In May of 2005 I joined my first on-line forum to talk to and learn from other women trying to become mothers in unconventional ways. I sat and looked at the screen asking for a username for twenty minutes. A wave of anxiety washed over me and I knew that I could not, would not be using my real name in this forum. No harm. No one uses their real name.
On a total lark I decided to use the name Cali Hope. Cali was short for California, the state of my birth. And Hope. Well let’s just say in 2005 I was totally a girl dancing in glitter. I signed my messages and questions in the donor sperm boards “Cali” and slipping into the skin of the username was easy.
A few months went by and within a thread someone said to me, “Oh! I just sounded out your user name realized that your real name must be Calliope!”
In 2005 I did not conceive a baby but I conceived my alias. Calliope.
It was such a perfect online name for me, it felt so right. It was unique enough and yet it was a name people had heard of. I didn’t feel like I was creating a new identity or like I was donning a disguise. I felt like I was borrowing a name to use because everyone needed to have a name on-line and, well, they couldn’t possibly be told my real name.
So why not use my real name? In September of 2005 I started blogging Creating Motherhood and my posts were all about a very, very specific topic: trying to get pregnant as a single woman. The truth is I was afraid. I knew I needed to, wanted to write about my experience. I loved connecting with other women and couples going through similar stories and I loved the community of blogging.
But what if! WHAT IF! What if someone from my life found my blog? What if people I used to work with, work for, men I used to date, men I might want to date…what if they found my blog and read post after post about my journey to be a Mom? Using an alias allowed me to feel in control of this. It was like living in the country but keeping a secret apartment in the city that only I had the key to.
A year into blogging I met someone from the internet in real life. She was another single woman trying to start a family the same way I was. I still remember e-mailing her in the, “and here is how we will know each other” e-mail. “I have red hair, I am very tall…oh and my real name is…”
This is the part that will absolutely sound narcissistic: I loved telling people my real name. Gifting it to them. In the early years of blogging very, very few people knew it and by trusting someone with that part of myself I was saying to them that we were more than just wires and wifi. We were more than an avatar. If I gave you my name I gave you myself. It was, for me, a wonderful way to be on-line.
A few years into blogging someone who I didn’t want reading my story was sent the URL of my site. She then called me. The first five minutes of the call I wanted to hurl. I wanted to delete my entire site. Then I just listened to her. This call was one of my fears and it was happening. I agreed to remove the one post that she took a particular objection to and hung up. It was liberating. So that’s what happens when someone you worry about reading your site reads your site. I can deal with that.
I continued to use the alias of Calliope through all of my attempts to become pregnant. I was Calliope when I went through the process of being an egg donor and I was Calliope when I had my miscarriage. I was Calliope when the internet helped get me pregnant by raising funds for my treatment. I was Calliope when I wrote about the heartbeat and told you all that I was having a boy.
Somewhere within my pregnancy the desire to say goodbye to Calliope surfaced. I thought and thought about it and at the end of the day it didn’t feel right. So I knew it wasn’t time. Not yet.
When Millie slid into the final stage of her Alzheimer’s it was hard to stay Calliope. Many times I felt off for using that name as it felt like it was making my life less MY LIFE. I am using this name Calliope but this Calliope person is not here to clean up the mess. She is not here to sing to my Grandmother or convince her to please, please, please eat something. She was not here when my Mother unexpectedly lost her job and she was not here when W’s heartbeat stopped with every push forcing us to have an emergency section.
Calliope was just a name. Just this scarf. An accessory. And oh my she was getting so tattered and so worn.
When my Grandmother died I lost a part of myself. I honestly didn’t know who I was. I had been her caregiver for 7 years and a Mother for only 6 months. When she died I used her real name on this blog. I wanted, needed, you to know it. Yes she was my Grandmother but she is forever Millie.
So why was I still trying to make myself fit into an alias?
Last year, as I made my cards for my first BlogHer conference, I debated for days about what name to put on the cards. DAYS. I was so nervous about meeting so many people and that ultimately was why ‘Calliope’ went to BlogHer last year. (And of course once there I left Calliope in my room.)
A few weeks after I had returned from BlogHer my Mother was in a front page story on the Huffington Post about unemployment. It was a mostly good article but we had no idea the entire piece was going to be about her. So there, for all to see, was my Mother. Her photo, her age, details about her health, and her full name. And of course a vibrantly gut-wrenching comment section was alive and kicking. I spent five minutes thinking about it and then posted the link on my twitter feed asking for support.
It was the first big kick to Calliope. It was aggressive. My name was not mentioned in the article but my wish for taking down the fourth wall had only just begun. It began to feel off to write online without using my real name. Calliope started to feel like something I was hiding behind.
There were quiet but big steps: the creation of Plaid House Designs using my real name. Then linking to it. For a long time that felt good. I was online in my work site using my real name. And then every day I would write here and see that byline: Calliope. Damn her! Yes. For almost an entire year I have resent her.
When I moved to Philadelphia I joined a social media group and it was the first time that people met me first and Calliope second. I had to explain my twitter handle. I had to explain why I had an alias. And every time I explained I realized that the reasons that I needed Calliope in the first place didn’t exist any more.
I created Calliope because I was afraid that people would find out that I used donor sperm to make my family. I created Calliope because I didn’t want my family to know that I was writing online. I created Calliope because I didn’t want people I used to work with or men I used to date to find my writing.
In September this blog will be 7 years old. SEVEN! Chances are if you have met me, talked to me about my son, you know about our amazing and wonderful story. My family found out about my blog and I survived. People I used to work with and men I used to date know I blog (& some even read daily).
Calliope was born in 2005. She is just over six feet tall, has red hair, giant feet, and loves plaid. She is just like me. She is me. She was me. I am unpeeling. Oh Calliope, holding you in my hands I see how delicate you were. You allowed me to find myself, find my friends, find the people who would help me grow and bloom into the person that I am today. I thank you.
I release you.
My name is Dresden.