I have for some time now been at an age where people I meet routinely ask if I have children. The answer is, “No,” and is usually immediately followed by some off-the-cuff explanation in an effort to rebuff what almost always comes next: “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
The truth is, I don’t want people to be “sorry” that I don’t have my own children. Life happened. Choices were made. Have there been moments of regret – absolutely. Honestly, if I had been in the relationship that I have now prior to the age of thirty-five, I wouldn’t be writing this now. But, I made peace with my decisions a long time ago and it’s just exhausting and frustrating to defend or explain them anymore.
The whole truth is: During my first marriage, my husband was adamantly against having children. Being young, naïve, and driven to achieve a certain level of success for myself, I absorbed this stance, believing that one day we would be secure enough in his estimation to at least adopt (which was not outside of his comfort zone). That marriage did not go the distance and after several years of bouncing about and setting upon my eventual career, I married again. This husband definitely wanted to have children; however, by this time I was embroiled in the early stages of building a company and put the whole child-bearing thing aside – temporarily. By the time I felt settled enough to consider putting my career into 2nd gear for a child (or two), he had put us on a direct course for complete and utter financial destruction that pulled me up short and resulted in our divorce about five years later. Adding to the drama, by the time I was dealing with lawyers and filings, I had FINALLY been diagnosed with the cause of the “female issues” that had plagued me for decades.
The diagnosis of fibroid tumors was a surprise, but not alarming, given the fact that most are completely benign and some women have been known to carry successful pregnancies to term despite them. But, I was faced with a more complex set of circumstances:
- I was around forty years of age – a time when the prospects of pregnancy complications and birth defects become significantly higher with each passing month.
- I was unmarried, and after two failed marriages, prospects did not look good for my long-term relationship capacities. I also wasn’t sure if I really had the mettle to face single parenthood by choice.
- The number and location of my tumors made any attempt at pregnancy a very high-risk proposition, and despite two biopsies, there were no absolute guarantees that full-blown cancer was not in the realm of possibility – and, a pregnancy could very well expedite the progression if it was already lurking in some place the biopsies couldn’t reach.
I ruminated over these factors and my options, planning to make a decision within a year – fibroid tumors being benign, right? Alas, however, at the fervent urging of a friend (who shall henceforth be known as my Life-Saving Conscience), I voted for full hysterectomy within just a few months, thus ending any options for giving birth. As it turned out, they did find Stage 1 Uterine Cancer post-op, and I endured two years of follow-ups and numerous admonishments to pursue further surgery and chemotherapy. At the end of the two years, I was finally declared Cancer-Free. While happy that I stuck to my guns, I was also keenly aware of the size of the bullet I had dodged.
At the age of forty-five, my “breeding” days were officially past history.
But this isn’t just about that. This is about celebrating the rewards of those choices: Primarily, having been blessed by the presence of some very special lights who have illuminated my universe from the day the first one arrived until now. Blessings that I probably wouldn’t have had the time, or the resources, or the emotional capacity to support in the ways that they needed, at the times that they needed it most. They have been My Children.
For them, in gratitude them and their families:
For those children who know me as “Auntie”, know that every breath I take, every molecule in my body, and every wish I make in life is for your safety, happiness, and prosperity. I was there to witness a few of you arrive in this world – tiny little lungs bringing in your first breath, fingers grasping, eyes blinking at the bright lights – these memories are burned into my mind. Others, I met shortly after the adventure of birth, either within days or months. For you, and for your earlier cohorts, I have very special movies in my head for each of you: The first time you were placed in my arms and/or walked into them, the first time I fed, bathed, or rocked you to sleep, the first time I heard you say “MaMa”, “DaDa”, the names of your siblings, or “Aunt …” Still others I met much later, as your parents and I became friends along the road of life. Yes, even you have your own rooms in my memory, along with the others: your dance recitals, baseball / football / soccer games, your Halloween adventures and graduations. Your first boyfriends/girlfriends, first jobs, first cars, and the first time you, too, hugged me and called me “Aunt…” I have watched over you from the day I met each of you, and in some cases have had the privilege of witnessing your weddings and the arrivals of even more beautiful beams of light, whom you now shepherd into adulthood. In one sad instance, I have stood in support and held the hands of your parents when you departed this world far earlier than we were all prepared to face. In another, I held each of you close and did my best to be of comfort when you lost those closest to you – even as I grieved their losses myself.
