“My son's my son ‘til he gets him a wife, but my daughter's my daughter all her life.” That was written by British poet Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1826-1887). I despise her for that. My mother used to say it to me every once in a while. I didn’t think much of it until I gave birth to a succession of boys.
While contemplating starting a family, I imagine most couples picture that they will have a daughter and a son. What else can you picture besides a miniature version of each of you? That’s what I pictured. Who goes into it knowing they will have four daughters? Or, one son? You’re hoping for a healthy baby, of course, but probably wishing for something in particular. It’s natural. Most women would like a daughter. Most men would like a son. If I could have chosen, I probably would have had a daughter, a son and then another daughter. But you don’t choose.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I pretty much knew I was having a boy, even though we opted not to find out. In the ultrasounds, his forehead and nose just looked particularly boyish. All the gear I registered for was blue and white. I unwittingly registered for a baby sleeper with the words “It’s a boy!” in tiny script all over it. Soon before having the baby, an old Italian waiter looked at me and said with great conviction “That’s a boy.” I didn’t argue. I had always wanted a boy since my nephews were little, so I was perfectly fine with it. My husband literally jumped for joy and high-fived me when the doctor announced “It’s a boy!” I was happy but not surprised one bit.
With my second child, however, I desperately wanted a girl. I really couldn’t imagine my life without a daughter with which to share it. My husband wanted a daughter as well and I thought he’d be a great dad to a little girl. When it came time to find out the sex, the ultrasound technician moved the magic wand around to the critical area and said “OK, I see it…what do you think it is?” My heart dropped, my eyes watered. I said, flatly, “It’s a boy, isn’t it?” I couldn’t see anything with clarity, but the way she said “I see it,” I knew what “it” was. I burst out in tears. Not tears of joy. Horrible, embarrassing, uncontrollable tears of shock and unfathomable disappointment. The ultrasound tech was aghast. “You know, some people can’t even have children,” she scolded. “I know. I know. I feel terrible. I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I’m sorry.” Tears were shooting out of my eyes like a sprinker. “Why is it so easy for some people to have a girl and not for me?!” I felt so guilty. And so sad.
Later that day, I called a close friend (a mom of 2 boys herself) and left a sobbing, incoherent voicemail. She called back in a panic, thinking someone had died. Someone had died. My imaginary daughter. I was deeply in mourning. I couldn’t stop thinking about the movies we wouldn’t go to together, the prom I wouldn’t shop for, the wedding shower I wouldn’t be throwing and the idyllic superclose but healthy mother-daughter relationship I wouldn’t enjoy with the girl I didn’t have. I wondered who would take care of me in my old age.
For the next couple of months, acting happily pregnant was difficult. Going into babyGap or Gymboree to buy some new baby clothes was particularly painful. I steered clear of the baby girls’ section. Big appliquéd hearts, colorful stripes, polka dots, poofy skirts the sight of them pierced my heart like a dagger. I made lists of people I knew or knew of that had only boys. Were they happy? Were they completely insane? Was life worth living without a daughter? I searched for “Moms of Boys” websites to glean some wisdom. One posting shook me to the core, exposing my deepest fears. A desperate mom wrote “I feel so depressed, I found out my sister is having a girl. I have three boys and she called me up to let me know she was having the first girl of the family. I really was upset with my last two being boys and my first acts like a monster most of the time. I wish I had had only girls. I am really unhappy and I HATE my husband for giving me three boys. I think of just leaving them all and starting out again. I hate army men, I hate tanks and boats and all that boy crap! I hate it!!! I want a girl with pink and pretty things. It would have been better never to have any kids than to have a boy, especially three.” There were a variety of responses ranging from supportive and sympathetic to "People like you shouldn't have children, all children are gifts from God!" No more “Moms of Boys” websites.
It took me a few months, but I eventually got used to the idea of having another boy. Frankly, I don’t like chick flicks, so I don’t really need to watch them with anyone, let alone give birth to a girl to be able to see them. I’ve already shopped for four proms for myself. And, so I don’t throw a wedding shower, oh well. I’ll throw a few really nice rehearsal dinners instead. OK, so I won’t have someone with whom to watch old episodes of “Absolutely Fabulous”. I won’t have someone to pass on my prom and wedding dresses, jewelry and a couple of old Seventeen magazines I saved so I could laugh at them with my daughter. What would she do with my old clothes anyway? Wear them as a Halloween costume?
