I was always one of those women who would never have a kid. I glared at little girls who cut the line in public restrooms. Why couldn't they hold it? I had to go, too. I cringed in restaurants when babies cried. I rolled my eyes to the amusement of my dinner-mates and said, “Can't they control their child?” After ‘harrumphing’ my way through meal after meal, it was told to me on more than one occasion that anyone who knew me would feel sorry for my offspring if I ever had a child.
In movie theatres I was a pest. Whispering to mothers of offending children in a harsh voice, I would tell them to take their child out or to borrow the duct tape I had in my bag to keep their offending child quiet. I paid eight dollars to watch a movie not to hear some whiny brat cry through the climax.
There was no way I was going to have a baby. And if, by some odd turn of fate, I did end up having a mini-me, I was certainly going to be cursed with a girl. I gave my parents such a hard time growing up (what with the flannel, the pot-smoking, the military school, the military guys) that no way would I get it easy and have a boy.
So, when my older sister had a son and I actually had to pick up my nephew (I could no longer pass the hot potato by saying “I always make babies cry” or “babies don't like me”), it came as a surprise to me and the rest of my family when I voiced an underlying passion that had been growing and bubbling inside me, boiling over at a family dinner no less.
“I think I want to have a baby.” I did not say it with the assurance of someone who knew what they wanted. This was not the same as “I want to be a fireman.” There was nowhere near the conviction of my mountain climbing phase when I had said, “I want to climb Mount Everest.”
My determination to be a tomboy overshadowed my female predilections so much so that I was sure I’d be punished by having the most girly-girl imaginable. Lace, pink, patent leather shoes, white furled socks, ringlets. I could see it in my mind and it was torture. Maybe I shouldn’t have started thinking about having a baby.
Was I prepared to deal with a girl? A girl that would grow up into a young woman almost positively assured to be the same breed of girl who made my life a living hell throughout middle school and high school? There was no way a person like me would be blessed with a boy.
But, I convinced myself, having a girl wouldn’t be all bad. And I’d let her wear pink if she wanted...but she’d have to dig it out of the permanent mud pit I would dig in the back yard. Pink was fine as long as it was covered in mud.
The pregnancy happened faster than I thought possible. Before I knew it, I was curled up on the vinyl-tiled floor of our master bathroom, hugging my cold porcelain toilet. I spent more nights on the couch trying to relieve heartburn than I did in bed with my husband. I drank apple juice and hated my once-regular cup of tea. The smell of eggs gagged me and I thrived on Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food and Karamel Sutra. I took two-mile walks nearly every day and when I wasn’t working or walking or eating... I was sleeping.
It was in one of those sleep-deprived mindsets that my husband and I agreed to leave the gender of the baby a surprise. But, I knew. I knew I was having a girl. After four months of calling the peanut Eowyn and trying to pick out paint for a girl’s nursery that wasn't pink, our resolve wavered.
“We're at baby-sex territory,” the doctor had said. I was lying, like a beached whale, on the examining table gripping my husband’s hand like a vice.
I did want to know.
I didn’t want to know.
I did want to know.
I didn’t want to know.
“It’s up to him,” I said finally, knowing my husband would cave.
The news that came next was catastrophic beyond measurable proportions. In my mind it was worse than Pearl Harbor, worse than Hiroshima. Worse even, than 9/11.
How was I supposed to have a boy? Surely this thing inside me was a girl. It was already causing problems. I couldn't have a boy. Little Eowyn had become such an integral part of my day – I would talk to her on the way to and from work, I would rest my hand on my growing belling, breathing slowly and imagining who and what the girl inside me was going to be. How in the world could I wrap my mind around the fact that the little angel had felt grow and move inside me was a boy? How could that be? It wasn't fair.
A happily pregnant woman I was not. My sister, my friends, and basically every other woman I knew who had had babies at some point recently or long ago, said pregnancy was the best nine months of their lives. My sister reminded me of one of those women who would happily stay pregnant the rest of her days. The closeness, the specialness, the miracle of it all was amazing to everyone else. But not me.
This parasite was taking my nutrients, my energy, and my will to live. I wanted him to be out of my stomach. I wanted him to stop waking me up in the middle of the night, lying on my bladder, kicking my stomach. I wanted to go one day without feeling the urge to puke, pee, cry, or kill someone. I wanted to be not pregnant again.
After the shock of finding out I was having a boy sunk in, I realized I had to accept the facts. The next five months was a blur of mistakenly calling the peanut inside me Eowyn. I knew, from my slip-ups and the inadvertent dreams I had about my baby girl that even if I did have a son, he would be seriously of the feminine variety. Slowly, as the pregnancy dragged on and the heat began to rise with the coming summer, I began accepting peanut as a boy. I started shopping, picking out clothes, and painted the nursery a nice, clean yellow that was perfect for a boy (but that would be suitable for a girl, if, by some chance, the doctor was wrong).
Long into the nights, during the time where I couldn’t sleep and needed something to keep me occupied because there was nothing on television, I started dreaming about what boy peanut would be like. Would he be strong and outdoorsy like his father and me? Would he be a computer nerd or a writer? Would he be loud like his mom or quiet and sarcastic like his typically Australian father? Would he be brown, red, or blond-haired? Blue or brown eyes? The combinations were limitless and I loved trying to figure out what he was going to turn out looking like.
It was on one of these sleepless nights when peanut decided he’d had enough of this waiting nonsense and wanted to come. My heart was in my throat as I climbed the stairs to tell my husband it was time to go to the hospital. My bags had been in the car for a week and I was ready to go. I was ready to get this baby out of me. Boy or girl, I didn't care anymore. I just wanted to get to the hospital so I could be myself again. Away with the hormones, the fat, the excessive eating. Soon my swollen legs would be back to normal, I wouldn't waddle, and maybe, just maybe, I could sleep in a bed again.
Fourteen hours later, after the doctor confirmed the sex of the baby, I made my husband go double-check. Then I made them bring me the baby. Even after five months of preparation, I still wasn't ready to accept the fact that peanut was a boy. But, when I took the diaper off, I nodded, finally giving up the fight. I had a beautiful, healthy baby boy and I wouldn’t send him back for all the girls in the world.
I was always one of those women who was totally devoted to whoever I loved. And, gazing into the blue eyes of Alexander, my son, that first day I held him, I realized I loved him with my whole heart. And somehow, I knew: I was always one of those women who was destined to be the mother of a son.
“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