By your estimation, I may not have been as “present” as this all implies. That is fair. But, I also want you to understand that I have always been terribly conscious of my proper place. I am not your Parent, or your Grand-Parent, or even a true Aunt. I am a friend of your family, and as such, I have always taken great care to be mindful of that. Have I held my tongue when I disagreed with your Parents? Yes (ok.. H#!! YES!! – and it wasn’t easy, let me tell you!). Have I avoided being overly influential in your lives? Yes (although I would like to think that Some of my better attributes did rub off on you a bit). Have I been aloof or absent at times when you thought I should be there? Perhaps; for that I apologize – but now that we are all adults, we have time to remedy such things if you feel that need. However, all of these things I have done are because I Love You, and because I have the utmost respect for your families – my friends – and because I never wanted to overshadow their love for you in any way.
The point of all of this is just that you each know this, if you know nothing else: You Are Loved – beyond what you may be able to comprehend, and beyond any rational explanation – by Me. You might not even realize it, but I have always been in your corner, and I don’t plan on walking away any time soon.
And for you, in gratitude for you and for your Parents who included me in your lives, I promise never again to be apologetic or regretful that I did not have children. Because I do – in my heart.
As last year was drawing to a close, one of the brightest lights in my universe dimmed and then went dark. Her story was filled with adversities and sorrows borne and vanquished with impeccable grace. Her spirited lust for life, love, & compassionate works was insatiable – and infectious. She was My “Otha” Momma.
The actual Mother of one of my best friends, she appeared in my life during a time when my own home had become a battleground. I needed a place of refuge. She saw in my eyes the ghosts of her own past, for we quickly learned that the specter of dependency haunted both of our worlds. She opened her home to me, and we became more than anyone probably knew or even imagined – close friends and confidantes, and later, village-mates in the parental cooperative that evolved within our “family”.
We shared a love of situational comedy, history, and art. Together, we welcomed young ones – grand and great grandchildren for her, “nieces & nephews” for me – into the world. Together, we mourned the loss of (too many) loved ones. She was there when my parents finally called an end to their marriage. When I married & divorced (both times) and fought through the emotional and financial aftermaths. When I made all of the major decisions in my career – when to move, when to gamble, and when to just hang in there. And when I say “She was there,” I mean that she was truly present, engaged, supportive, and good counsel.
I was there when her children struggled with their own children and marriages. When she was searching for, and then found, her own “lost” first child. When she privately railed against the sometimes baffling, sometimes flat-out maddening behaviors and life choices of the children. When she weathered the terminal illness and eventual loss of her incredible husband, then – years later – her daughter. When she fought her own battle for health, including the final one she lost.
She taught me many useful things: How to turn a box baking mix into something worthy of a Michelin-star bistro. How to make the best pork chops on the planet. How to grow a plant from seed and keep it alive. How to stretch a very meager grocery budget into a week’s worth of solid, nutritional meals. But it was simply the example she set that taught me the most.
Her relationship with her husband showed me that a life-long romance with your Best Friend was not just a fairy tale – it was absolutely possible. I would never have understood “unconditional love” if it were not for watching her interact with her children (& Grandchildren… & me!). Most importantly, I would probably never have followed the Path of Compassion if it had not been for her example of faith, generosity, and thanksgiving. It may sound too good to be true, but she was very possibly the most positive life force my world has ever known – in every way imaginable. At her memorial, my “Nephew” put it best – whatever good you may say of me is because of her. And her special brand of love.
Our final exchange was via text message, several days after her first chemo. She reminded me to continue to be a good steward of the children we had welcomed into the world. She expressed how proud she was of me as a human being, the success of my career, and the sacrifices I had made for that success. Our final words to each other, most importantly, were, “I Love You”. I am comforted by that, because it demonstrated the most important thing she ever taught me: never part without loving words, because you never know if they will be the last ones you will get to say.