When my second son was born, it was obsessive love at first sight. I can’t forget the overwhelming feeling I had, when looking at his serious little face lying in the clear plastic hospital bassinet next to me, that I wanted to somehow get him back into my belly. My mama bear instinct to protect him was on overload. The nurses kept saying that we held on to each other so tight, it was hard to get him off me to bring him to the nursery. The instant he was born I knew exactly why I had him. He specifically needed me to be his mother and I needed him to be my son. I understood that you don’t give birth to a boy or girl, you give birth to a soul and a soul has no gender.
However, my biggest fear of dying alone lingered. No doting daughter to take care of me. My husband, one of three boys, still needs to reassure me that I will not be abandoned in my old age. As it turns out, my second son, now four, is a natural caretaker. He dotes on me when I’m sick. He repeatedly feels my “fourshead” to check for a fever, gives me decent medical advice and kisses me on the hand to reassure me that I’ll be all right. I know he won’t abandon me.
I had always swung back and forth between wanting two children and wanting three children. When feeling overwhelmed with one child, I most definitely only wanted one more child. When I had two children, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t enough. While deciding whether or not we were going to have a third child, I had to make sure I wasn’t doing it just to try to have a girl. I had to go into it assuming it was another boy. I could do that.
The problem was, I really felt that I was pregnant with a girl. I was sick all the time. I had terrible afternoon-to-evening sickness, as opposed to the morning sickness I had with the first two boys. People were telling me it must be a girl because the pregnancy “stole my beauty”. Uh, thanks. The other two pregnancies were exactly the same and this one was different. Someone did the hand trick with me. They say “Show me your hands.” Whether you show them palms up or palms down will determine what you’re carrying. I did it the girl way. I couldn’t tell if I was carrying wide (girl) or out straight (boy). With the third baby, abdominal muscles all stretched out, I was just carrying it low. I remember one woman in Bed, Bath and Beyond, looking at me, pregnant with two boys in the cart, asking me if I was having a girl. I said I didn’t know. She said “I really hope you do. I really, really hope you do.” She kept staring at me, shaking her head for an uncomfortable amount of time, with a mixture of hope and pity. I felt bad for her. I would be OK if I didn’t have a girl. I wasn’t sure if she’d be OK. Should I get her email address so I could let her know?
When we went for the third baby’s ultrasound, I told the tech what happened at the second baby’s ultrasound. She said “You know, I felt exactly the same way when I had my second son.” “Oh, that makes me feel better,” I replied. “But then,” she continued, “when I had my fifth son…” I started to get dizzy, then I heard her say something like “You’ll find out that you’ll be happy no matter what you have.” I’m having a boy. She never would have said that last part if I wasn’t having another boy. As much as I felt like I was having a girl, deep down, I knew it was a boy. Why didn’t I just find out? I wanted to have that final “It’s a [fill in the blank]!” moment. I knew this would be my last child. Even though I had gone back and forth between wanting two or three children, never once did the idea of having four cross my mind. I’m not enough mom for that. But, honestly, I know I was just prolonging the “it might be a girl” fantasy. I did buy one, absolutely irresistible, girl’s outfit at babyGap. Rainbow striped sweater, jeans with matching rainbow belt, etc. I kept the receipt (and promptly returned it when I gave birth to another boy). When my doctor said, quite matter of factly, “It’s a boy” for the third time to me, I still couldn’t believe it. He was so cute. He looked just like me. But I couldn’t believe it. The months of throwing up? The loss of beauty? Holding my hands up the right way? No. No. No. No girl for me.
