When I found out that I was going to have a daughter, I was elated. People assumed that after having a boy, I was excited to shop for pink clothes, bows, and tutus, and to finally have a chance to decorate her nursery with girly flourishes. They thought that after having a son, I was recalibrating the symmetry of our family to a perfect balance.
I heard comments like, “Enjoy the accessories,” and, “Your family will now be complete.”
The truth is that I wanted a girl for other reasons.
I adore my son to death. If we weren’t related, I would wait until he was an appropriate age and convince him to marry me. But he is a foreign animal.
When he was born, I expected to feel a oneness with him. I had carried him inside me for nine months and forged a symbiotic relationship. I thought we would continue to be intertwined through his newborn months at least.
Instead, he was very much a separate entity and let me know it. I wasn’t his other half—I was an observer. I watched him explore and discover. He asserted his independence even as an infant and pushed me away once his needs were met. As he grew, I admired his confidence, his competence, and his determination to do everything himself. I adjusted my perception of the kind of mother I had intended to be, to the kind of mother he needed. I applauded his accomplishments from a distance. I guided him gently. I let him make mistakes and learn from them. I took a step back.
Two years later, I no longer have a fantasy of symbiosis. I now understand that every baby comes into this world with a distinct character and it’s up to me to be sensitive enough to give a child what he needs, and not necessarily what I need to give.
However, learning that I was expecting a girl solidified a bond with this unborn child that I hadn’t felt before. Regardless of her personality—she may be completely different from me in every way—our gender connects us.
I imagine identifying with her experience growing up as a girl, going through adolescence, and transitioning into a woman. I want to help her feel confident and attractive but also ensure that her focus and priorities lie with treating people well, contributing to the world, and developing her intellect. I will be by her side as she navigates all of the contradictions that women confront on a daily basis: to be gentle but strong, cooperative but autonomous, self-conscious but indifferent. I will support her as she finds herself and who she wants to be.
Of course I am wary of projecting myself onto her and will not presume that she is going to follow in my footsteps. But having a daughter makes me feel like we are a united front. She won’t be my other half, but I also won’t be an observer.
As my daughter, she will always be a part of me. I hope to forge the kind of relationship where we can respect our differences but also enjoy our similarities, our shared history, and our experiences.