I had gathered with a large number of wonderful ladies and we were going around introducing ourselves. As part of the “about me” sentence, it was suggested that we share how many children we have and how old they are. Of all the women in the room (some younger than me), I was the only one childless. I held it together, but that moment of “I’m Melanie, and I don’t have have any children” was raw and painful and even embarrassing. Did I belong?
Later that day, one of my friends, knowing my struggle, pondered, “When did our children become our identity?” A good question, indeed.
For years now, I have wondered if I would ever been seen as a grown woman–adult, independent, responsible, able. I look young for my age (as in I am mistaken for a teenager on a weekly basis), so this doesn’t help my case. But I have been on my own for nearly 10 years. Four and a half of those, I have been married, and together we’ve maintained a home, jobs, and a bank account. But I still feel like an “outsider” so often.
So much of women’s conversation revolves around their children; and for a good reason. I understand that being a mother does become much of a woman’s identity and that her love for her babies is unmatched. But I can’t participate in those discussions. I smile, of course, and I truly do enjoy hearing about my friends’ children. I love playing with their kids, being called “My Melanie” by those little ones who love me dearly, seeing photo updates of their growth and reading stories of hilarious antics.
But, no matter how welcoming my friends are & no matter how much I love being with them and their children, nothing can offer me entrance into the sacred club of motherhood other than a child of my own.
And so, I remain the babysitter, the onlooker, the dreamer.
How can I change the world’s perception of me? Can I be a woman–fully alive, not lacking purpose– even if I never have children? You might say, “But of course I see you as a peer, Melanie, as a friend.” But there’s nothing either of us can do to change the gap that exists.