Identity Labels

Anybody remember the old-school Dymo label-makers? I’m not talking about the fancy electric ones where you can type in whatever you want before printing it up. I’m talking about the ones where you turn the dial to choose the letter and squeeze the handle (as hard as possible) to imprint it on the red or black vinyl tape. And G*d forbid if you misspelled a word and have to start from the beginning.

For some reason I was thinking about that label-maker this past weekend. And really, it started last week when I received a wonderful email from an old High School Friend (HSF) that I hadn’t heard from in years. She had responded via Facebook in regards to the post in which I admittedly found myself questioning my purpose in life.

HSF talked about how, as women, we are always questioning ourselves about what we truly want in life. That we’re always finding a way to label ourselves while simultaneously trying to achieve more than what we can physically and emotionally handle. And that, in the process, we tend to lose perspective of who we really are in the grand scheme of things.

For HSF, it’s a matter of juggling multiple identities. She’s a wife, a daughter, a mother of three (beautiful) children. She’s also a free-lancer, a founding president of one of her alma mater’s alumni groups. Yet as beautiful as her life appears (especially from perusing through Facebook), she admits that she’s still coming to terms with the “Successful Career Woman” label; especially as she’s currently staying at home to with her three young kids.

The point of HSF’s email was not to point out how much different her life was to mine; rather it was simply to point out that regardless of how we view our lives, we only limit ourselves by placing labels on who we are or what we do. And furthermore, why can’t we just enjoy the path that we’re currently on and embrace who we are while traveling down this path?

I must admit, I’m still struggling to deal with the valid points that HSF has brought up. I’m sure it has to do a lot with the many years of believing that “Motherhood” was the end-all be-all for a woman’s livelihood. (I contribute this, as always, to the strong Filipino cultural influence that I identify with.) And, even though I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t have biological children of my own, I still long for something to fill that void that Infertility has robbed me.

Furthermore, with my recent unemployment situation, I feel as though I’ve been stripped yet another label that I’ve identified myself with. That “successful career woman” identity flew out the window the day I found myself surreptitiously without a job.

And really … that’s what this post was trying to explain.

While I’d love to “give up” those labels that I’ve placed on myself, I also must admit that it’s these labels that I’ve come to rely on to “ground” myself, so to speak, when I’ve otherwise felt lost. It’s these labels that help remind me of who *I* am in the face of uncertainty:

  • I’m a Wife.
  • I’m an only Daughter.
  • I’m a Sister to my Brother.
  • I’m a friend.
  • I’m Filipino-American (1st generation).
  • I’m Catholic.
  • I’m a nurse.
  • I’m a writer.
  • I’m infertile.
  • I’m child-free after infertility.

When looking at who I am; what I believe is the center of my core … it’s pretty obvious that there are those identities that I have no control over. These are the identities that have been imprinted on my soul; the ones that I cannot change. The ones that I’ve grown to accept as part of who I am in this life.

Then there are the labels I’ve chosen for myself (Catholic, nurse, writer, friend). Those are the identities that, despite the years of time and investment I put into them, I can readily let go. But do I really want to do that?

The problem, as I see it, is when one of these identities has been lost; especially at a time where I wasn’t ready to a) let go of that identity, or b) accept that identity for what it is.

Take for instance, the part of myself that identifies with being infertile. This was one label I never expected to own. But the fact of the matter is that after one year of trying to conceive (waaaay back when, it seems), we were unable to get pregnant. By definition, infertility is the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying to conceive. That’s a fact. There’s no way I can change that pat of me; there’s no way I have control over that situation.

But take the part of me that identifies with being child-free after infertility. We tried everything that we could possibly do (within our own capabilities both financially and emotionally) to give ourselves a biological child, but that just never happened. And because we thought long and hard about our other options, Hubby & I chose to accept that living child-free was what was best for me. And believe me … it was not an easy choice to make.

And because, she nails it right on the head … here’s how Pam from Silent Sorority recently described the reason why she and her husband chose the child-free path:

“It got to the point where the potential heartbreak was actually more overwhelming than the glimmer of very small hope.”

In any case, my point is that with our decision to live child-free, I dealt with having to let go of one chosen identity and accept a new chosen identity. I had to let go of that identity of motherhood that I held on for so long. and I had to accept that living without children, despite the incredible longing to have a biological child of our own, was my new identity.

As I said before, the decision to live child-free wasn’t a choice that we wanted to make. It’s not that we didn’t discuss opening our hearts to adoption. Or opening our wallets to more infertility treatments. Simply put, identifying ourselves as living child-free was a choice that we had to make. Hubby & I needed to weigh our options to decide if that the small glimmer of hope was worth the insurmountable heartbreak we’d already been through. Hubby & I needed to make this decision so we (or rather *I*) could maintain my sanity.

