featured post: “identity, identity” by trying not to scream

How do you define yourself?

There are many labels that we all wear. Some, we select; others are slapped onto us like bumper stickers by the people around us. I can easily list some of my own identifying labels categorically: by relationship (mom, wife, sister, friend), by intellectual and educational pursuits (post-collegiate degree holder, blogger), by interests (food science enthusiast, music lover, potential future homeschooler). Ranking them– that would be harder. What parts of me most define who I am? Which labels are the most important when attempting to convey a piece of who I am to strangers?

Rebecca of Trying Not to Scream wrote recently about the concept of identity in the realm of what I would call a multiply-challenged fertility and parenting experience:

I’ve been trying to decide what has had the most impact on how I feel as a mother — mom after infertility, mom of twins, mom of preemies, working mom, older mom, etc.

I mean, obviously, all of those things are true and have influenced me.  But, I feel like one stands out from the rest — mom of preemies.  How these kids came about is huge — IF, IVF, years of anxiety.  And, the fact that there are two of them is huge — holy crap on a cracker is it insane (happy, but insane).  But, the preemie thing and the NICU experience are things that, even at 10 months old, I think about every day.

There have been conversations in our blogging neighborhood in recent months about identity, group membership, allegiance, participation, and healing. One theme that constantly leaks out of these diverse exchanges is that in the ALI world is the is a pervasive shuffling of labels which directly impact our ability to relate to one another. Like often attracts like because infertility cuts deep and the culturally-sanctioned silence on infertility and loss makes for a shitty band-aid. Many of us desperately need to reach out and find someone else who is or has ever been in our shoes. Our experiences have been so life-changing and identity-shaking that we just don’t know what else to do but reach for a lifeline towards anything that feels familiar.

What Rebecca describes in her post “Identity, identity” is the initial connection she felt to a friend-of-a-friend who was about to share Rebecca’s twin parenting experience with her, and then the realization that there would always be a bit of a bridge to cross in terms of mutually identifying as “moms of twins” when, really, so much of Rebecca’s early parenting experience as a mom of twins was subsumed by her children’s medical fragility and the NICU experience.

I hadn’t realized how much of our “twin thing” is really our “twin preemie thing”….

While I think about my infertility and IVF and injections and doctor’s appointments and all the months of trying and anxiety and depression occasionally, mostly it is as a wistful background thought that is dashed when I look at the boys.  But, I can’t stop thinking about the early bleeding and stressful pregnancy and premature labor and the days in the NICU and giving S CPR and dealing with apnea monitors and feeding the boys with the lights on at 3 am so we could see if they turned blue and blowing on their faces to remind them to breathe while they were eating.

Obviously, through PAIL and beyond, I have a number of “IFer” friends. Some of those friends have twins, like me, and with those relationships comes an extra level of understanding about what my life is like with two toddlers. But some of my twin mom friends are also moms of preemies, and that goes a step beyond my experience. I can understand a piece of what life with a preemie sounds like it feels like– I’m human, I have emotions, the whole concept scares the crap out of me– but I’ve never been there, and on a truly intimate level I can’t “get” the preemie experience like a preemie mom can. It’s not for lack of trying or lack of support, and it’s no failing of mine, but some days, in some conversations, moms of preemies will connect better with other moms of preemies than they will with me, and that’s okay.

The discussion of this breakdown of labels and identity often triggers some debate, and I think a key element to keep in mind in these conversations is put simply by Rebecca here:

I’m not claiming “whoa is me” here or “look what I’ve been through.”  It’s just that I’ve realized that our experience was just SO different.

And that’s exactly it. We may rank our own labels internally in a way that most accurately portrays our experiences are parents through infertility and loss, but when making connections to each other, it’s just about relating– that little extra bit of energy you don’t have to spend trying to put something just right so another person can understand, that extra layer of comfort in automatic understanding and acceptance. Acknowledging that we are different comes out of honesty, not judgment.

Pop over to read Rebecca’s post “Identity, identity” at Trying Not to Scream in its entirety. As always, comments here are closed.

*****

Rebecca, in her own words: In real life I’m a hard-working, happily married teacher. I’m good at that. Apparently I’m not so good at getting pregnant. We started TTC as soon as we got married in October of 2008 and it hasn’t been as easy as we’d hoped. We knew all the statistics for how long this could take but we never imagined that we’d make it to 2011 and still be trying. We got our surprise BFP at the end of April 2010 while waiting for an IVF consult. Unfortunately we lost it to a missed miscarriage that was found at 11.5 weeks. IVF #1 in September 2011 led to a BFP in October which led to twin boys born at 31w3d in April. Taking it one step at a time.

*****

Jules is a former toddler teacher and nanny who turned her Master’s degree in early childhood into a full-time gig as a stay-at-home mom to twin toddlers. She blogs about her parenting philosophy (which she hopes is crunchy but accessible), her quest for better health and daily life with her husband, dog and two funny little girls at Two Pink Tulips.

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  1. […] featured a post by Rebecca of Trying Not to Scream that is all about identity and how we define ourselves. It’s a great read about how […]

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