Women have always been caregivers. Whether looking after small children, elders, other family members or friends in small communities, tending to others in urban settings with limited support systems, or acting as professional caregivers in institutional settings, we have been the primary providers of physical care and emotional support in a variety of settings and circumstances throughout the ages.
Today that remains true. As women have children later and elders live longer, we are challenged by competing demands and shrinking resources. Many of us have elderly parents living in a time of growing dementia or increasing frailty; others have parents who need supervision in nursing homes. At the same time, we are parenting children who often have their own physical or emotional challenges. We may also have spouses in failing health who need our attention.
Whether we are younger women focused on child care, older women charged with being there for a sick spouse or parent, or women in the sandwich generation who are called upon to take care of children and parents simultaneously, many of us find ourselves in the caregiver role well before we expected to be there and often feeling less prepared than we wish.
Because of these issues, I compiled a collection of prose and poetry by women caregivers that give testimony to what caregiving has meant for contemporary women. The anthology is called “TAKE CARE: Tales, Tips and Love from Women Caregivers and it has just been published. Here is an excerpt by Kate Gray called “All the Longing Left in the Body.”
It could be you stopping me. It could be you quite a few years from now, half of your face a little lower than the other, your hair turned gray and your clothes neatly tucked. You would probably do the same thing she did in the women’s restroom, if you were in her shoes.
“Sorry,” she said, on the way to her car. “That’s my husband in the other stall. Don’t mind him.” When the woman returned, a blue waffled diaper in hand, she said, “Thank you for understanding.”
It could be any of us, waiting outside a bathroom stall, overcoming the body’s instinct to grimace at the acrid smells, taking a diaper much bigger than the one used for an infant, carrying it carefully, disposing of it. It could be any of us, bending down to hug our spouse or partner, wrap our arms under their arms, straighten our legs to lift the two of us to standing. It could be you loving someone so much that you take him into the women’s room with you, that you find a way to make a dance out of changing a diaper, that you don’t mind doing what you have to do, as long as you are two together.
For more information about women and caregiving, see:
- Caregiving in the U.S.: A Research Report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute
- Caregiver Statistics: Demographics from the Family Caregiver Alliance
Elayne Clift writes about women, health, politics and social issues from Saxtons River, Vt. Follow her @elayne_clift.