I’m not a mom.
At least, I’m not a “real mom.”
For 8 years, I watched her grow from a bright-eyed child into a pre-teen with hobbies, hopes, and fears. I braided her hair, read her bedtime stories, and went to her elementary carnivals. We talked to her about friends and boys, why certain politicians made it into office, and what she wanted to be when she grew up. I tried to protect her. When I couldn’t, I felt the ache of guilt so strong that I thought I might not survive it. I watched as he used her as a pawn, as he treated her like a burden, and as he woke her countless times to drag her out into the night. I sat in front of countless broken bedroom doors and sobbed, afraid to leave her with him but simultaneously afraid not to.
But I’m not a mom.
On Mother’s Day, we celebrate the lives of the women who came before us and we grieve the loss of mothers that were taken from us too soon. But, for some of us, we also grieve the mothers we never were and the children we will never see again.
I was a step-mom for nearly a decade. When I left my abusive marriage, I knew what I was giving up, but I didn’t know how much it would hurt. I tried to keep her at a distance, to protect her from being used to hurt me. But every year on her birthday, I wonder how tall she is or whether she learned a new ballet move. I wonder if she gets gifts when there isn’t anyone there to buy them for her anymore. Does she get a party when there isn’t anyone there to organize it? I wonder if the calls to CPS or her biological mother led to anything or if she still spends the weekends with him. I wonder if I should have stayed.
This grief isn’t something that we talk about. It isn’t something that we acknowledge, but it is so incredibly real. I went from having a family–a husband, a daughter, a home–to having nothing in an instant. I went from being a step-parent to answering the age-old question, “Do you have children?” with a defeated, “No.”
When I think about the final time I left him, I don’t think about the fear, the trauma, or the adrenaline anymore. I don’t think about him. Instead, I think about how I never got to say goodbye to her, how one day I was painting her nails, and the next day, I was gone. I wonder what he told her, and I know wasn’t kind. I wonder if she hates me as much as I hate myself for leaving her.
I’m not a mom. But, every Mother’s Day, I remember that I used to be one.