regular mothers

When Ethan was first born, I signed myself up for every mommy and me class I could find in the tri-county area. Every playgroup. Every meet-up. On Tuesday mornings, I would drive thirty minutes away just to participate in a library story time. And every other day of the week, we had another activity or adventure or playdate. Never someone to socialize willingly or reach out to meet new people, I found it easier when I entered the phase of my life that is motherhood: we were all in this together. It's like someone pushed the reset button on life and, in a room of 20 strangers, we were all suddenly standing on the same starting line. No one knew why the babies cried for hours on end, and everyone worried about screen time and what finger foods should be started first.

Once Wylie died, I stopped being able to relate to everyone. Other mothers continued on with their subsequent pregnancies: second, third. Other mothers shared memes about wanting a silent night during the holidays when all I wanted was the chaos of two children fighting over who could see Santa's gifts first. This want became a compulsion that made breathing difficult, and living next to impossible. Other moms shared first day of school photos as I held onto my ever-growing, brilliant boy and wondered how this phase of my life could be over. Was it over? I didn't know. As other mothers sat and debated the pros and cons of having more children, I slipped deeper into grief and loss and infertility, unable to even have a choice in the matter. I was no longer able to relate to anyone, even those I used to relate to. "Are you going to have another?" cuts your body open like a knife. "Don't you want to give him a sibling?" spills your blood all over that library carpeting.

I've come a long way in my loss and infertility journey. At some point, we made the decision that I did not want my body to ever carry another pregnancy. While permanent birth control measures were our choice, it was a choice made by circumstance and a perspective I wish I never had. It was a choice made because it was the only one, and there will always be mourning and longing for the dreams that died with our first daughter. I nod and smile and make my way through the murkiness that is other mothers laughingly sharing their birth stories and diagnosing themselves with baby fever and swooning over their friend's big, pregnant bellies and squishy newborns. At times, it feels like I am unfamiliar with the language being spoken when I'm surrounded by other mothers. I can no longer relate to them.

When Carmen was placed into our arms for the first time, I felt pieces of my body coming back to life again. She is here, and the brilliance and magnitude of that is not lost on any of us. When I see my first born off to school this January, I will still retreat home and diaper and care for my miraculous daughter. I will still take her to mommy and me classes and playgroups. I will be soaking in every ounce of her brilliance and hope and beauty because her smile is what fuels me. While I am still a mother in a room of twenty mothers, I am still unable to relate to most other mothers. Sometimes I catch myself calling them regular mothers.

"She looks just like you," mothers reassure their mom friends. "He has your smile," they say as they admire their children. I am the mother who receives stares when out in public with my two children, the ones who receives friendly banter at the park by nosy parents trying to figure out our dynamic. I am mistaken for a nanny often, or it is assumed one of my two children isn't truly mine. Once, I was asked nonchalantly if my children have different fathers. Well-meaning friends and relatives meet our lack of shared physical characteristics with pity, which I do not understand. When it comes down to family, little is less important than who a child resembles.

On my journey into motherhood, the rough and sharp edges and dangerous turns and twists that got me to where I am now in current day, I was fortunate enough to meet many others who find themselves unable to relate to regular mothers. Some have experienced heartbreak and loss. Others have had to rely on science so intricate it is hard to fathom. Others also have little ones who don't have their hair or eyes or smile. I am grateful for the others, these others. I have been many things over the last few years but alone never had to be one of them.

As this holiday season begins and there are gifts for two children under our tree -- two children sleeping soundly in their beds, two children who shared Santa's lap this year -- I am beside myself with love and gratitude and disbelief that life can be as beautiful as it is in this very moment. I am complete and whole in ways that I never thought possible. Sometimes it takes a while to realize that although you cannot relate to your peers, you aren't broken. Different is not broken. Different is not hopeless. Different is not doomed.

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