Three or four years ago, single mothering my three daughters looked like school, homework, basketball practices, Girl Scouts, dentist, orthodontist, and therapy appointments. There were annual pediatrician checkups and sick visits, regular tutoring sessions, spelling bees, Mathletics, the eye doctor, glasses, contacts, and even eye therapy back in the day. There were birthday parties to plan and attend, and always friends, family, and teachers to buy and make presents for. I signed up to chair many PTA activities including the school carnival, class holiday parties, the annual grandparents’ luncheon, and the fourth grade publishing project. There were prescriptions to pick up, play dates, the park, and the pool; grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, and our aging dog. And then I put our house on the market twice in three years to try to downsize and start over. My car, which I felt like I lived in, was full of crumbs, papers, wrappers, toys, books, water bottles, and old French fries. The mental load of three kids was dizzying most days.
When I look back on those years, I don’t know how I did it. No, I didn’t do it perfectly (does anyone?), and I own that. But I always showed up, I got the job done, and I did my level best.
Over the last year and a half, motherhood has shifted significantly for me. My older two daughters left and while it’s no longer fresh, it’s still hard. Although the worst waves have crested, I’m well aware that grief is not linear. Things hit me like a freight train: the way the late afternoon light frames my youngest’s face, or an expression of hers transports me to a different time with a different daughter. I see both of them in her eyes, I hear them in her voice; there are pieces of them everywhere even though they’re gone.
It’s hard knowing many folks make assumptions about my girls’ absence, or listen to whatever rumors may be milling about. Sharing details and fielding questions is not easy, but being vulnerable is helping me heal.
And then there’s my story. It is complex and layered like the inside of an agate stone or the circles that tell a tree’s age. Everything is connected, one thing leads into the next, and the lines are blurred.
When the girls moved out, it created more distance between us, not just the few miles between our homes. Things happened that I didn’t know about. Big things. Secrets. Silence. Omissions. Decisions were made without me. I still wanted (and needed) to know what was going on with my kids, but it became clear that in order to get information, I had only myself to rely on. I began reaching out directly to medical providers, clinicians, doctors, and therapists. They became my only lifeline to my two older children because I wasn’t getting answers from my daughters or their father.
It was a lot to keep up with from the other side, and it was nearly impossible to glean details from the perimeter. But when I began to request medical records, I never could have anticipated this:
This is what happens when you are not listed anywhere in your child’s chart, intake, or medical forms. If a parent’s name is left off of a medical chart, it takes a lot of work to catch up, insert yourself, and gain access to your child’s most basic health information and records.
When I finally got some of the documents (I am still waiting on a lot more), I understood the extent of my erasure. Including my name and even my phone number would’ve prevented a lot of this. Instead, this is one of many hurdles I have to overcome. Where is Mother? Where am I? Pretty sure these babies grew in my belly and arrived prematurely, then spent three weeks in the NICU before coming home. But somehow Mother isn’t listed:
So where is Mother now?
I am exhausted and I’ve done all I can possibly do. I cannot force someone to put my name on our daughters’ forms. I cannot control anyone else or their actions. So instead, I choose to focus on myself, my youngest, my husband, and my bonus kids. I have let my older daughters know I love them and I am here for them anytime, but I refuse to force myself upon them.
It is not easy to speak about this, to share this. But it happens to many people and because of shame, some shy away from discussing it. I draw strength from and hold onto hope because of friends who have walked this walk. I am not alone.
But I’m here to tell you: it’s real, YOU ARE REAL, and you are a parent of your children– even if they don’t call you mom/dad, even if they don’t speak to you, and even if your co-parent does not acknowledge you on official documents.
I see you. I see me.
We are still here, despite it all.
Postcript: I’m not looking for sympathy and I am not a victim. I am a survivor, against incredible odds. My two older daughters are the victims in this situation.