When one gets pregnant, one of the first thing one is asked by friends, family, co-workers, and random belly touching strangers is: So what do you want? A boy or a girl?
It's almost like placing an order in a restaurant. Yes, I'll have a boy this time, please. As if we have any say in the matter.
Most people will play the game, though most will answer coyly - It doesn't matter to me, as long as the baby is healthy. (As if we won't love our children if they aren't healthy, but that's a topic for another day).
This is generally a lie. Usually there is some kind of gender preference. And I haven't conducted any research on this, but from what I can tell, in America today, that gender preference is generally for girls.
Why? The typical reasons are draped in gender stereotypes: Girls are so much calmer than boys. Boys are wild. Girls clothes are so much more fun! Boys clothes are boring. Girls will stay close with their families. Boys will stray. Girls will be their mother's best friend (eventually). Boys will never talk to their mothers (eventually). Girls will share their emotions, express their love, and show vulnerability. Boys will be aloof and cold and strong. Girls are sweet. Boys are rough. Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.
I certainly felt the pull for a girl. Coming from an all girl family, for my first child, if I were placing an order, I would have ordered a girl. When I found out it was a boy, I wasn't upset per se, but I wondered what it would be like. What am I going to do with a boy? I thought. Eventually I got used to, and embraced, the idea. I went crazy for blue bedding and baby suspenders and figured I could do all the frilly stuff with my next child.
When I got pregnant for the second time, I felt a bit differently. I already had a boy, who I loved more than life itself. I knew what to do with a boy, and I knew that no matter what, I would love the child I would get, no matter the sex. But, knowing that it may be my last child, if I had to place an order, I probably would have ordered a girl. After all, I already had a boy, what would a girl be like? I'm the type that likes to experience it all - to visit every country I can, to try all types of food. When it came to motherhood, why not have the girl and boy experience?
When I found out #2 was a boy, I mourned for a day or two, but quickly recovered. I embraced the idea of two boys - brothers. Besides, who knew - maybe we would have a third child, and maybe that third child would be a girl.
After a couple of years, my husband and I started talking about having baby #3. When we discussed it, we acknowledged the fact that, in all likelihood, we would probably have another boy. I know it's supposed to be 50/50 and all that, but from observation only, it doesn't seem to happen that way. And anyway, having a child just to have a girl seemed like a pretty crappy reason to have one. I sat long and hard and really looked inward - why do I want a third child? When I realized that the gender was not the reason, we decided to fledge forward.
I started telling some close friends, family, and acquaintances that we had decided to have a third child, sometime in the near future. The reactions were ..... interesting. Most all of them centered on the gender of the child - Hopefully you'll get your girl! or You know you could end up being one of those moms with three boys who has to buy 50 gallons of milk a week? or You know about the Shettles method, right? Such comments came from parents of boys and girls alike.
The assumption was that we were going for that girl. And in a weird way, I started to feel like I would let people down if we didn't get just that.
It's not that I didn't want a girl. Once again, if I had to place an order for this pregnancy, I probably would have ordered a girl. But all the anti-boy sentiment had me a bit defensive about the boys I already had. What's so wrong with them? Would having one more of them be that bad? That lamentable? It's as if people were feeling preemptively sorry for me. And I don't like people to feel sorry for me, generally. Especially when the subject of their sympathy is what I find to be my life's treasure.
Once I did get pregnant, the gender question hung over me with a pressure I hadn't felt in my prior pregnancies. But this time, unlike other times, I was convinced I was having a girl. EVERYTHING pointed to that. The Shettles method, the chinese fertility calendar, the heart rate, the nausea, my friend Sabrina's pencil test that has worked for generations... I just felt it this time, I felt different. And with that certainty, I felt.... relieved. Relieved that I wouldn't let anyone else down. Relieved that I would get "my girl" and know what that felt like.
I narrowed down my baby girl names. I fantasized about painting the baby room a pale yellow and throwing away all of the raggedy boy clothes we had been storing in the attic.
On April 30, we got the call from the geneticist.
Let me say that one more time. BOY.
I wasn't upset at all when I heard the news - not in the least bit actually. The only word I can use to describe my emotion was SHOCKED.
I was shocked as hell.
I don't know why. Obviously, it could have been either. But I was shocked at the fact I had been so wrong. Shocked at the fact I would never have a girl. Shocked at the fact I would be a mom to THREE BOYS.
I picked up the phone to call my husband, who shared in my shock. But also in my happiness. We laughed, and in that phone conversation, I started picturing my baby boy in my belly. The boy I would love more than life itself. I started remembering what my sons looked like as infants - what it felt like to hold them, to smell them, to nuzzle them. And in that moment, in Target no less, I realized I didn't care. My reality became my reality and my visions of my fictional daughter vanished. Of course he was a boy. He always was. And he is mine. My baby.
I love that baby inside of me.
Despite coming to my own peace, I remained nervous about telling others. Because there's that sense of failure, isn't there? I didn't get my girl! And THREE BOYS! Some people couched their reaction in, Oh, three boys will be so fun! or You'll never be bored! (Read - your household will be a looney bin). Some weren't so subtle - I actually had a mom of two boys say, See, this is why I'm scared to have another child - I couldn't handle another boy! Some merely laughed and shook their head, almost to say, Well, you took a chance! I could be wrong, but I venture to say the reaction to having three girls isn't the same.
There was one person who didn't react that way. It was my former neighbor, Heather, who also happens to have three boys. I thought about calling her that day - the day I found out, but I didn't. When I finally did reach out to her, and I told her why, I was honest. I said: I couldn't call anyone. I was just too shocked.
She said she completely understood. In fact, she said that when she found out her third was a boy, that she also experienced the shock factor. She said that she couldn't tell her co-workers face to face, and instead sent an email on a Friday night.
I don't know why, but when she said that, I burst into tears. There was a relatability about it that was just so close to home, so real, so understandable, that it made me emotional.
I want this baby. I want this boy. And the fact that his impending arrival elicits anything than utter happiness in anyone - that anyone would feel sorry for me, or wish something different for me, is devastating to me. This boy is not a third child. He is my child. He is a child. And I know that no matter who he turns out to be - wild and crazy and stoic or emotional and vulnerable and calm, or, more likely, some combination or permutation of all of the above - he will be my world, my everything.
These stereotypes about what gender represents do us all a disservice. At the end of the day, our children are first and foremost people, before they are a boy or a girl. Gender is secondary, and more often than not, not an accurate predictor about who a person is at their core. And while I may wish I was able to experience having a daughter, I also wish that my husband had an English accent and an EU passport. There are some things about it that would be more exciting, but nothing that would make me wish for someone else.
I have never once looked at either of my children and wished they were anyone other than exactly who they are.
I know I will feel the same about this boy.