It’s Thanksgiving Day. The smell of comfort foods permeates the kitchen. In an effort to distract myself from my violently growling stomach, I decide to occupy the unpredictable period of waiting time before my aunt will beckon us to wash up and pray. I sway rhythmically around the kitchen with my cousin’s two month old baby girl nestled comfortably against my chest. It’s her first Thanksgiving and my first time meeting her. One room over, I catch a glimpse of my five month old baby boy being passed around jovially and showered with love, baby talk and adoration from family members. It’s his first Thanksgiving, too.
OOhs and Aahs echo throughout the house in response to every baby coo. As our family basks in the joy of new babies to be held and new memories to be made, a relative approaches me. I continue to sway, eyes partially closed, inhaling a refreshing whiff of the baby head resting on my bosom. The unnamed relative looks at the baby girl in my arms then back at me with inquiring eyes.
“Aww, look at that- so sweet. Do you like your boy? Or do you wish you had a girl, instead?” She touches my shoulder and waits for an answer.
The new baby smell immediately dissipates. My swaying body freezes into a statue-like stance. A combination of shock and annoyance delays my reaction.
Did I hear her correctly?
I take a deep breath and refrain from responding with sass and choice words.
“My boy is perfect and I love him. I can’t imagine him being anyone else. Also- that’s an inappropriate question that you probably shouldn’t ask anyone else.” I force a smile and dance my way into another room.
Perhaps her question was meant as a genuine expression of curiosity. For me, however, it opens the door for ruminating over several similar comments that I have been hearing for months.
As soon as I found out I was expecting, the redundant question from friends, family members, and strangers in checkout lines, began to arise–“Do you want a boy or a girl?”
“I want whatever God gives us. I want a healthy baby.”
This cliche response became a rehearsed answer to every person who inquired about the gender of my unborn baby. Repeating it monotonously like a script, I’d answer through clenched teeth and a forced, half smile–partly peeved and partly confused as to why it seemed to matter so much. Deep down, my heart longed for whichever gender would be easiest the first time around. I know how to do pageants, princesses and ponytails. I am an expert at curtsies, curated tea parties, and cute clothes. Feminine is familiar- my comfort zone. Could the familiar thing be the “easier” thing?
I sprawl out on the bed of the exam room, my tiny baby bump barely noticeable. This pregnancy remains a secret to most people beyond our inner circle. My swelling stomach is in the awkward stage that leaves inquiring minds wondering whether I’m growing a baby or just carrying the weight of a bloated belly after too much holiday indulging. It is a few weeks too soon for an anatomy scan with my regular physician. Eager for a Christmas gender reveal, my older sister gifted us with an early, 3D scan to find out the sex of our baby.
The ultrasound technician places gel on my stomach and gently begins dispersing it, waiting for its contents to help unlock the mystery inside of me.
“Ready to find out what you’re having?” The crescendo in the technician’s voice communicates that she sees something we don’t.
Meanwhile, the foreign figure on the screen that she tells us is a baby, presents to us as an indiscernible blob. Slowly, she zooms in and a clearer picture begins to form. I make out what appears to be two sticks with a tiny bean in the center. In that moment, the click of the cursor makes a circle around the bean and confirms what I know- it’s a penis.
“It’s a boy!” The technician claps in excitement as she announces the news to us.
A boy. We are officially going to have a son.
With a feeling of relief that the guessing is over, I turn to my husband. He is smiling, but the depths of his pupils reveal an element of surprise. Walking into this appointment, he was one of the 90% of people who predicted that our firstborn would be a girl. The thought of daddy’s little princess melted his heart. I look at him and wonder if the news of our growing boy has melted any of his expectations for entering into fatherhood.
“Are you disappointed, babe? You seem kind of quiet”, I inquire defensively.
“No- not at all- just surprised. But I’m really excited! I just have to change my mindset and prepare myself for a boy now,” he reassures me.