The afternoon we laid her to rest, I literally departed from her graveside on a trip that would take me to my brand-new job. It had been raining much of that morning, and as I made my way West, the sun shone down through the clouds – a spectacle of sunbeams and bright silver linings. I was overcome by a vision of her, now re-united with her incredibly missed and beloved husband and daughter. I imagined that light as a massive disco-ball, twinkling in celebration of her homecoming. Those rays were like a warm embrace as I drove into that sunset and the next chapter of my life. I even found myself talking to them. “Hi, Pop! Yes, Momma… I am on the road alone. I’ll be fine; don’t worry. Looks like a great party up there! I miss you all.”
I wish she were still here, to see how all of those lessons learned have now paid off handsomely in the solid, deeply loving relationship I have finally found. Each time I pass the exit that would take me to her house, I still think, “I need to go see Momma.” Even though it’s been months, I still grab my phone to call or text her about news, or to let her know I will be passing by in the next several days, to tell her I am home safely from a trip, or to ask her advice. But I take comfort in the thought that she, her husband, and my friend are all “up there”, watching and smiling.
It seems that every time I hit the road these days, the sunbeams light my way.
Today is a special day. A day we set aside to celebrate the wonder, the beauty, and the fortitude of those who have earned the title of “Mother”.
I have written of my own in this forum, but today I want to take a moment to pay tribute to those other Incredible Moms who continue to inspire and motivate me. Like my Mom, they demonstrate the kind of talent, courage, optimism, and influence that I hope will someday make this world a better place for all.
First, for those women who have borne the children that I am proud to consider my adopted nieces and nephews…
While I might not be always physically present, I am immensely proud of you and your progeny. Your graciousness in allowing me to live vicariously through your child-rearing experiences has granted me a glimpse of a love and dedication that I will never know. Yet, it it one that I treasure beyond the measure of words.
Your children’s strengths, abilities, and talents never cease to amaze me. Each one is incredibly unique. Maybe they are very blessed, or maybe I am just biased, but each is of those children is humanity in its highest form, brought into being by two souls, sometimes raised by just one, and always whole and beautiful in their own special way.
Some are now parents themselves, and I marvel at how they carry on the values and habits you taught them. In some cases, I get tickled by the traits they inadvertently picked up from me!!
Each is a miracle; every Mother knows that. But, for what it’s worth… They are each a miracle to me as well. Without them and your grace, my life would be a black and white image in a world of vivid color.
Next, for those of the motherly bent who have done so much to (try to) mold and guide me toward the better paths in life…
Your knowledge, influence, and frankly… Your incessant cajoling! Well, I hope that all of your worry, concern, and advice has proven to be satisfactory. Your counsel has led me to a state of assertion and personal harmony beyond my own expectations. Each and every day, I strive to live up to the high hopes and faith in my ability you each have expressed. It is a constant reminder that “sometimes, your friends know better”.
One among you was truly an “Other Mother” who gave me shelter when storms were raging, who was compassionate when I strayed, and who was unceasingly faithful in her belief that one day, the world would be my oyster. “Thank You” is so insufficient a tribute… Thankfully, I know that she knows the depth of its meaning.
Finally, I must iterate the value of my own true Mother… The woman who brought me into this world, who encourages my independence, and who constantly fosters my creativity and talent. No one but another artist could truly understand the crazy quilt that is Me. And for that, I will always be eternally grateful.
When you think about it, we all have many Mothers, each affecting her own influence upon our lives. This Mothers Day, take a moment to celebrate not only the woman who bore you and raised you, but the others who bring the special gift of motherhood into your lives.
This cannot stop a voice like yours
So much to teach others and share with this world
It cannot stop the warrior within
This cannot stop a smile like yours
So bright it lights the darkest corners of souls
It cannot stop the warrior within
This cannot stop a spirit like yours
So fervent and true it will not be broken
It cannot stop the warrior within
This cannot stop a fight like yours
So brave and tenacious, beating the odds
It WILL not stop the warrior within
Today is a day when we in America celebrate many things: our heritage, our common bonds, and our birth as a nation. But, it also brings to my mind thoughts of the role that Independence plays, or can play, in our individual lives. There are many things that distract us or pull us away from our innermost selves; it’s easy to get swept along in the tide. Every now and then, we have to break free, re-establish our foundations, or make a change that puts us back on the road to fulfilling our destinies.
May this day also inspire you to seek your freedom from that which keeps you from ultimate happiness. Here’s to a happy Independence Day – today, and every day!