« Friends, Enemies or Neighbors? | Main | The Kids Don’t Need to Be Afraid of Great Aunt Elsie »

05/09/2010

Motherhood

3369487154_6da451ca00  When I became pregnant with my first child I was convinced I was going to have a daughter. Her name was going to be Penelope and she was going to have thick curly hair and be tall like her father, and have green eyes and freckles like me.  When my husband started teasing me about the possibility of us having a son I shrugged it off. It just wasn’t a possibility in my mind. I would have a daughter. Period.

Then the day came that brought those certainties crashing down. At my 20 week ultrasound the tech announced we were having a boy. I was sort of stunned, but looked at my husband and gave him a half smile. “We’re having an Everett.” I said.

I felt the tears but managed to hold them back until we were in our car heading home, the ultrasound pictures were tossed onto the floorboard where they began to curl in the sunlight. My husband didn’t understand why I was crying, he thought it was odd.

It was hard to explain to him how I had spent my whole life thinking I would have a daughter. Her name had changed over the years but when I closed my eyes and pictured my hypothetical motherhood it had always been a daughter I had seen. I spent half of my pre-married life thinking I would have one child and the other half thinking I would have no children at all.

Spending half of your life picturing your child and then having that picture suddenly erased is traumatic. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to love a son the way I had already loved the daughter I’d always envisioned.

And I know I’m not alone in this reaction to hearing the news of my baby’s gender. I see women on birth boards lamenting the news and wondering if they are alone in those feelings. I also see women on birth boards attacking these women as weirdos who should be grateful they are having a child at all.

Most women, like myself, find it only takes a few days for the mourning of that emotional loss to fade and the joy of this new child to take hold. For others it may take until their child is in their arms, or perhaps a bit longer. Regardless, mourning the loss of a child that never was does not make you a bad person.

I think the key to understanding why women like me react this way to the news is in understanding the life of the women themselves.

Some people come from families in which all of the children are one gender and they are hoping to have that other gender. For others it’s just the fierce desire to have mini versions of themselves. For me it was something altogether different.

The truth behind my lifelong vision of this daughter didn’t hit me until recently.  I’m rapidly approaching week 20 in my second pregnancy and am anxious to know the gender of the baby. Unlike last time, however, I don’t care what it is. I’d like to have a daughter, but my husband and I are planning to have one more child so I know that more than likely one of them will be a girl.  I have no visions of what this child will look like or who he or she will be (though I secretly think it’s a boy).

The realization that I didn’t care what the gender was made me wonder what happened to that daughter I so fiercely wanted in the first place. Was it that my unending love for my son made me now want boys? No, that didn’t feel quite true.

The truth about my hypothetical daughter is that she was never a daughter in the first place. She was me. My thoughts about my hypothetical motherhood growing up were always of protecting my child. Loving her so much she felt it and protecting her from all of the bad stuff in the world. When I stopped believing I’d have children it wasn’t because I thought I would never have a husband, it was because I was afraid I would be a bad mother.  And when I met my husband and started wanting motherhood again, it wasn’t just that I believed I could be a good mother it was that I believed I could be a better mother than my own.

My mother failed me in a lot of ways in my childhood and adolescence, in ways I hope to never fail my own children. But in realizing all of this stuff I recognized that what I had been doing most of my life was not envisioning my hypothetical motherhood so much as filling the emptiness by mothering myself emotionally. 

When I cried the day of the ultrasound it was because on some level I was afraid of failing myself as mother as my mother had failed me. If I’d had a daughter the first time I would have been trying to heal wounds in myself by being the mother I’d never had. And I was afraid of being mother to this gender I knew nothing about as an insider. There was a void where before I knew the pitfalls to avoid, the things to never say and the words she would need to hear most.

And the truth is that I am still trying to be the mother mine wasn't with my son by making sure that every day he feels my love and hears the words. That I no longer have such intense feelings about my child’s gender is good, because it means that on some level I am at peace with myself as the actual mother I am instead of fearing the mother I could be.

Photograph by Suhel Sheikh.

Original Ohio Moms Blog Post

Audrey shares her trials and triumphs in parenting and being a modern day housewife at Planet Hausfrau.

Comments