I is for Identity

Sam Bowen's avatar

by Sam Bowen

The house phone rings early one evening and so starts a humorous conversation when my husband answers it.

“Are you Dead?” asks the voice on the other end. “What?” he replies, somewhat taken aback.

The volley of these same questions goes back and forth a few times until he breaks for it and repeats “Am I dead?!!”. “Yes are you Lucy’s DAD?”  

It probably didn’t help that the caller has a very strong Kentish accent (similar to the Essex twang) nor that you don’t expect to answer the phone to the name of Mum or Dad, much less Dead.

To make matters worse the lady in question is Lucy’s Epilepsy nurse who we refer to as the ‘Fit woman’ much in the same way there is a ‘Head guy’ and ‘Hip bloke’ etc.

So when my bemused husband wondered back into the living room and simply said “The Fit woman just asked if I was dead”, well it’s a memory that’s stuck with us.

I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been referred to as Mum, asked “what does Mum think?” but never by my daughter who is non verbal.

I even flinch in supermarkets when kids scream Mum, half thinking they are calling out to me.

I do understand that in a busy hospital it’s easier to refer to parents as Mum or Dad, less names to remember no doubt, but a simple Mrs Bowen would be easy enough seeing as they already know Lucy’s full name.

Then there are the barrage of forms to complete in managing Lucy’s disability, her benefits and medical and therapy requirements for example.

I shift from being referred to as Mum to becoming Lucy’s Carer hinting more at a job role than a relation.

Mummies can be yummy, not a lot about being a carer is.

Our identities have been rubber stamped from the moment we became parents and lucky enough to adopt this name, Mum or Dad as a new label.

Unfortunately becoming a special needs parent brings its own list of labels and a new identity few of us ever dreamt we’d have nor were prepared for.

It also casts a veil over the identity of our children.

I sometimes struggle against the identity of special needs itself – can’t my child just be a child, if not forever than at least for a whole day now and again?

Yes she can, is the answer to that, but probably only when we are at home or at a friend’s house when the need for an accessible toilet isn’t necessary and no one will stare at our eating habits or the happy noises she likes to make.

We are beginning to adopt different identities when we leave the house, there is the public identity and the private one.

The name Mum is something I cherish and worked hard to get, but it’s really only something one person can call me, in her own time when she is good and ready. 

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