Moving to a new country as an almost 30 year old woman, it was hard to feel connected to a big group of women. And then I become a mother and found myself part of a lovely mother’s group with women on a similar typical-baby-rearing path. But as briefly as I walked that path, it was gone. Some women never get to walk that path and others, like me, walk it for a time until a diagnosis, accident or other trauma hurls you off it. My new and fragile identity of ‘mother’ that was still being formed and had allowed me to connect to a group of women was suddenly, unexpectedly and permanently altered. Where do I belong now?
I have found myself grappling with my identity as a mother and a woman in varying degrees in the years since H’s accident. There are times when I feel powerful and assured of my place and my purpose and then there are moments when it feels like I am completely lost, alone amongst a world of connected women. There I stand, isolated. Perhaps on an island of my own making. An island that I’m afraid to leave but even more afraid to linger on.
And then I did 2 things.
Halfway through H’s first term of school last year, I was standing with a group of women chatting whilst we waited for the school bell to go. It was the same group that I’d found myself chatting to almost every morning and every afternoon, 5 days a week for the past 5 weeks. We laughed through shared experiences of toddler tantrums, commiserated over the daily work-life-laundry struggle and, as a bonus, our kids seemed to like each other too. And so I did what needed to be done, I delivered the one line proven to take any fledgling friendship to BFF status: “Shall we go out for drinks?” A few weeks and a few bottles of champagne later, a group of happy women walked home together with the only lonely victims of the night being a group of mum wagons dutifully abandoned in the pub car park.
But this mum, who lives across two worlds, realised that something else was needed. The women from my non-typical path. The women who can recite reams of medications and run you through a list of diagnoses that would make your eyes water. In the early days we met at therapy groups, workshops and regular early intervention appointments, but now, with kids at school and younger siblings demanding already non-existent time and attention, the closest we come to a catch up is liking a picture on Facebook. And so we decided to attempt a semi-regular evening catch up. The kind of catch up where anyone can cancel at a moment’s notice because we all get it. The kind of catch up where you can vent and moan and complain about a world that doesn’t always understand your child in a safe space. The kind of catch up where you can compare the various ways that the most distressing news has been delivered to you and have tears of laughter streaming down your face, because the years have passed and you now know that laughing is a much better strategy.
How lucky I am to have access to not one, but two groups of like-minded mothers. And so I look up and see that I am surrounded by women, phenomenal women…
To all the women who I have known my whole life. The women who have been there for first days at school, learning to read and learning who we are, together.
To all the women who were there for the carefree years, embracing a life free of responsibility and filled with dance-offs, breakups and discovery.
To all the women who I don’t see as much as I would like to, but there you are, steadfast, watching and caring for our family. Cheering us on through every little win.
To all the women who text, email, call and message without ever expecting a reply. And when my late and apologetic response eventually arrives, you’re gracious, kind and understanding.
To all the women who, in lieu of being able to provide your physical presence, have sent gift parcels filled with chocolates from home and girly treats or sent me off to be pampered. Your insight and care (and understanding of how I miss a bright, painted nail) humbles me.
To all the women who still invite me for drinks, coffee, play dates knowing that I may cancel at the last minute or possibly double-book you with one of another thousand appointments I’m trying to juggle, your kindness (and resilience) astounds me.
To all the women, thank you.
Thank you for surrounding me with your love, belief and encouragement. I sometimes hear you say things about the way that we have coped with all that we’ve been through amazes you, but this is not something we or I could have done alone. I’ve made it through because you were there.
And to all the women who may feel isolated, afraid to leave their island, I see you. Don’t be afraid to look up and reach out. Your women are there.
And remember there’s always the proven BFF-making line; “Shall we go out for drinks?”