I imagined naming her Anna. I imagined braiding her hair and dressing her in hand-knit skirts. I imagined reading her Little Women, hoping it would inspire her to become as confident and courageous as the March sisters. I was only imagining.
"Yep, I'm seeing some pretty convincing boy bits here," the ultrasound tech chirped as he slid his transducer across my partner's abdomen and pointed at the screen. "See the little phallus?"
I breathed in an audible gasp and stared wide-eyed at the grainy image of my unborn child. A boy. Not the sweet, relatable daughter I had envisioned but an unpredictable bundle of hormones about which I possessed no knowledge. We had decided to raise an only child and there he was, anatomy firmly in place. What on earth, I thought, am I going to do with a boy?
Back in the car, my body and brain numbed. My partner pressed me to divulge my feelings but all I could mutter was a monotonous, "It's not a girl." Staring out the passenger window, my focus landed on a woman holding the hand of her adorable daughter, who toddled alongside in a white polo shirt and black tutu. My torpidity became grief; I broke my stare, wrenched down the sun visor to block out the world and started sobbing uncontrollably.
I remained teary for a week, breaking down whenever I spotted a neighbourhood girl in her school uniform or caught sight of my Anne of Green Gables videos. In truth, I had never acknowledged how badly I wanted a daughter but, when I learned I wasn't having one, I realized everything I had anticipated about parenthood involved raising a girl.
As an only child who attended an all-girl school until Grade 8, what I knew about boys boiled down to crude generalizations: Boys are rambunctious. Boys are insensitive. Boys are violent. I suffered heartbreak over the metaphoric death of a daughter, fear that my lack of Y chromosome would make it impossible for me to bond with a son and jealousy toward my sister-in-law, who had just given birth to her second girl.
Worst of all was how ashamed I felt of my emotions. Where was my gratitude? My partner had become pregnant on her first cycle of donor insemination and our baby looked developmentally perfect. How could I justify being so upset when many couples would kill for a healthy infant? What kind of parent would I make wishing for a different child? Would I look at my son and yearn to put him in a dress? How did I, a self-proclaimed post-modernist, fall into the trap of gender stereotyping?
I sensed I was completely alone, that no other parent-to-be could possibly feel the same way. My partner didn't care about our baby's gender and was surprised and concerned at my reaction.
At a recent prenatal appointment, I reluctantly admitted to our doctor that I was "a bit disappointed" about our gender news. Without hesitation, she replied, "We wanted girls as well but we got two boys," and then glibly added, "When our second son was born, my husband burst into tears."
Online, I found chat forums, magazine features and articles from respected medical journals on the topic of gender disappointment. Advice was consistent: Don't deny your feelings, and talk about them with someone you trust. Anger, disappointment and guilt are natural. Let time help you heal.
Since voicing my fears and misconceptions about raising a son, I have received a healthy dose of reality. A multitude of mothers have extolled the virtues of their sweet, loving sons. My best friend, who babysits a three-year-old boy, says you haven't lived until you've played with garbage trucks and had a tea party in the same morning. Another friend breaks into a chorus of The Beatles' All You Need is Love whenever I fret about bonding. And the mother of a single teenaged girl told me lightheartedly, "You'll never shop for a prom dress but neither will I. My daughter's wearing a tux to grad."
Gradually, my mood continues to brighten. I trust my grandmother when she assures me that I'm having the baby fate intended for me. I look forward to meeting this miraculous little person.
The other day, I was chatting outside with my neighbour when she stopped mid-sentence and pointed across the street. I turned to see a woman walking past. In one hand, she held a leash attached to a prancing terrier and, in a sling on her chest, she carried a cherubic baby boy. Both mother and son exuded such palpable joy that my heart leapt for the first time since the momentous ultrasound. "Look, Kate," my neighbour whispered excitedly, "that's going to be you."
From other parents, I've gleaned that having a child changes one's life in previously unfathomable ways. Regardless of gender, it's impossible to picture life with a baby other than one's own. Will part of me always pine for a little girl? Maybe. But, if I had a daughter, would I wonder about life with a boy? All I know is my son will take me on numerous adventures. I imagine accompanying him through life's challenges. I imagine learning and growing with him every day. I imagine loving him with all my heart.
Kate Soles lives in Victoria.