“Lovely colours,” said the painter just before finishing the final coat in the nursery.
The plumber also worked tirelessly to finish his job in our extension. He knew we had only one month left before our third daughter was due.
We had been predicting Josephine would be born three and a half weeks early, based on our experience with the other two.
“She will arrive this weekend,” we jokingly announced to family, friends and, most importantly, tradesmen. As there was no obvious sign to show this was the case, family and friends dismissed the idea as superstition, and the tradesmen interpreted our prediction as the usual ‘hurry up’ they hear from all their customers. I went to bed about an hour before midnight and fell into a blissful sleep at once.
At ten minutes past midnight I woke to go to the bathroom but barely made it there. I couldn’t stand upright and knew instinctively I had gone into labour. Now, even I could not believe it was happening. I had never experienced such a sudden onset of pain and called out for my husband, thinking let’s share this experience, dear, only to find myself alone in the house.
He often attended to farm work late at night because I had developed the habit of nodding off in the chair soon after taking the children to bed. Looking out of the window to work out where to start looking for him I saw a fire burning in the paddock and remembered the pile of sticks. It was way out there. How was I to get his attention? I clambered into my car and drove to a vantage point, stopping twice within the 60-metre distance to wait for the pain to pass. Then I flashed the lights and leaned on my horn until I saw the lights of our ute come towards me.
After being told by the hospital to call back in a couple of hours, we soon made a second call. This time we did not let the hypnotising voice of the midwife calm us. My husband tried to explain that we were expecting number three and that we had never had time to use the deep bathtub and the gym balls, let alone light an incense stick or put on a CD, to while away the long hours of labour.
Our usual time from arrival to birth had been about forty minutes. I took the phone out of my normally so assertive husband’s hand and panted, “We are on our way!”
In the delivery room I thought thank goodness all this will be over soon. I am not a spontaneous person and like to grow into a new situation at the best of times. This situation had been thrown at me in my sleep.
Briefly, the unpleasant start to this pregnancy flashed before my eyes. The doctor insisted on CVS because at 38, I was considered an over-aged mother, and even if I thought I would never abort, having the test would be an advantage so the machines could be on stand-by for possible heart defects and other complications with Down’s Syndrome babies. We insisted on starting with a thorough ultrasound scan as well as on changing to a more open-minded doctor.
The ultrasound examination, maternal serum test and computer calculations showed it was highly likely for us to have a healthy little girl, and a later ultrasound confirmed that.
Now, while waiting for our new doctor to arrive in the delivery suite, the midwife tried to steer my mind away from the transition pain. She asked, “Do you know what you are having?”
“It’s another girl,” I quickly panted to fit the sentence between two contractions.
“And we are all excited about that?” she enquired tactfully, looking first at me, then my husband.
“Oh, yes,” we replied in unison.
“At least we know what we are doing with girls,” my husband added.
It only took minutes for the baby to be born and the doctor arrived just in time.
“How is she?” I whispered, catching my breath.
Then I had her in my arms. She was bigger than the other two, and I gently held our precious new baby against my chest. Everyone in the room was smiling.
My husband and I smiled at each other, but we were painfully aware that this was the last time we would feel such elation. We had decided three was enough. We could not keep having babies. We now had to concentrate our efforts to guide the ones we had through childhood and adolescence into adulthood.
Finally my husband said, “Now, this is odd. Isn’t this the point when they say congratulations, you have a healthy baby girl?”
Looking a little unsure, he gently unfolded the wrap. His lips opened but nothing came out. Then he turned to me, and after a pause he said, “There are extra parts.”
“Don’t be silly,” I laughed.
For a moment I was the only one laughing. Only after I had checked for myself and the doctor and midwife saw I was still laughing, they joined in. There was shock, yes, but, as they could see, no disappointment.
My husband said, “Wow. What are we going to do now? How do we raise a boy?”
“Well, let’s deal with that later. At least we got the colours right, and the painter will think we knew all along. The ocean blue of the cornice does look great with the sand-coloured walls. So, when he’s a bit older he can have a pirate room.”
Perhaps deep down, I knew.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem