You’ve heard the expression, when you are with strangers, no talking about politics, religion or money. I want to add another to that list: gender.
I have four daughters.
When I was pregnant, I carried in the front. I didn’t look pregnant from the back. So when I turned, you would see a protruding belly, it was clear I was pregnant. Around this time I would hear,
“You haven’t gained any weight but in your belly.”
“I wouldn’t even know you were pregnant!”
“You’ve got a basketball in there!”
Sure, it’s annoying when people commented on my body, but I didn’t get offended.
What made my neck stiffen, my stomach clench was any deviation of the following questions:
“Are you hoping for a boy?”
“Wouldn’t a boy be great!”
“A son would make your parents so proud!”
You would think, I would only hear this with a big, protruding belly.
The assumption seems to be that because my husband and I have four girls, we are lacking a boy in our lives.
I know this doesn't bother everyone and perhaps I find the assumptive nature of the question so offensive because of my own understanding and history with gender.
When I was ten, my family and I were on vacation at Niagara Falls. We stopped in a country store to buy penny candy. My parents had four girls just like I would have many years later.
As we were leaving, my sisters and I walked behind my father like four tiny ducks. We licked our stripped stick lollipops and as we stepped off the country porch, an older gentleman called out,
“Sir, I am sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” My dad asked.
“I’m sorry you have four girls, no boys, what a shame! It must be awful for you.”
“Nothing to be sorry about.” my dad responded.
I was confused.
Someone would feel sorry for my father for having no sons?
It was my first experience with gender preferences.
My four daughters range in age from four to eleven, including a set of twins. I love having all girls. I never want them to hear what I heard at age ten about the value of a female.
Staying silent changed last summer.
I was at the beach with my four daughters, playing in the sand, collecting seashells and swimming in the ocean. A woman with two children stopped me and said,
“Are they all yours?”
With a roll of my eyes and the rehearsed, “Yes, they are.”
“Wow, your poor husband, that s a lot of weddings to pay for! I bet he was hoping for a boy!” she sang.
The twins stopped digging and with confused expressions stared at me and the woman.
Great, a day at the beach with four kids takes herculean effort and now I have to debrief this moment with my girls. I have to explain such insensitive comments.
Again, I was silent.
I didn’t flip out. I wanted to, but I didn’t.
Instead I went home and wrote my story.
For over ten years I have been hearing commentary about gender.
When I hear:
“Were you hoping for a boy?”
“Were you trying for a boy?”
“Oh, your poor husband, four girls!”
I am reminded, of my son.
The son I lost.
When the twins were two, I became pregnant. It was a normal pregnancy. Similar to most women, I was nervous about telling people until I completed the first trimester. When I did, I was able to look ahead to the 24th week, the minimal marker of viability for a baby.
We never made it there.
On a rainy Monday in May 2005, I woke up anxious. No symptoms, no signs, just an instinct and encouraged me to call the doctor.
By this time, he was at work.
At my doctor's appointment, in the dimmed room I laid on the table, belly exposed, gooey jelly on my small pregnant belly. I waited for the image of my baby to appear on the monitor screen as the technician scanned my belly with the ultrasound wand.
The heartbeat would come,
The baby must be turned that’s why she can’t find it,
...it has to be there.
When I saw the image of my baby, larger than life up on the 50-inch TV screen mounted on the wall,
No flickering heartbeat.
There was just the profile of his face and body, his left arm floating toward his head, tiny hands,fingers, feet and toes.
I don't remember meeting the doctor, let alone what was said to me. I asked the technician to leave the television on with the still-life of my son while I called my husband. I was transfixed on the image of my son.
The only part of the phone call I remember is saying, “The baby died. I’m scheduled for surgery at five p.m.”
Once admitted to the hospital, I was taken to a changing room. I dressed in a blue and white patterned Johnny and matching blue fuzzy socks with white triangle skid protectors on the soles.
Women in the changing room were at different stages of undress.
What procedures were they waiting for?
Did we all lose our babies?
Dressed in my gown and socks, holding a blue hair cap, a nurse took me to the pre-operation waiting area. Inside was a gurney for me and a chair for my husband. Only curtains stood between us and other patients. I refused to put on the blue cap until they rolled me into the operating room. I clung to any control possible.
I had none, except for wearing the blue cap.
Waiting for surgery, my husband and I held hands over my abdomen. My husband leaned his forehead on the metal bar of the gurney. We tried to rest. Instead, all I could think about was all of the things I would miss with my son; no celebration, no birthday, no milestones.
I started to feel panic imagining him being away from me. There was nothing to do but wait. My husband lifted his head from the bar, his eyes red, swollen and heavy. He nodded slowly.
We prayed and said goodbye. We told our son how much we loved him and what a joy it was to have him in our family. We kept our hands on my abdomen, slight pressure, an attempt to hold and embrace our baby. It would have to be the substitute.
We would never have him in our arms.
My son would have turned nine later this year. I think of him often.
The pain and sadness are still there. I understand, it’s part of the loss.
But it’s the questions, the never-ending questions.
And the assumptions about my life based on my four beautiful girls and the place some people feel they should have within my life.
I remember a clipping my mom had cut out from a women’s magazine and placed it on her bureau mirror. The image was twigs entwined in the shape of a blue heart and inside a quote,
“Having a child is like having your heart walk outside your body for the rest of your life.”
I have four beautiful living hearts and one heart that I never got to hold.
So, was I hoping for a boy?
Had I tried for a son?
Would a boy make us happy?
Of course, and he did.
So yes, I had a son- (pause), for a short time.
He just wasn’t ready for the world.