I wrote this post almost exactly one year ago and never published it. Today I feel like sharing it.
As I write this I am five months pregnant with my first child, and throughout the excitement of sharing our news with friends and family, three conversations have weighed heavily on my mind…
First: Four months ago, back when we first told my grandma we were having a baby, she squealed with delight and said, “That’s so wonderful! I hope it’s a boy!”
Second: A few weeks ago, after the ultrasound that revealed our baby’s sex, I called my grandmother to deliver the news and again she squealed, delighted. “Isn’t that wonderful?” she exclaimed. “It’s every man’s dream to have a boy first to carry on the family name!”
Third: Several days later, while discussing the little baby boy growing inside of me with a very dear friend and mother of four, she said, “It’s good you’re having a boy first. Those women with girls for the oldest always wish they’d had a boy first. You can be smug about that.” She was, herself, the oldest child.
With each encounter, I cringed.
The rebellious child in me was tempted to say something—anything—that would shock or disappoint these women. Perhaps that our babies would not be taking my husband’s last name, or perhaps that Poor Kyle had actually been hoping for a daughter first. But in fact neither statement was true, and my grandma, just diagnosed with cancer days before, did not need my snide remarks. And my good friend, despite this strange affinity for oldest-boys-first, was still my good friend, and I didn’t want to start an argument.
But the memory of these three conversations have never left me. I turn them over in my mind when I can’t sleep, and I agonize over how I might have better dealt with them.
It’s somewhat of a family legend that on the day my mother (the oldest in her family) was born, her father went not bounding down the hospital corridors announcing the arrival of his firstborn daughter, but instead to the Mesa city cemetery to mourn the arrival of his firstborn Not Son.
This story, humourous though at first it might seem, has haunted me from the day I heard it and haunts me more incessantly now that I am pregnant with my own first-born child.
My mother will tell anyone who asks how it hurt her when she learned this story, how it made her feel unwanted and unloved because she’d been born a girl and not a boy. Because of it, I was determined to have absolutely no preference as to the sex of our baby. When asked, I could honestly say that I didn’t care either way. And it was because of this story that when my husband confessed he actually would like a little boy first, I felt a real and immediate sorrow for our unborn child, should she turn out to have the “wrong” number of chromosomes.
He backpedalled: “Of course I will still love her if she’s a girl!”
But that one word—still—caused me even more grief. Our daughter would still, despite all genetic odds, gain the favour of her father. To still be loved suggested some sort of shortcoming on her part, something that he might be able to overlook or forgive with enough time or means. Our unborn daughter: a failure before she was even born. There is a very real difference between being loved and being loved anyway. In spite of. Still.
Relief, then, the day we found out we were having a boy after all. Not relief because I wanted a boy or cared either way, but relief instead for all the pain he would escape by very nature of his sex.
Yet at the same time I could not deny a sense of loss: I’d lost a battle I didn’t even realize I’d been fighting for my unborn daughter. Together she and I were going to prove to the world that firstborn daughters were just as worthy of the world’s affection as firstborn sons.
And then there was that second, subtler sense of loss: the loss of the liberating power of not caring either way.
Because apparently I cared.
Which meant I could no longer haughtily tell myself and the rest of the world that I didn’t.
So in the end this child was doomed to disappoint at least one of his parents before he was ever even born, and my only hope now is that we can raise him to a higher level than all of us.