Belonging is one of the most powerful and highly sought human desires. We humans are social creatures – always searching for where we belong and who we belong with. We often understand ourselves in relation to other people – our similarities and differences.
Belonging can be so challenging, for any of us, for a thousand different reasons.
For me, my greatest struggle has been trying to figure out where I belong as a mother.
I’m a mother, but my children are dead.
I mother and parent a memory, but not a physically present child.
I have given birth and held my children, but have never heard their cries or seen their eyes or felt them nurse from my breast.
I have such a deep and profound love for my children, yet that love is untethered. There is no place here on earth for that mother love to land and to take root.
I am a mother, but I don’t quite belong with the mothers of living children.
I don’t have children here with me and have chosen not to pursue having additional children, yet I don’t quite belong with those who are child-free by choice.
I am in-between. I am both and yet also not exactly the typical mother or non-mother, not in the usual ways.
I live with one foot in both worlds – both a mother and a child-less woman at the same time.
I live and work and play and reside here on earth in the physical world, and yet part of me will always remain in the non-physical with my children. I am neither fully here nor fully there.
The ache of not belonging, of always feeling a little out-of-step and never fully knowing where I fit in relation to the world, has often been cutting and painful. I would see mothers with their living children and long to belong with them, to be a mother with a child here to nurture in life and physical form. I would see women who chose to remain childless and envy the freedom and clarity of their choice, unburdened by the death of my beloved children.
But I am not a mother in the traditional sense.
Nor am I a woman choosing to be child free.
I am both and neither.
I am in-between.
And that is where I finally realized that I belong. I don’t live in this group or that group.
I live in both this group and that group.
I belong in the in-between, the space of both the physical and the non-physical.
My place is in that liminal space of both/and. I belong with a foot in both worlds.
I am not alone here in this in-between.
There are other invisible mothers and fathers here – women and men living and loving without their children to hold in time and space.
There are would-be mothers and fathers here struggling with infertility – not choosing to be child-free yet still without a child to nurture.
Life has so many places of in-between, a belonging that exists in the blurry gray lines between the traditional groups that we see and acknowledge.
It has taken me years to realize that in-between is a place to belong as much any other traditional group. Not belonging to one or the other group doesn’t make me less – it gives me an entirely unique perspective, one that neither, more clearly defined group can fully understand.
It is, perhaps, not the group I would have chosen to belong to although no group is really better or worse than another. We’re all unique in our experience and perspective of life. It’s just that life seems so much simpler to understand in the clearly outlined spaces of mother or non-mother.
Yet I do belong here, in this space in-between. Many of us belong here, navigating life in the liminal space of both/and. We are not alone in the shades of gray.
It turns out we all have a place to belong, even if it’s not the place we expect. We have a place here in this space of navigating life with a foot in two worlds.
We belong to the in-between. We belong to our children and we belong to each other. We are in the in-between, together.