Our Feminine Identity

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Our Feminine Identity

When my partner Patryk died, my grief process naturally gave way to a journey of self-reflection, identity exploration and (re)discovery. Today I feel more woman than I ever have. And I love feeling like a woman again. But it took a ton of work to get here.

I was sitting in a grief support session, and one woman spoke of her experience of caring for her husband who was dying of cancer. She talked about how she and her husband’s relationship became one of caregiver and patient; how somewhere along the way–amongst the hardship and pain and labour of living with this illness–they lost the part of their relationship where they saw each other as romantic partners, as lovers. She said she didn’t feel like a woman. And I suddenly realized I knew exactly how she felt.

The relationship Patryk and I had was complicated because of alcohol addiction and substance use. A dynamic developed between us over a period of about 10 years that was very much like caregiver and dependent. I was constantly worried about his safety and well-being. I was anxious, untrusting and insecure. I was always on high alert, and due to my shame around our circumstances, I navigated most of it on my own and without support. I was so focused on my partner that I didn’t have an authentic view of who I was as an individual, or what my needs were.

When we decided to start a family and I became pregnant, I also began nurturing my role as a mother. Once more, I added to my identity as a caregiver, as a provider and support for my family. To be sure, being a mother is a very empowering experience for a woman, and especially now as a single mom. But for me, when my son was born I thought of myself as a mother to him, but never as a woman with a child, if that makes sense.

Fast forward two years to 2017, and nope, still not a woman yet. Because I was suddenly a widow at age 34. Unsure of what this meant, what it was supposed to be like, I fumbled my way through months of shock and life transformation. I talk about this quite a bit; it required me to examine what I wanted, what I absolutely had no time for, who showed up for me and how they did that (like the incredible community of parents (women!) that dropped meals off on my porch for almost five months after Patryk died), and what types of relationships were feeding me and helping me to keep on. It was a much-needed, much-delayed exercise in self-reflection. All my identities a partner, a caregiver, a mother, a widow. And, a woman? I was finally getting there.

And then, the icing on the cake – dating! Without getting into too much detail, this was the very scary but also very fun part of rediscovering myself as a woman. Much like the rest of my life, I was piecing this part of me together; what I was looking for in a new partner, what I wanted them to see and think and feel about me, getting reacquainted with my sexuality, what qualities were most important in my romantic connections and eventually, a new serious, loving relationship.

So here I am today, feeling so proud to appreciate and finally feel like an active participant in celebrating International Women’s Day. I’ll continue to define and redefine my feminine identity. The way I see it, it’s never a bad thing to reflect on and take pride in our identities, however complex they might be at their core. To us, Ladies.