“Have you thought about your legacy?” She asked. I felt hot under the glow of her radiating anticipation.
It was Sunday afternoon, and I considered it a feat that I’d managed to leave my house, much less ruminate on the inner workings of what I intended to leave behind for future generations of humanity. “Not really. Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I don’t even really have a sense of future. But I’d like to, I’d like to think about my legacy.” That was all I had. It sounded a little desperate in its delivery, swaddled as it was in let’s-be-real-I’ve-got-nothing honesty. It was one of those moments when something you know about yourself, something hidden deep within, gasps its first breath of air, a truth born into reality.
I had arrived a few minutes late and sat in the only chair left in the squiggly half moon of seats crammed into the living room with a view to die for. There we sat, most of us strangers, all of us women, with one thing in common: None of us have children. We are your friends, wives and partners, sisters, aunts, cousins, clergy, and co-workers. We are not mothers, nor are we grandmothers. Why this is so is as varied as we were, each of us with our own true story about how that unconventional turn of events has shaped our lives and continues to shape us as women and human beings.
A dear friend, fellow writer, and woman-sans-child, Kate Kaufmann, had gathered the dozen or so of us as part of the final fashioning and finessing of her book on the subject due out next spring. In our daily lives, if we speak of it at all, we women-sans-children have our own whispered language of sorts, a means for us to connect and through which we communicate our place in the world. A nameless place. A questioned and second-guessed place. A pitied place.
A profoundly misunderstood place.
But gathered together, whispered conversations became boisterous parleys, carving out a place of and for women-sans-children, defined by women-sans-children, with space for every path that led each of us to our sans-children lives. A place where someone could ask me if I’ve thought about my legacy, what I, a woman who has no children, want to leave in my wake once this bat-shit crazy life is done with me.
It seems fitting that the question of my legacy, my capacity and desire to bring forth into this world something new and squalling and raw, should toddle, unsure of its footing, into one of my first-born blog posts. Because like all women who can’t claim a genetic passing on to future generations, both question and answer are rich with nuances, nooks and crannies of complex abundance.
Fourth on the list of definitions, Webster’s describes “mother” as “that which gives birth to something, is the origin or source of something, or nurtures in the manner of a mother.” There is no word for a woman-sans-child, noun, that cultural and linguistic corner has yet to be turned, but there is mother, verb, and all women mother, all women leave behind a legacy of something they’ve built, grown, cared for, carved out, and watched over, obsessively, with all their hearts. It’s part of the business of truly living.
I still need to wrangle my sense of future, my notion of when I fall into the order of things past this moment, the grounding we take for granted, and that for me, cancer mangled and obscured. But as I futz and fret over these words and phrases, over what true stories to tell moving forward and how to bring them into being, over the change and connection they could inspire, I’m beginning to understand what my legacy could be, if I mother it as I should, as a writer and woman-sans-child.