Before I gave birth to my first child I had many children. They weren’t biologically mine. I didn’t adopt them or foster them. They knew little about me. I could never tell them I loved them or even allow them into my home. They held a space in my heart that I could never speak of out loud. I had to create a wall between us while I infiltrated the deepest parts of their minds and hearts. I was their therapist.
They came to me for many different reasons such as anxiety and depression, trauma, self-harm, or behavioral concerns. Some needed a quick pit stop to get back on track. Others needed a good long rest. They all had their own version of scars. Some scars were physical from abuse or self-inflicted wounds. Some scars were emotional from being abandoned and neglected or told they weren’t worth anything. I was there to help pick up the pieces and help them figure out how to put them all back together. I was there to hold a mirror up to their faces to help them see the beauty within. I was there to be the dumping ground of thoughts, memories, and pain. Some days I listened to them cry or yell and on my drives home I cried and yelled too.
Some rushed to give me hugs every time I saw them. Some drew me pictures and wrote me letters of thanks. Others hit me, kicked me, spit at me, and called me every name in the book. But they all had something in common, they were hurting. Some of them were completely broken. Broken by a failing system, broken by the two people that were supposed to love them unconditionally, broken by the absence of the village that is supposed to save them.
When I was in the thickness of work and before I had my own child I kept the wall strong. I separated work and home. I put their tragedies in the deep corners of my mind and locked them away. I developed a shield to deflect even the most grim stories and overwhelming emotions. I stayed strong for them and for me because there was no other option.
Now that I am distanced from the work I allow those corners of my mind to unlock a bit. I let the wall crumble down. I grieve for what happened to them in the past and what may have happened since I last saw them. I let my heart open and I cry when I think of the anguish they suffered. Many of them are adults by now but in my heart and my mind they are still children, children that I cared for, children that I tried to nurture in ways they should have been by those who bore them.
I see my son break down in tears when he falls and scrapes his knee. His tears and his cries sting me lightly but I know he’ll be okay. He has a strong village. The kind of village the children before him deserved. But his tears are a reminder of how deep pain can go and how lucky he is to be protected. In a way his joy and security are painful reminders for me of the ones I had before him that weren’t so lucky. He is so lucky because he has me. On the days where I feel I am not enough for him or when I let the self-doubt tell me I’ve made so many wrong choices I think of the children I had before him to gain the right perspective. I try not to minimize my efforts because even on the hard days I show up and I love. I am enough. I am exactly what he needs.
My love for the children I had before my own is not unique. There are many out there like me. Some share my title or have different ones such as teacher, counselor, case manager, nurse, doctor, lawyer, and many others. We are living reminders that the village still stands. Instead of shaming the persons responsible for the hurt these children have endured we decide to step into the darkness to help. We take hold of their hands and sometimes the hands of their parents and we try to lead them into the light. We are love warriors. But we never say it out loud.
I often think about what I wish I could say to the children I had before my own. And I finally feel ready to say it out loud:
I want you to know I still think about you. I hope you’re okay. And I hope for a short time or even just a moment in our relationship that I was something that you needed and you felt comforted by my presence. And even though there was a wall and I couldn’t let you break it down know that I loved you (and still love you) in my own special way. You made me a mother long before I ever became one. And for that I thank you.
Guest post written by Rachel Bowers. Rachel is a licensed therapist and social worker, maternal mental health advocate, and mom. She blogs at Full Motherhood. When she's not chasing after her spunky 2 year old pirate-loving son she's fantasizing about being in a Jane Austen novel or starting random conversations with strangers because everyone's life story is truly fascinating.
Photo by Emily Gnetz.