Your story began on a Thursday afternoon, in a delivery room at a hospital in West Wales. The walls were painted a pale nothingness and the air smelt of antiseptic, anticipation and the surgeon’s perfume.
One minute, it was just your mum and dad and a room full of doctors and in the next, your tiny little cat-like cry broke the tension and suddenly, you were part of the world. Outside, it was freezing cold and unseasonably sunny for a November day.
But that’s not quite right. Your story really began a few doors down the hall from that delivery room.
We are seated in the dim light. Well, Welsh is seated, I am half reclining on a bench-like apparatus. We are clasping hands. It’s an understatement to say that I am absolutely terrified. We are staring at a screen and I am questioning my relationship with God. If I don’t believe in him, why do I keep saying his name in my head? Soft, warping circles move across the TV, like a lava lamp, and all at once I see a tiny little vibration of static. “See that there?” the sonographer asks in her thick, curly, sing-song accent, “that there is the heart beat.”
Actually, your story began in a bathroom at your mother’s apartment, somewhere in a beachside suburb of Melbourne. I looked at your father’s startled face and blurted, “I think I am actually pregnant.” While your dad read the instructions on the box, I stood in the hallway blinking in the sunlight. Maybe that’s where your story began. The next day we went to your great grandmother’s funeral and decided that if you were a girl, we would give you her name.
My favourite story about your great grandmother is from 50 years ago. Her wayward daughter had found herself pregnant at 17 and in the way that these things go, had given the baby up for adoption. As that baby lay waiting in a cot for someone to come and claim her, your great grandmother caught wind of what had been going on and sent her husband out for milk. Well, she marched right on down to that orphanage and plucked that sleeping baby out of bed and marched right on home again with her. She introduced her to her other children as their sister and that was that.
That’s the kind of woman that your great grandmother was. That baby grew up to be your great aunt who cried and cried when I told her your name.
Your story probably started at a bar on the night that your dad came back from a holiday in Thailand. He was meant to go from Melbourne to Thailand and back home again to Wales but got sidetracked and ended up on a plane back to Melbourne to propose to me, with my favourite mascara bought duty free and a promise to make it all work. I didn’t say yes straight away, in fact, it took him another four attempts to convince me, but eventually, we were married just a month before you were born.
Your story actually started when your father and I met on a beach and I screamed at him for no reason and he asked me if I’d ever live in another country.
Or maybe it started when he left his wife and I left my husband and we each decided to try for a better life, in the years before we found one another.
It must have started when I was told by a psychic that I’d never have children and I thought I knew better.
Or it started on his 28th birthday when your father thought, “Hmmm, I wouldn't mind having kids.”
It definitely started when she Google-Earthed the village where he grew up and then bought a plane ticket.
Your story – our story – the story of how the two of us met in that hospital room in West Wales on a chilly November afternoon – started 30 years ago. Your great grandmother, the one whose name you now share, was giving your grandfather a telling-off in the kitchen.
“If she wants another baby, you give her another baby.” And your grandfather – my father – took her advice and had his third daughter: me.
That’s where your story really began.
“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