When I was pregnant with my first child, my ultrasound-technician friend was kind enough to provide some free services at 16 weeks – the earliest she felt confident we could positively identify my baby’s gender. I was not one of those mothers who harmoniously declared, “Boy or girl, I’d be happy either way.” No, sadly, I wanted one gender and one gender only. I wanted to be a mother of girls. And I couldn’t wait to find out if my baby would accommodate.
My preference was about what I knew – I was a girl, and I grew up with two sisters. I had a clear picture of what raising girls would look like. I knew what to expect, and had a few ideas of how to handle the girl-oriented stresses that I anticipated. Additionally, I liked girl stuff. Not girly-girl stuff like princesses and fairies, which I actually abhor but some of the other stereotypical girl stuff, like playing house and making crafts and learning to cook and sew. Moreover, I liked the idea of emboldening my girls to play sports and excel academically, to defy those stereotypes and embrace girl power.
And, on the other hand, I didn’t like what I perceived boy stuff to be. I hated the thought of the endless climbing and punching and destructive games where things blow up and crash, and there is just so much shooting going on. The thought of watching Hot Wheels spin around the same loop-the-loop a thousand times or trying to comprehend baseball statistics or being witness to even a single game of cops and robbers just left me feeling empty inside.
I’m not proud of feeling this way. Boys are important and adorable and wonderful, too. One particularly great one grew up to be my loving and supportive husband. But, when it came down to it, they just weren’t the kids I wanted to raise.
So when my friend with the magic wand told me the baby in my belly was a girl, I was not only thrilled, I was relieved. The family I had pictured in my mind was one step closer to becoming real.
When my daughter was a little over a year old, I got pregnant again. I tried to say things like, “I already have a girl, so I’d be happy no matter what this baby is.” But truthfully, not much had changed. I wanted another girl.
As the pregnancy progressed, I had to face some harsh truths. I was carrying like a basketball and not a watermelon. My right breast was larger than my left. The baby’s heart rate was on the slower side. Not only did all the old wives’ tales suggest my baby was a boy, but I myself grew more and more sure of it. I declined the freebie ultrasound from my friend, opting not to find out my baby’s gender in advance. The thought of being disappointed about the baby in my belly made me kind of hate myself. What kind of a mother feels disappointed about her unborn baby? I didn’t want to battle those emotions on top of battling an aching back and a toddler who wanted to sit on my ever-shrinking lap. I figured that if I waited to find out the gender until my baby was born, then the thrill and beauty of having a newborn in my arms would trump any petty feelings I was having about gender.
As the baby’s birth became imminent, I told my midwife not to announce the baby’s gender. “I just want to hold my baby in my arms for a moment and enjoy his or her presence before knowing,” I said between contractions. In other words, “If you tell me he is a boy, I fear I might reject him.”
My midwife respected my wishes. Immediately after I pushed the baby out, I scooped up my new child and brought the warm and squishy body to my chest. In the split second it took to lift the baby, I saw his little penis. It made me laugh. I had been right.
In all honesty, I know I experienced a tinge of disappointment. There was a fleeting moment of disbelief when I thought, “Really? I have a son?” But looking at my baby’s round face, all negativity quickly vanished. Bringing a new life into the world is a glorious event. Perhaps it was the giddying effects of the oxytocin rush, but I was just so happy to have my baby out of my belly and in my arms. He was beautiful and sweet, and he fit so snugly in my arms. He was my baby, and he was perfect, penis and all.
My son is now two years old. By all accounts, he is adorable. He does not shoot guns or blow things up. He plays with the same train set his sister enjoys. He also likes the same Legos as her, as well as the dolls, tutus, play kitchen set, and baseball bat. He likes to read books, draw, climb on play equipment, and ride a scooter.
It’s possible the destructive days are yet to come, but at this point I realize I’ll be able handle bombs and guns if they should come up. I now see that the issue of my child’s gender had very little to do with my child and much more to do with me. I had closed my mind around one specific type of boy and had forgotten how complex human beings are. My son is a boy, yes, but boys come in all different shapes and sizes. This particular fellow is a genetic mix of his mother and father. He is nurtured under the influences of his sister and extended family, his community, and his peers. He is exposed to ballet and baseball, handicrafts and hand tools. He – not I – picks what excites him most, just as his sister has done for herself. I love him no matter what he enjoys because he is my child.
When I reflect back on my pregnancy and the fears I had about having a son, I cringe. I can’t even imagine my life now without him. Every child is a blessing. They teach us about ourselves and the world, things we might never have realized we were missing. My son has shown me how truly silly I was. He happens to be just as intrigued by my sewing and cooking as his sister is. Yes, he also gravitates toward trains and cars, but so what? Some of his other interests have prompted me to learn fascinating things about sharks and outer space.
Children are not pre-packaged items wrapped in blue or pink. Society constructs gender roles, and I as a parent will help my kids negotiate them. I will do my best to help my son discover who he is and what contributions he can make to the world. And when he pretends to blow things up, I’ll just tell him to be sure to clean up his mess.