Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Daughter I Didn’t Have

Should I feel like I am betraying my sons and their precious existences which have brought me inexpressible joy by writing about the daughter I wanted either one of them to have been and that was not?

Should I even think about this? Well, reading It’s a Girl definitely got me started.

When I struggled with this preference for a girl during my first pregnancy I actually felt jealous of my husband and my mother because they did not have a preference at all. I really wanted to feel that way but I couldn’t change how I felt no matter how much I tried. It didn’t help much that I had the weight of my mother-in-law’s intense desire for a granddaughter as her first grandchild, since she had four sons in her pursuit of a daughter. OR to make up for the daughter she never had. I wanted a daughter for myself and a granddaughter for her and my daddy, who also leaned towards a girl (probably because that was what I, his girl, wanted).

My husband was late for the ultrasound that day in October, 2001, so I was alone when the technician told me the news. I felt deeply disappointed, and I may have shed a tear or two. When my husband arrived, I tried to smile and told him that no, it wasn’t a girl, it was a boy we were having. On that day, starting in that darkened room, I prepared myself for the arrival of my second son. I reasoned that I might as well do it right there and then because, in my fatalistic thinking, if I hadn’t had a girl the first time like I wanted (“just to guarantee that I would have a girl” – as I used to think), then the second one wouldn’t be a girl either. I was very glad I prepared myself for that afternoon two years later in the darkened ultrasound room when I found out my unborn baby’s sex without the technician saying anything. When she first put that “wand” in the cool gel that was coating my belly, his “signature marks” were the first things I saw on that screen. “It’s a boy, isn’t it?” I said immediately, and she agreed. And I was happy that I would have two boys to grow together and be friends. I felt so guilty the first time around because of how I felt slightly depressed for days, as if all the excitement had drained from the pregnancy for a while and that didn’t happen the second time around – “See, I already knew I was going to have a second boy!” I said and thought.

Let me go back to the girl, though, in spite of the fact that now that I have reflected more about this issue, I feel really hesitant “to go there” and to explore my feelings regarding the daughter I didn’t have. I haven’t thought about my reasons for wanting a girl in years. I have pushed these thoughts and feelings to the very back of my mind once I became a mother of sons, but maybe it will help me somehow to go looking for them right now, in the context of the readings I have just done in It’s a Girl.
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I think one of the main reasons why I wanted a girl was that I wanted to raise her differently from the way my mother raised me. See, I already “smell” trouble here… Would I really be able to do that? I mean, one of the reasons I became a feminist was the way my mother talked about gender roles and my rebellious attitude about it. She kept on saying that my desire to write was foolishness and that I lived in “dreamland.” She even said cruel things like “You dream too much, you like listening to music, writing, and you don’t worry about cleaning your room or house keeping matters - you won’t find this ‘prince’ you are looking for,” or “if you want to write like that you’ll never get married.” I feel hurt me just by writing those things. Needless to say, I didn’t take her words to heart, I kept on writing and pursuing my dreams. A few years later I did meet a wonderful young man and we eventually got married – of course she was wrong (and this terrible guy I wrote about before here was squarely wrong as well). This negative baggage didn’t preclude me from being “close” to my mom, or as close as we could be given our differences. We never fought or argued, I was a good daughter, pretty obedient and compliant. These disagreements did create a distance between us, we don’t see eye to eye in many issues and we don’t discuss them.

Of course, there were also the “superficial” things like pretty dresses, my infatuation with the pink color (not that I wear it that much, reds looks much better on me, for instance) and pastel colors, long hair that I would be able to braid and style, the girl books that I adore and which were the original topic of my dissertation. Shortly after I found out I was having a boy, I wrote in my journal something like “how am I going to write my dissertation about girls when I’m not having my girl!?” – I eventually changed the dissertation topic a few months after my son was born, not because I had a boy, obviously! :)

One of the things I always longed to do was sharing my journals with my daughter. Sharing my feelings from when I was younger, maybe her age. I have always written these journals with a future daughter in mind. I wonder now whether my sons will ever be interested in reading them, and, would a daughter be? If she weren’t, it would break my heart!

