I am a strong women, from a long line of strong women. I have two sisters, my mom has four. My husband has two sisters too. I always dreamed of raising a member or two of the next generation of women who change the world. Women who shatter glass ceilings, who challenge patriarchal systems (quietly or at the top of their lungs), who love fiercely, who dress however the hell they please. I dreamed of bonding over shared experiences, arguing over teenage boundary-pushing, celebrating successes – whatever success looks like – with the special wink of knowing such success is possible for women because of the many female fighters that made it so.
My husband and I agreed we hoped for three children. And we had an easy time of it. I cannot overstate the empathy I have for those whose fertility journey is not as hoped, I see you and I hear you. For us, I got pregnant the first month we tried, each time. The pregnancies were comparatively easy. Predictable morning sickness that faded after the first trimester. Common and mostly manageable aches and pains. Healthy deliveries that went relatively smoothly.
Healthy deliveries of three beautiful baby boys.
Before I say anything else, let me be clear: I wouldn’t change a single cell in any of my sons’ bodies. I love them fiercely and relentlessly, exactly as they are, for the wild things they are, and for the strong men they are becoming. I mourn nothing about the family I have; I live with four incredible Y-chromosome-wielding guys. I learn from them, I teach them, I cherish them, I celebrate them. Sometimes I want to lock them all in a closet, husband included, and go paint my nails, but mostly, I do those good things I listed instead.
I mourn nothing about the family I have. And yet, I mourn – sometimes so intensely it stops me cold – the family that I will never have. I think about the daughter I’ll never know all the time. When friends announce the arrivals of their daughters, my throat catches. When I see moms and daughters in matching outfits, I smile through gritted teeth. When my mom friends complain about brushing and braiding, or show me pictures of the kooky outfits their daughters chose, or wonder whether they should allow their daughters to play with Barbies, I listen and empathize and then sometimes cry on my way home.
Sometimes I’m thinking about frilly dresses and curling irons and sharing what pregnancy is like, but it’s not really that. I know, having met my three wildly unique boys, that there is no telling what any child will be like; sex predicts nothing about their innate personalities, likes, or dislikes. And yet, my heart longs to know everything about the daughter I’ll never have, and to parent her as best as I can to be her truest self in a world that struggles to let true selves shine.
When my third son was born, I hadn’t even left the hospital before I’d fielded no fewer than six inquiries about whether we’d “try” for a girl. Could the asker not see and celebrate the beautiful boy in my arms? The beautiful boy who didn’t even get to be 24 hours old before hearing someone vocalize that surely I’d try again. When I’m out with my boys, strangers have a tendency to say things like “at least you won’t have to deal with the teenage years” (what? I fully expect my sons to be teenagers) or “at least you don’t have to buy new clothes” (news flash, I do) or “I hope you have a plan to keep them all fed” (in defense of this one, I am often shocked by how much they eat. But I have no idea if it’s that different than how much a girl eats).
When I get the questions, the comments, the looks, I honestly still don’t really know how to respond. Some combination of mind-your-beeswax and you-have-no-idea-the-wound-you-are-pressing. I do wonder the extent to which my feelings of longing for a daughter are shaped by the societal expectation that moms want daughters, and that families have boys and girls.
Maybe as my childbearing years fade further into the past, my longing for the baby girl I won’t have will fade too. Maybe it won’t, and I’ll always wonder what life would have looked like. Either way, I will continue to love my boys intensely, to raise them to be kind and empathetic and good. If they grow up and fall in love and bring women into my life, I will love those women. If they grow up and fall in love and bring men into my life, I will love those men. I have tried to forget the feelings I have about my nonexistent daughter. It hasn’t worked. This heart of mine longs for a daughter, and this body of mine won’t produce one. I imagine there are many of you that feel like this too, and I think you should know that you are not alone, and that it’s okay.