#WomanCentered is an independent project by conceptual artist and community organizer, Natasha Marin. Inspired by Women at the Center, a project created with support from the United Nations Foundation Universal Access Project. This series of interviews seeks to tell the inspiring, interconnected stories of women’s reproductive health, rights, and empowerment.

Taurmini Fentress of Seattle, WA.
I spent two long days in my room when I found out I was pregnant. When I tried to picture my possible future as a mother, there was such a disconnect between that possible person and the woman that I was — I didn’t even know how to approach her.

How has having or not having children affected the overall trajectory of your life?

The life that I was living was a lovely one, full of hours that I was free to define, ideas and conversations that I could follow to their end, work that I enjoyed that paid the bills, and just a little too much fun. How could I do this? I knew I would be doing it alone. And I knew that everything would change.

Now that I am that woman I couldn’t picture, it’s hard to remember exactly where I’ve been and difficult to know exactly where I would be if I had made a different choice. I’ve shared my life with my daughter for four years now. Four years. Parenting does such strange shit to time — it seems impossible that I gave birth to this human such a short time ago — I have sweatshirts older than she is — but it also feels unlikely that time really existed before she became a part of it. It hasn’t exactly been an easy road.

When she was really little, I would lay next to her completely exhausted and think myself so far down into a hole that I couldn’t breathe. I’d look at this little human who had taught me what it means to love someone from the base of my spine in that deep bone knowledge, I’ll rip you apart with my teeth if you touch her-kind of way, and feel completely incompetent and incapable of providing everything for her.

It’s a hard thing to raise a child on your own in a society that perpetuates the myth of the rightness of the “nuclear family” and that tells parents, single or otherwise, that it is on them alone to financially and emotionally support their children while somehow avoiding the vertigo of losing themselves in the process. That narrative does us so much harm. It took me a while to address where my deepest doubts and fears were coming from and things got a lot better when I realized that many of them were coming from a morality that was never really my own.

While having my daughter changed everything, sometimes it seems that it changed nothing because in a very real way, I’m just who I’ve always been. My daughter didn’t change me as much as having her made it impossible for me to run away. I’ve got to get all kinds of cozy with all my bits and pieces if I’m going to show this girl child what it means to be a woman in this world. Since she was born, all the messaging we are constantly bombarded with around womanhood and personhood is turned up on high — it’s palpable to me in a way that it wasn’t before. I’m determined to show her that we aren’t defined in these ways and to do that, I’ve got to really be able to look myself in the eye and say that I love me. There’s no amount of teaching that will matter more than the self I put forth for her to emulate. I am trying to do the work on myself that makes me proud to be this little being’s role model.

Do you feel pressure to fulfill an idea of womanhood that may/may not correspond to who you actually are? If so, please describe.

When I turned 37 this year, I decided to let my hair just go ahead and go grey. I’ve dyed it twice since then, so there’s that I suppose … I can feel my lip turn up into a slight … snarl?

It frustrates me that I still so often experience who I am through the reflection provided by others and that I sometimes succumb to attempting to soften and shrink myself in order to be more palatable for consumption.

I’ve gotten better at spotting the contradictions between who I claim to be and the habits that fill my days — and I find it an interesting area to poke around in. So much of who “I am” can be traced back, to one extent or another, to the social conditioning of my culture. It’s not always easy to tease those edges apart to see what, if anything, I can really define as me.

None of us can fit a definition that I’ve ever heard and certainly there’s no phrase that contains all that is “woman” so what is womanhood really?

I know that I don’t want to be a “good” woman, I want to be an exceptional one. I want to know my mind and speak it so that others can hear it. I want to trust my heart and know how to follow it. I want to know my truth and be strong enough to stand by it. I want to give my word and line up my thoughts and actions behind it. And I wanna expand my idea of womanhood daily until it’s big enough to embrace all of us with our broken bits and most loved pieces.

This is part one of a three-part series. Click here to continue to part two.