I feel like the red-headed bastard child. The one that is tolerated, but no one actually bothers to converse with. The child being permitted just this once to sit at the table with the grown ups, the real women.
I've chosen not to have children. It's not that we can't, we don't know, we've never even tried. I spent most of my relationship with my husband long-distance until 6 months before we got married. I wanted time for the two of us to live in the same country, the same time zone before we became responsible for a tiny human. Only now it's been 5 years and I'm still saying no - because of his addiction, because of mine. Because when I don't get enough sleep, I physically cannot function. Old mostly managed health problems flare to the surface under stress, sleep loss, poor eating habits - all the things that come with a newborn. Because I still can't see a doctor for a women's exam due to the flashbacks and triggers that set me back in my healing for weeks. Because I won't subject a child to his emotional neglect and abuse. Because of a million reasons all of which boil down to this - I can't be a responsible mother yet.
I'm angry. I'm angry because I know I'm making the right choice for me, for my marriage. I know it deep in my bones that this is a not now. I'm angry because there only seems to be room for SAHMs in the church. Career moms feel excluded. Single friends feel excluded. I feel excluded, looked down on - because in the very needed push to affirm those women who have made the choice to stay home with their children there has been another message sent. One that says we will only see you when you produce a child. That declares that motherhood is the highest calling of a woman and what God has designed us to do. For those of us who either by choice or by circumstances outside of our control do not have children - not only do we have to deal with the social and societal ramifications of that choice, we're told that you will never truly understand God's love for you, that your calling and life choices are second best, and that you can't love anyone unconditionally.
People tell me it must be nice to have so much free time. The bold ones when they find out that I'm not a mother and I don't work ask "so what do you do all day?" I'm usually so taken aback by the accusation that I mumble something incoherent to justify why I'm not working, not parenting, not doing something with my life that you can deem as valuable before escaping the conversation.
Here's the real answer: I invest in me and the people around me. I fight to deprogram my brain from all the lies and false teachings and brainwashing that I endured for 22 years. I fight to stay sober, to live my life un-medicated and to not just feel my feelings, but to honour them even when I've thrown up yet again from crying the tears that couldn't be cried then.
Everybody loves to point out that I'm free now, that I've made so much progress in my healing, that I'm so strong. It takes a hell of a lot of work day in and day out to be me. To show up in a world that I do not understand. I've had to learn new cultures - first when I left home and discovered a whole new world that was radically different than what I'd be taught to fear about it. Then when I moved from Canada to the USA - and to a very conservative side of the state. I don't understand this world I find myself in. It makes no sense. I fight to hold onto who I am, when I'm constantly swimming against the current.
I spend my days working, wrestling with trauma. Mine, others. My phone rings, chirps, beeps with messages of pain and panic from women who feel unseen, unheard. Women who are fighting to live, fighting the lies of their pasts, fighting to not medicate, to live one day at a time.
I get it. I'm fat. I'm socially awkward. I don't have the right clothes. I loathe small talk and getting to know you ice breakers. I no longer cover my scarred arms and that makes you uncomfortable. My story of being abused in the Church, by the Church makes you look at how you parent, raising ugly hidden questions you'd rather not see.
I go to these events that are supposedly for all women. I watch you fawn over each other's perfect outfits, make-up and hair dos. I listen through speakers that assume that we are all wives and mothers, all white conservatives. I hear about events and opportunities - none of which fit my schedule, all of which require extra money that I do not have. You spread a little Jesus over the top, to go with your matching napkins and table centrepieces. I walk away feeling unseen, unheard, and unwelcome.
And yet, I'm showing up again, protecting that small ember of hope that this time will be different. This time it's something I'm passionate about. This time, maybe there will be women there who are willing to be real, authentic and look past all the things I'm not to see who I am. To see my heart and my passion for women to heal and no longer be bound by the chains that have been wrapped so tightly that they are choking to death. I'm summoning every last scrap of brave that I have and putting all the tools I've learned in the last 8 years into my bag to take with me because I believe that one day, one of these times I will look around that room and see you.
I will see your heart trying not to spill out of your eyes because your husband is addicted to porn and you have done everything you can to make yourself be enough for him. All the perfect clothes, and make up, are you trying to fill that ache inside of not being enough for the man who vowed to love, honour and cherish you. I will see you, the frazzled nerves from it being a miracle that you made it there and didn't forget a child at home because your husband is deployed yet again and the only way you have to cope with the loneliness and the fear is to form your life around your children. I will see that behind all your stories about your daughter is the remembered years of interviews and inspections, invasive questions and dashed hopes as you struggled through the adoption process. I will see the loneliness that hides behind your too cheerful chattering words. Your voice begging to be heard; your heart begging to be nurtured.
I show up hoping that today is the day I can see you and realize that none of us feel enough at these events but we show up, holding onto hope that we will be seen.