When I started taking him out into the world, people were constantly mistaking him for a girl. “She’s adorable!” I was told countless times, even when “she” was wearing obviously boy clothes. At age two he has been called “she” at least once. Admittedly, he was a very pretty baby with his big smile, bright eyes and edible cheeks. I guess if he were to wear a pink dress and a bow in his hair, no one would think he was cross-dressing. Yes, he’s beautiful, but he’s all bouncing baby boy. And he is the most happy person I’ve ever met. This surprises me since much of his pregnancy I was sick and miserable. Forget boy or girl, I feared I was going to give birth to a clinically depressed baby. But this little boy fills me with joy every day. Even before either one of us gets out of bed in the morning, I am smiling listening to him laugh, sing, dance and jump up and down in his crib over and over again. Everything he does is cute. Everything he says is cute. Even when he’s just sitting in my lap sucking his thumb he’s cute. When things get a little crazy juggling three kids, I wonder what life would be like without him. I can’t even imagine it. He completed our family.
There are studies that say mothers of girls are happier than mothers of boys. Someone recently told me that mothers of two girls are happier than mothers of two boys, but mothers of four girls are more unhappy than mothers of four boys. Well-meaning relatives and strangers say things like “You’re lucky you had all boys. Girls are whiny and clingy.” Some say “Boys are harder when they’re young, girls are harder when they’re older.” I always feel like people are somehow, not only consoling me, but implying that I had a choice and don’t worry, you made a good choice, considering the all the options. At this point, I realize there’s no good or bad. Everyone has good days and everyone has bad days (or years). And everyone’s different. My three boys have completely different personalities. I can’t put any of them in a “typical boy” box. Just like I couldn’t have been put in a “typical girl” box. I played sports, never took ballet, never once owned a tiara or anything princessy. I don’t like to cook and can’t craft to save my life. Boy or girl, everyone brings something different to the party. In our case, one brings the funny, one brings the sweetness and another brings the silly. And each one brings the naughty and cranky on occasion. Some boys are made of sugar and spice and everything nice and I bet some girls are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails.
I remember my friend (from the incoherent voice mail) once saying she never thinks about having girls instead of her boys. I couldn’t believe it. Wouldn’t all mothers of boys wonder how their lives would be different with a daughter? Well, much to my surprise, these days, I rarely think about what it would be like having a girl. I recently went birthday present shopping with my 4-year old to buy a gift for the little girl he has a big crush on. I thought it would be really fun to shop for a girl for a change. He wanted to buy her a pony or unicorn. We looked around at the “girl toys” and I helped him decide on a Play Doh set instead. I have a house full of Legos, trucks and trains. We have a few dolls, a doll stroller and a play kitchen, which they love too. We watch a lot of Star Wars and Cars but they occasionally ask for Snow White or The Little Mermaid. I thought I would miss having Barbie accessories all over the place. I don’t. I am totally over the girl thing. Totally. Except for this one time a few months ago when I had to go the Army-Navy store to buy Cub Scouts supplies. As I paid for the cute little shirt and cap, my baby was playing with the display featuring decorative ammo. “Put that bullet down!” Ugh! Then, as we went back out to the parking lot, a man who perfectly fit the description of a child molester (sorry to be judgy, but you had to see him) got out of his car to go shopping at the Army-Navy store. Total meltdown. This is my worst nightmare! I would rather be at Gymboree buying sparkly headbands and sundresses!
When things don’t turn out as planned, you have to dig deep for answers. I may not be religious and my spirituality is a work in progress, but I do believe all things happen for a reason. No amount of wishing otherwise would have changed our fates to be together. They were meant to be exactly who they are and we were meant to be their parents. I don’t have to relive my life through my children. I already did childhood. It's their turn. I finally grasped that whole “happiness comes from within” concept. My happiness doesn’t come courtesy of someone else. That’s just too much to expect of someone, let alone a little baby. It’s not about what I get from them, but what they get from me. I get my happiness from myself and any joy I get from my children is icing on the cake. As my 4-year old likes to say, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Well, you can get upset. You can feel sorry for yourself, you can cry and swear as much as you need to. But, eventually, it all makes sense and you will be happy with what you got. I love my boys and even on the worst day, wouldn’t trade them for anything or anyone. Besides, at restaurants, when one of them has to go to the bathroom, I look at my husband and say with glee "It's a boy! Take him."