Owning my identities: Writer, mother, woman

It’s been six years. Seven, if you count the nine months of pregnancy. I’ve had years to reconcile myself with the identity of mother.

I can never remember the name of the artist, but he has (or did, some years ago) some work in the lobby of St. Luke’s BGC. This picture was taken in Pinto Art Museum in 2016.

It was such a struggle at first. Everyone called me “mommy” from the moment they found out I was pregnant, as if it were the only thing that mattered about me. Never mind that I was an advocate of women’s health and sexual and reproductive rights. Never mind that I had been a public speaker and trainer. Never mind that I was, first and foremost, writer and editor.

It was as if all those things disappeared, eclipsed by impending parenthood.

I was so angry. Why was the growing life in my womb so much more important than over thirty years of existence, work, love, life?

This emphasis on my motherhood, the apparent preference for this to be my primary role over all others, also made me sad. Was I worth nothing if I was not a mother? Was nobody interested in what I wrote, who I loved, what I said, where I went, if it was not as a mother? My work for various NGOs, for youth engagement, for women’s health, was all that secondary to motherhood? As I stepped back from performance and geek activities, everyone told me, focus on your pregnancy, on your baby. Was I suddenly less important as a performer, a geek, a costume-builder, because being a mother was the only important thing?

It was so frustrating. “This is the best thing you’ve ever done!” “This is the most important thing,” everyone seemed to say. Yes, I had always wanted to be a mother. Yes, we struggled for many years to finally get pregnant. Yes, I was immensely proud and excited to finally be a mother. But for the rest of the world to decide this for me? This I could not accept.

For years I struggled. “Stop calling me Mommy Rej,” I had to ask colleagues. I picked a fight with someone on Facebook for imposing the idea that this was the most important work of my life. I bristled when I heard other women say, “Above all, my most important role in life, is mother to…”

Clearly it still rankles now.

I think it’s an extension of how I abhor being told what to do, how I feel, what I am, rather than being given space, time, opportunity, to discover and declare these things for myself. I resented all the people who told me what I could and could not do as a woman, as a wife, as a expectant mother, and now as a mother. I seethed at those who thought they knew better than me what I needed or wanted. Worse still were those who think that who I am and what I do should be dictated by my husband.

But I’ve come to care less about what other people think, how they value my being a mother above all other roles I play in life. Over the past six years, I’ve learned to take it in stride, to question people when they decide for me what is my most important contribution to the world, and to define my own value, my own roles. Yes, I am mother, but I’ll be damned if you don’t know that I am also writer, advocate, performer, geek, wife. I am all these equally, and it is not for you or anybody else to decide which of these roles is my most important.

Perhaps such clarity (and calm?) comes with age. I’m over 40 now, and I care less what people think or say, and more about what I want and need. I’ve come to realize that how people perceive my identity matters less than how I perceive myself. What the world thinks of me also depends largely on how I present myself, and I have the power and privilege to choose how I do that.

Perhaps such clarity also comes with time. No longer am I a frenzied breastfeeding woman who lugs around a large diaper bag and pumps breastmilk at the office. My son is no longer a helpless infant, needy and demanding, but six years old, more independent as he discovers his own identity and capabilities. No longer am I slave to the lack of a yaya (nanny) and the frustrating balancing act between motherhood and the work I love. My husband loves and respects me, and together we have learned to navigate parenting our active, curious, talkative child, while also figuring out our own wants and needs.

Perhaps such clarity also comes with support systems, at work and among family and friends. These are people who listen to my woes and rants, who have known me since before I was a mother, who know that I am so much more. These are people who know me by my writing, by my work, by my words. These are people who know that I am more than mother, that a woman is more than her womb, that my words carry as much weight as the child I bore.

I’m sure there will still be people who will judge, who will try to label me and put me in a box. And they can try, I suppose, but I won’t really care. Yes, I am mother, but I am so much more. Take it or leave it.

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