Because if I didn’t put that label on me, I’d still be struggling to determine who I was … if I couldn’t be the mother I had always dreamed about.

And of course now … my new identity crisis is to determine what to do with my career. But I will take a page out of HSF’s book and learn to enjoy the journey while I discover what’s next.

How about you, Blog World? What parts of yourself keep you grounded? What labels do you place on yourself? How do you identify yourself?

5 Replies to “Identity Labels”

  1. Inspired post.

    Labels are fine. They give us a ground to speak on. Problems arise when labels define us too narrowly. The individual labels are part of a bigger whole that help inform who I am, but no one label illuminates who I am in my entirety. If I were forced to pick then maybe I could select something that was more relevant, but I think that changes too as we grow older. Some labels we don’t carry anymore, being older and wiser.

    My soul labels: husband, artist, friend, child-free, dad to my pets, son, brother, best friend to my wife, Filipino-Chinese, introspective-moody-and sometimes wicked thinker/schemer, and funny man to a select audience.

  2. I think maybe your “writer” identity is trying to move up towards the top of the list. Your layoff may be the opportunity…..hint, hint.

    I haven’t thought much about labels, at least consciously. However if I go down that thought path for me “wife” was probably the identity that I struggled for so long to gain. It took me years to meet my hubby and there were times I thought I’d never find him, and I’d never be happy until I did. Then I let go when I was 35 and was happy all by myself. I met Tarzan a year later.

    Since I’ve really only had the possibility to be a mother for the 3.5 years we’ve been married, it’s not an identity that I feel I must have. I always thought I’d be a mother, but in a way it’s always been in the background. It’s never been central to my core if that makes any sense. I think I really started to let go of that dream (not totally yet, but for the most part) after our failed DE cycle last year. I’ve fallen back on the whole “life is too short to be unhappy” cliche I suppose.

    If I were to choose some more labels they would be – wife, daughter, friend, animal lover, and human being. I still like to take a step back and look at my life and others from the perspective of the larger universe and time. I think it’s a coping mechanism ultimately, but for me a fascinating one.

  3. Oh and one more thing. We still use those old fashioned label makers at our store – to label shelves and such for soap/candles by fragrance. haha.

  4. Right now, I’m not sure what parts of me keep me grounded. I’m in this very surreal place right now, and I’m not even sure that I can call myself grounded! Ultimately, I think what keeps me closest to grounded would be roles that regard how I relate to others– that of wife and friend. No matter what happens, I am still a friend, I am still someone’s wife. I hope to be adding ‘mother’ to that list soon (and things are looking pretty good for this to happen!), but I worry that adding the ‘mother’ label will do the exact opposite of “grounding” me. It’s just such a bizarre thing. I am very clearly nothing right now except an incubator for future humans. There’s just no denying that this is my identity right now. Maybe if there was just one baby in there, this wouldn’t happen for another couple of weeks, but at this point, people see me, and they don’t see ‘human’, ‘wife’, ‘friend’, or even ‘customer’– they see BABYMAKER. And they want to know about when the baby will be here, every vital stat possible about the baby(ies), how I’m doing with growing these babies. It’s sweet and I totally get the intention (it’s like some sort of societal protection of the next generation or something), but sometimes I want to scream, “I am a human!! I’m not just a sack of babies!” But unfortunately, with every moment of life right now, every movement, every thought, there is no denying that this is what I am reduced to, at least for the next several weeks. My own body can no longer deny that it is fixed in the role of incubator.

    And I don’t mean to say it’s bad (really. I know how long I waited for this exact situation, and how lucky, how blessed I am to be here after this long wait), but it is so completely weird. You spend so long lamenting not being in this state, being marked as the one who can’t reproduce, who isn’t “right”, who society thinks is wrong for not hurrying up and having a kid already, and suddenly, you are nothing but a vehicle for an impending birth. It’s just surreal, that’s all I mean to say. A 180* turn, and my head is still spinning a bit.

    So yeah. The labels I choose are wife and friend, creative mind, do-er, think-er, etc. And I hope that all those labels will still apply once the ‘mother’ label comes to be.

  5. Hehe…I have a labelmaking fetish, from the old-school Dymo (had one when I was in middle school) to the newer ones you can get at Costco.

    This reminds me of when I used to try and “discover” myself by those quizzes you would find in teenage magazines, and how gratifying it felt to squeeze myself into an easily-defined box. It took me a long time to cultivate the self esteem required to break out of those definitions and fully embrace all the weird angles of me.

    With infertility, it’s getting a little harder again, because – as you point out – so much of a woman’s identity is tied to her ability to have children. And because I can’t fulfill this aspect of the label, it calls into question so many other aspects of what it means to be a woman for me. I think it takes a lot of courage to redefine what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a family when you’re going against such an ingrained norm. I’m working my way up to it…

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