I longed to raise a daughter who would be strong and who would never hear that she couldn’t do something because she was a girl or a woman. Now, I have to be fair and emphasize that I never heard that from my own mother, a strong woman who got her college and master’s degree many years before my father and who was an excellent professional – but I heard constantly about countless other things that I needed to do or ways in which I had to behave because I was a girl and I wasn’t too happy about those. I wanted to raise a little feminist girl who would stand up for herself and be confident of her value.

Oh, there are many things I’d like to say to this daughter of mine. I’m not certain, but pretty confident that I would have been able to transcend my problems with my own mother in my relationship to my daughter since most of them have to do with traditional gender roles that she “acquired” coming of age in the 50s and 60s in Brazil and having the “machista” father that she had. Her mother was also a strong woman who, to help support the five children she had with her idealist and poorly paid preacher husband, went to nursing school and became a nurse and midwife in her late thirties. Wow, my grandma was one tough lady, now that I’m thinking about it. She had me in tears many times with her stern reprimands. She passed away in Brazil during my first year here in the United States.

In writing this I realize that I am fully happy with my two boys, though, which is a very good conclusion to reach. If we decide to have more kids and a third boy shows up, I’ll be undoubtedly happy to have him too! He already has two brothers and two boy cousins to play with – his coming would actually complete a full basketball team! Not that my hypothetical daughter wouldn’t have be an excellent team member to play with her brothers and boy cousins! :)

P.S. I wrote this on Friday night, before I read any of your comments to the previous post since I was not able to go online until now (we're traveling in MA since Thursday). I hope those of you who liked it will enjoy this one.

I'm slightly editing this post (adding links, correcting typos) on 5/9/2015, nine years after I wrote it-- because I'm about to give the link to a friend. I also need to share what happened back in 2006: I inadvertently published this post on Mother's Day (having written it two days earlier on Friday) and, even more inadvertently, my mother READ it a few days later because it she sat to check her email at the computer and the browser window was open on my blog! That caused quite a stir and she was really upset with me because I say some strong negative things about her there. I did my best to fix the situation with her, but I decided not to retract my words or delete the post. I was just more careful about what I wrote from then on. It was a really tricky situation, but it didn't dampen my enthusiasm for blogging my life one bit.


Alice said...

You address a lot of issues here that concern me as well... this whole triangular relationship and the drama between my mom & myself and myself& my daughter. This whole push & pull thing that I talk about in my blog. Sometimes I think that a relationship to sons in this respect is less complicated, less fraught with issues. Maybe I am wrong ...I will see ..Dominik's still too young for me to tell. People also keep saying that the bonding in a mother-son relationship is especially close, closer than mother-daughter relship... again, I can't tell yet. Very interesting topic, though!!!

If you feel very strongly about having a daughter, maybe that's a sign that you are not done having children yet! ;)

kate said...

Hmm, I know it isn't the same as having a girl, but I think it's almost more important to raise feminist boys. We sure need more men in the world who truly view women as equals, and who will speak up when something is not right. Of course, for that it really helps to have a feminist husband. I'm not sure we're doing all that well on the feminism front around here, but then I feel that way about a lot of values I ostensibly want to pass on to my kids, yet am not actively doing anything to promote. But that's a question for a whole other post...

And on another (none of my business)subject, are you actively considering the question of whether to have another baby? I mean, I imagine you are more concerned with the issue of where you will be settling down (and, of course, finishing the dissertation) but I'm curious.

And sorry for hijacking your comments section like this!

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating and intriguing post...

As you know, I'm still struggling to achieve a child of any gender... but I still identify with your lifelong yearning for a daughter... for many of the same reasons you state.

This was beautiful... and gave me so much to think about.

Delia said...

So powerful...thank you for pointing this out to me. It is amazing how much we carry with us from our families of origin. This is why I mother my children as best I can the way I do too.
Love to you,