I leisurely peruse the baby aisles at Target. It’s my ideal cardio. During my stroll, I am hyper aware of the contrasting messages being communicated on one side of the clothing section in comparison to the other.
Princess, Diva, and Cutie Pie onesies fill the girl’s side. Troublemaker, Messmaker, and Little Monster onesies fill the boy’s side.
I scrunch up my eyebrows and keep walking and thinking.
Don’t little boys and little girls BOTH parade around in poopy diapers with smudges of food stuck to their faces? Don’t they BOTH destroy tidy rooms and disturb the peace? Aren’t they ALL in some way or another “troublemakers”, “messmakers”, and “little monsters”? Is society assigning my baby boy these less appealing descriptions before he even enters the world? And does this mean that raising a boy will be the harder thing?
It’s gender reveal day for an in law who is due a few months before me. She and her pregnant belly take their place in line next to her husband and their two daughters. The rest of our family members form a semicircle that covers half of the circumference of the back yard. With confetti poppers in hand, we count down in unison like it’s New Years Eve…
Three, two, one………Pop!
Confetti bursts into the autumn air and rains down gleefully, landing on the grass and creating a sea of hot pink.
It’s a girl!
In the midst of the excited reactions and chatter, I glance over at the expecting mom and dad. Their expressions are communicating happiness, surprise, and longing simultaneously. After two girls, they were hoping their last baby would be a boy.
“Well I guess it’s up to you guys to have the baby boy this year!” they say.
I begin thinking of the diverse families among our circle of loved ones. Families with packs of all boys who are growing into best friends, entertaining (sometimes aggressive) playmates, and their brother’s keeper. Families with all girls–sisters (sometimes frenemies)– who are building girl power and sisterhood. Families who have at least one of both genders– balancing an eclectic blend of trucks and dolls, Elsa and Superman, ninja trucks and easy bake ovens. I picture my friends with longing hearts, barren wombs, and failed adoptions, praying desperately for a baby to call their own, regardless of the gender.
They are equal blessings, these little boys and little girls. Knit together in the womb by the hands of the same, intentional God with no superiority tied to their sex. He knows who and what they will be long before an anatomy scan or their first, long anticipated breath. And while they each come tied up in different packages with different aspects to enjoy– they are all a gift. One of them is not easier, more fun or more significant than the other.
And we are equal mamas. Some of us wear the banner of boy mom or girl mom, seeking comradery with other women who understand our specific family dynamic. We assign ourselves other labels–breastfeeding moms, pumping moms, stay-at-home moms, working moms–all in an attempt to feel known and understood. But comradery is truly found with any woman who knows the highs and lows that accompany being called “mom”. Regardless of our differences, we trudge through the trenches of motherhood with a collective combination of joy and sorrow. We are all simultaneously innovative and ill equipped, masters and lifelong learners, exhausted and empowered in our attempts at raising our children into decent human beings.
Another baby has taken residence in my womb. As I slowly announce to friends and loved ones, I hear the same question that they asked me with the last baby.
“Do you want a boy or a girl?”
This time, more people are vocal about wishing for the opposite sex.
“I’m really hoping for a girl for you guys this time!”
I glance down at my belly, protruding more evidently by the day.
“Who are you, in there?” I whisper, as I press a curious hand to my stomach.
I daydream about who both children will become and what that means for me. Will I spend my days with a voice going hoarse as I yell from the bleachers of organized sports games? Will I laugh, clap and overload my camera roll with pictures and videos as I sit in the audience of dance recitals? Will I spend their teenage years drowning in piles of mud stained laundry or dealing with sassy attitudes? Will I cry watching daughters say “yes” to the perfect wedding dress and tiptoe tearfully down the aisle towards their spouses? Or will I watch my boys share the hearts that once beat in my stomach with another woman and cry on their shoulders during a mother-son dance? Will these children of mine even fit into the stereotypical categories of who boys and girls should be?
I touch my stomach again and smile.
“I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl, I whisper. You are ours– perfect for us, God ordained, and just who we need.”