I changed on a fundamental level this June.
Before, I felt crushed. After, I felt like I had been chiseled beneath that, to my bedrock, like I had been scraped out and sandblasted and strip mined.
I am 32. I’ve been happily married for ten years. And I have no children.
I hate to ruminate on these facts, but losing our foster son was harder on me than I thought it would be.
Our barrenness was, in many ways, easier to accept when the news first swallowed me whole, back when the doctor called and told us that we could not have children. I was much younger then. Most of our other friends didn’t have kids yet, and those who did had no social lives. Babies freaked me out. I didn’t really understand what I was missing then.
But I am starting to see it now.
I’ve had a lot of time to observe the nature of a young family as a bitter outsider, like someone who is sure her invitation to the club must have been somehow lost in the mail. I have seen motherhood completely change people (even former students, some more than a decade younger than me): I’ve seen girls unscrew their tongue rings, trade in their thongs for sensible hiphuggers and their sportscars for minivans, and eliminate their favorite curse words from their vocabulary in favor of coos and giggles.
But I’ve seen bigger changes in these young mothers that aren’t even cosmetic: I’ve seen lazy girls gain purpose. I’ve seen nihilistic girls come to believe in purpose and hope and tomorrow. I’ve seen fearful girls become brave. I’ve seen rude girls become more aware of their behaviors and attitudes. I’ve seen I’ve seen selfish girls lay themselves down for their children. They are constantly giving up themselves to care for themselves and their families. They never think of themselves alone, and it is inspiring.
I will admit it: I envy them.
I envy them this change. I envy them the driving force behind their change. Five years ago--even three years ago--the changes in these women were not nearly so profound. Their children were a catalyst that produced within them the type of transformation that can only be described as miraculous. Their children saved them. Their children gave them purpose and energy and direction and an outlet for their love.
I have watched these women turn their love and attentions inward, turning away from society and towards their families. Their priorities have changed dramatically.
It is often awkward for me to talk to them now--especially when they are around other moms, because I am not sure I know how to even be friends with them anymore, and I’m not sure if they know how to be friends with me anymore, either.
Conversations inevitably lead to their families, and I feel like I have nothing to contribute. It’s like listening to a foreign language I may never learn to speak. I know nothing of diaper brands or daycare rates or the pros and cons of breastfeeding or certain potty training methods. I have no stories of my own to bring to the table, especially now that we no longer have a foster placement.
I know it’s terrible, but I often end up avoiding my mom friends.
In group settings, I almost always end up chatting with the husbands about lawn care or corn prices or something else I know little about, or I run around with their kids and play games.
I am not trying to be rude, but I just don’t know how to relate to them right now. (And avoiding them is less painful than being a ghost.) Our lives are on such different trajectories. I feel like I only knew a husk of these friends, like the people I knew before they became mothers weren’t really who they were at all, and now that they are mothers, I've discovered that I never really knew them at all. And they all seem to know and understand each other better than before. And I don't.
I don’t understand them better.
Not even after having a foster child.
I feel this chasm growing between me and almost all of my mom friends. They have successfully leapt across this void into familyhood, and I am left behind, longing to join them. We are in different worlds now. I am watching them adopt the culture of their new world, and they’re thriving. (Even when they think they’re not.) And I am crafting my own culture out of whatever leftover shreds of myself I can find, stuck somewhere between teenager and retiree.
There are times when I log into Facebook, scroll through the newsfeed, and want to throw my phone across the room and burst into tears, because all I see are their beautiful, hilarious, touching family pictures. (Even their profile pictures are of their kids--I can list on one hand the number of mom friends I have who have profile pictures that are actually of themselves.)
Their families have become their identities. They are mothers above all else.
Which is beautiful, as it should be, and hard to witness.
It is hard to write this without crying. The backs of my hands are wet with tears.
This is true with my own mother, too. I have seen her sacrifice and her devotion and her care and her pure, pure love to me and my siblings. Even though her children are grown, she is a mother, above all else.
And sometimes, that is the most hurtful thing she can possibly be to me, because it is a reminder of what she has that I don’t, what she is that I’m not. It is a reminder of that chasm that separates me from the women in my life who are mothers.
I feel like their families have changed them in ways that I can’t understand, and they know it.
And I know that I have changed in ways that they can’t understand, and they know that, too.
This chasm between us widens. Every day it widens. I wish I could vault across it and better understand my mom friends, to feel like I know them in addition to their families, to experience the kind of love and joy and devotion and purpose they experience, to peel back the husks of them that I thought I knew and see what truly lies beneath.
I want that so much.
But I have no idea how to make that leap.