeper of baby wipes? What is my worth as a human being sharing this planet with other human beings, if not to serve as the caregiver of the next generation? Are procreation and child-rearing, difficult and taxing and beautiful and worthwhile though they may be, all I can really give?
And now, as motherhood threatens to erase all I was and all I could grow to be, I'm left wondering if I would exist without my son. Who am I, if not my toddler's mother? In a culture that expects women to start procreating by a certain age, is currently working to strip women of their reproductive rights that would grant them the ability to become mothers on their own terms, and shames women who choose and/or are not able to have children, what kind of a woman would I be if I didn't blindly embrace my role as mother with little regard for anything else? Who am I, if not the keeper of baby wipes? What is my worth as a human being sharing this planet with other human beings, if not to serve as the caregiver of the next generation? Are procreation and child-rearing, difficult and taxing and beautiful and worthwhile though they may be, all I can really give?
It seemed like a lot think about over fish and chips in a small diner in my partner's hometown, but every "my grandson's mom" comment left me feeling empty and hallow. I do exist separate from my relationships, especially my relationships to men and even my relationship to my 2-year-old son. He does not define me; he enhances me. He is not my entire life's worth, but a life choice I made that has enriched my life for the better. He is not all that I am, but he is a part of me.
I am also a writer, an advocate, a best friend, an avid reader, The Office aficionado, a horrible mathematician, a feminist, a sports lover, a catastrophic klutz, a horror-movie lover, a woman who can put down an inordinate amount of sushi, a sexual assault survivor, a domestic abuse survivor, a survivor. I am a published author, an editor, a career-oriented woman. I am more than motherhood and if motherhood was something I either couldn't or chose to forego, I'd still be me.
Lucky for my son, he gets to have us both: mom, and me.