How I Came to Terms with Being Called "a Mom" when I'm so much more.
By Donna D. Baines.
I have something shocking to say. I’m married with two children, but I have trouble thinking of myself as a wife or a mother. Don’t get me wrong. I love my husband and children with a fierce passion. But mom and wife are completely outward-facing titles. They don’t describe the person, but the others they’re related to. Like being known as someone’s little sister her whole life. (Raise your hand if you know what that’s like.) I mean half the time, I still feel like I’m clueless and 13, and the rest of the time I feel like I just graduated from college and then realize that was over 10 years ago (sad face). Cue Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” I have a husband, 2 kids, 2 dogs, I own my house, and my car. Like seriously, how did I get here?
The hard part is that we’re raised in one family and then, when we go off to create our own, it feels foreign. It wasn’t something I actively discussed, but it was weird to all of a sudden have a new family and a new surname. I’m a Duffy and I had been for 25 years. Now I’m supposed to be proud to be a Baines and raise my children as such? That kind of pride takes time. For me, it took a years before I really felt a part of my husband’s family. And, that’s no reflection on them. They were always very accepting and I love them, but they were my husband’s family, not mine.
All changed recently, when my mother-in-law passed away in August of 2018. She had battled cervical cancer for years and we knew it was coming, and it was hard. It still is. I had to be supportive of my husband who was very close with his mother and give him time to grieve. I threw myself into work and took care of the house and the kids and the dogs and the bills and whatever else was going on. It wasn’t until I had some time off over Christmas and New Years and really unplugged from work that I had time to process—subconsciously at least. I fell into a funk, almost a depression, and I couldn’t figure out why until my brother-in-law passed away unexpectedly in January of 2019 (yes, it’s been rough lately). Unfortunately, I didn’t know him that well. I wish I had. Regardless, his death hit me really hard. My husband didn’t really understand and neither did I. But then I eventually realized in addition to grieving his loss, I was also finally grieving for my mother-in-law, something I hadn’t given myself permission to do until then. And frankly, I never had an opportunity to. Instead, I suppressed any feelings I had and continued to do so to get through life and let my husband grieve for his mom. But she was my family, too. Her blood runs through my children. She shaped my husband into the amazing man he is today. Her influence ripples through the family and will indefinitely. I’m grateful to her and wish to hell she was still here. It breaks my heart that my children will grow up not knowing her. I’ll be happy if my eldest even remembers her. But there is one little glimmer of positivity. The whole experience left me feeling closer to my in-laws then ever. We had been through so much together through the years and they were always there for me. Being a wife and a part of the Baines clan, was finally more than just words, the walls I had inside were now gone and I really felt it.
It wasn’t much different coming to terms with being a ‘mom’. Becoming a parent in general is a little surreal. You get pregnant, you plan for it, you get unlimited amounts of unsolicited advice, but you never truly get it until you go through it. At the onset, it feels like playing house. Your sense of identity takes time to shift and evolve, to embed into your subconscious, to become a second skin. A second skin I didn’t fully realize I had developed until the eve of the birth of my second child. My mother was staying with us to watch my eldest while we had the baby (Thank you, Mom!) and he was late. The day before I was scheduled to be induced, I had some signs of early labor so my doctor recommended I go to the hospital to be checked out. I packed my bags with the normal pre-labor anxieties coursing through my mind. As I sat saying goodbye and rattling off last minute reminders about my son for my mom, it hit me. Whether the baby came that night or the next, I was about to leave my son alone for 2 or 3 nights, the longest I had ever left him alone ever and with someone other than my husband (he was staying at the hospital with me). I started to panic. What if something happened? I would be completely powerless and unable to get to him. And what if something happened to me? Women die in childbirth more than we like to admit. I couldn’t die. I had a child to raise—and he was mine to raise. No one could take as good of care of him as I would. No one would be as patient and loving and caring enough. No one would ever understand him like I do. He’s an extension of me and mine (and my husband’s) to shape to become the best possible version of himself and no one could do it as well as me. It was my duty and I wasn’t giving it up to anyone. And then the tears starting coming. Those tears you can’t stop. Angry, frustrated, uncontrollable tears pushed over the brim by all those pregnancy hormones. And you try to explain yourself, but you’re involuntarily crying so you sound sad and everyone tries to console you and sympathize which is the opposite you need at the time. No, you need a battle cry because this thing we call ‘motherhood’ is not a second skin. It’s a suit of armor graciously bestowed upon you and you’ll defend its honor to the death like a bear. And that was it, I finally I could admit it. I was a mom. Or as I like to think: one bad ass mother.
There is great power in claiming your own identity. And I’m staking my claim right here. Do it with me. I’m strong and resilient. My body is capable of extreme pleasure and pain, of creating life and nourishment. My mind can create worlds and somersault through conflicting viewpoints, and it can also remember birthdays and due dates and each of the Paw Patrol characters. I can be feminine and strong and sexy and tough. And creative and confusing. And persistent and, most days, tired AF because, to quote the great King Princess, “when this day is done, I still got shit to run.” And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, go ahead, call me a wife, a mom, a chick, a girl, that lady, whatever you want, I don’t care. But if you’re asking me, I’m a matriarch, a boss ass bitch, and I run this shit.