I am an alien.
Okay, not really, but have you ever been surrounded by people and just felt so odd, so out of place, so DIFFERENT? Maybe it's because I was homeschooled or because I was sexually abused as a child but I've spent a lot of my life feeling like I didn't fit in with other girls. It's a common notion for sexual abuse survivors that their damage has somehow rendered them permanent outsiders, jarringly dark and twisted. They feel as though their identity is in pieces, like they're forever changed, forever black sheep. They learn to develop masks to fit every situation, becoming amazing chameleons with the intent of always fitting in and never standing out. Too much attention is scary. Too much attention makes you vulnerable. We just want to be like everyone else. Please don't let them notice how different I am.
Today I sat in a room full of lovely, amazing women sharing their stories and their lives and again I thought, I am an alien. My life is admittedly strange. I don't know anyone in my immediate circle with a journey as complicated and medically involved. People ask, "How are you?", "How are the kids?" They are truly being nice and I desperately want to answer, but I know too well that after 5 seconds of the real answers, their faces will go blank. They don't understand. How could they?! 6 French, PEEP of 5, craniotomy vs. craniectomy... I wouldn't understand it if I didn't live with it.
I am an alien.
There's no way to communicate the nuances of my day without boring or confusing people, so I try to be vague (it just comes off as awkward) and hurry away. Clearly, this doesn't bode well for building or maintaining friendships with anyone other than my close family and a few select nurses and therapists.
This is where social media comes in. My hermit-esque life plays nicely into social media. I can share just enough and have just enough contact with the outside world that I don't feel like I'm disappearing into the four white walls of my living room and yet I'm not cornered in any way. I've come across other medically involved mamas who I just want to join at the hips with and they've become like my long distance family. I read their posts and suddenly I'm no longer an alien, or if I am, it means we're aliens together. They get it. They're on this crazy ride too.
Last night I posted about exclusive pumping and I couldn't believe how many women commented and direct messaged me with their own stories. YOU GUYS ARE OUT THERE! You're up at night as well, thinking of ways to pass the time while pumping, scrolling through social media, trying to get your mind off of that nauseating, rhythmic clicking of the breast pump. Gag me, amiright?!
Back to today, I sat in that group of women and I wondered how many other women in there felt like aliens as well? Maybe they were struggling with infertility and crying silent tears over their recent miscarriage, but they already had a couple healthy children so they don't feel allowed to complain. Maybe their marriage is struggling for any of the millions of reasons that marriages fall apart, but they wouldn't dare share and acknowledge the shame and feelings of failure. Maybe they were in any personal crisis that they assumed no one else would understand and feeling like the ONLY PERSON IN THE ROOM who didn't belong.
Bull-freaking-butter, babes. You're not alone. I'm not alone. Open your mouth, find your fellow aliens and hold on like your life depends on it. There are so many trach mamas and amazing trach babies; so many NICU mamas who understand the ins and outs of long-term hospital life; there are pumping mama warriors all over the world right there with me in spirit; there are girls grieving stillborn babies, empty wombs and empty arms; single mamas, not complaining and still kicking butt and taking names; girls with autoimmune diseases, handling life as it comes at them; moms of twins learning to juggle it all; new moms who feel the anxiety and exhilaration of every one of their baby's "firsts", some of them far away from home and feeling every inch of that distance.
They're out there, your people. You just have to open your mouth, share where you are and find your tribe. There is strength in numbers and inspiration when you feel like you're faltering. There are women (or men) facing your same battles who understand the weirdness of your life and would love to stand in your corner.
You are not alone. Find your tribe. If that fails and you're still think you're an outsider, come sit by me. We'll make our own tribe.