“Women without children are also the best of mothers,often, with the patience,interest, and saving grace that the constant relationship with children cannot always sustain. I come to crave our talk and our daughters gain precious aunts. Women who are not mothering their own children have the clarity and focus to see deeply into the character of children webbed by family. A child is fortuante who feels witnessed as a peron,outside relationships with parents by another adult.”

This passage resonates with me on so many levels: as a woman who, for half a lifetime, did not have children but was deeply connected to the children of others, as a new mama unfurling to fit into the shape of an entirely new life, and as a grownup who sees that my own childhood was—in no small way—saved by the love of adult women who were not my biological mother.

Having been without a child for most of my life, and being now a fresh sprout in the vast landscape of motherhood, I find that my identity is still firmly rooted in the soil—for lack of a better word—of childlessness.

I still feel like the woman at the party who can’t relate to the moms in the corner swapping milestones, like the auntie whose nieces confide in her things they’d never tell their bio moms, like the single gal sneaking peeks at the handsome dad in the grocery store wearing his baby, wondering about the partner waiting at home, and if it would ever be me.

I still feel like her because I still am her. I just have a kid now.

This clumsy dance of identities is one of the more profound truths of late life motherhood. The old me no longer serves, but the new me hasn’t fully emerged. It can make for a dizzying lack of equilibrium: straddling adjacent chapters, one just opening, the other not yet closed, attempting in real time to reconcile the two. Loving my son with all my being while also watching in the rear view as the old me fades further into the distance, and feeling nothing less than grief.

I read these words from Louise Erdrich though, and, while I feel pangs of longing for the childless me and tremendous gratitude for the women who mothered me when my own mother couldn’t, I also realize that maybe its not as black and white as it sometimes seems.

Maybe there is no before and after, no us and no them. Maybe, as Erdrich suggests, all women are mothers in one way or another. Maybe I’m not becoming a mother after all. Maybe I’ve always been one.

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