In a particularly memorable episode of Girls, one of the characters, when asked about her experience mothering a daughter, replies “I’m her mother, but it’s more like she’s my mother.” As ridiculous and far-fetched as it may sound, this sentiment is not far from the truth. My own daughter was…unexpected. I might go so far as to say unwanted. If you are wondering what kind of person I am to write that about my own daughter, I beg you to stick with me. There is a happy ending to this story.
I always knew that I wanted children, and I always knew that I would have boys. The life I envisioned for myself included four strapping, wild, and crazy men (one of whom would be my husband), who got into lots of trouble and provided me with volumes of stories to tell in my old age. I dabbled in babysitting during my teenage years, and the boys were always my favorites. Less whiny. Less bossy. More hitting things. More loud noises. More manageable.
When my husband and I welcomed our first child — a boy — I felt sure that my dreams would come to fruition. I loved my son from day one, from the moment I saw him swimming around on the ultrasound monitor. All, it seemed, was going according to plan. Life with a newborn was not always easy. Joey had colic, and I was not able to produce enough breast milk to sustain him. While these challenges clawed at my confidence and sometimes wracked me with guilt, I cherished every moment of his early months. Every milestone felt precious, and every new ability was well documented.
During Joey’s eighth month, I discovered that I was again pregnant. Thanks to a combination of laziness and skepticism that I could really be that fertile, I found myself with child in the fall of 2014 — not even a year since Joey’s birth. Surprisingly, I felt ready. As an only child, I clung to the idea of creating a big family, and this rather bold desire resulted in a Chia Pet approach to family building. Determined to grow our herd fast, I wanted to make sure neither of us had time
to change our minds.
From the beginning, my second pregnancy was vastly different from the first. The first trimester included constant nausea and exhaustion. My body did not adjust quite as seamlessly to the interior hormone shifts, and it could not keep up with the exterior demands of my growing firstborn. I sensed from the start that my dreams of an all-male household were quickly fading, and this was shortly confirmed by ultrasound. There she was. I recognized her from the first moment I felt her growing in my womb. Still, I asked the technician to write the gender on a notecard and enclose it in an envelope. I was not ready for the truth. I wanted to keep it safely contained and hidden, because once I read the word, it was going to be real.
With some encouragement from family, my husband and I hosted a small gender reveal party. A friend made us a cake that would reveal the gender with colored M&M’s baked into the middle. I prayed with all of my might to see blue, but even before my son dug into the moist chocolate confection and discovered the pink candies, I knew the answer. Joyful clapping and shouting filled the room. Everyone else exhibited excitement about my coming child, and it felt odd to be the only one sweating, filled with a heavy dread and disappointment.
I lived out the rest of my daughter’s gestation in mourning. I attended every doctor appointment, every ultrasound, and faithfully took my prenatal vitamins, feeling nothing but a sense of duty. I cracked jokes about not wanting a girl, about hating the color pink, and most friends thought I was kidding. Most friends assured me that I would feel differently once she was born. I was not so sure. Deep inside, I dreaded her arrival, and every kick seemed to echo that she felt the same.
June Pearl arrived on April 28, 2015, eight days late — a sign, I felt sure, of her obstinacy and stubborn willfulness. She was so small, so helpless. I felt thankful for a healthy baby, but beyond that, I could not reconcile my disinterest. She was not the baby I wanted. I stepped into my mothering role out of habit and necessity, but there was no joy in it. June’s first few months were fraught with colic and late nights of screaming. She was just a baby, reaching out for love and comfort. I fed her, burped her, and cared for her physical needs out of obligation. Her very existence crushed the ideal family I’d imagined and ripped my attention from my son, who was still very much a baby himself, and I resented her for it. In the end, I missed out on quite a lot of her first year, wishing it away and waiting, always waiting, for her to just grow older already.
By now, I imagine you are wondering why I have not yet been struck by lightning. Does a mother who does not feel love for her baby deserve to live? I have entertained this thought often. It seems unnatural to feel anything but adoration and awe toward one’s newborn child, and the guilt it produces is soul crushing. I held my feelings close, like a dirty secret. Who could I tell? What kind of mother feels this way? I am not one to ever hide my feelings, but there I was, at a loss about what to do with them. I wonder how many women out there have felt this?
I needed a daughter, but it took me a full year to realize the value of the gift given to me. June is everything I’d feared — willful, whiny, needy, and possessive. She is also smart, determined, persistent, and I love all of her. She gives and receives love very differently from my son, and I am thankful for it. At the risk of sounding grossly cliché, she touches parts of my heart that I did not realize needed awakening.
I absolutely love mothering a daughter. I realize now, as I look back on June’s first year of life, that all of my fears about having a daughter were really more about me. I feared that I was not, and could not be, the kind of woman that I felt a daughter needed — fiercely confident, self-assured, bold, and unconcerned with the opinions of others. While I tried to convey these traits to the world, I never felt as though I truly embodied them. Surely a daughter would see through this. A daughter would inherit my fears, my worries, my shortcomings, and she would never forgive me. Now, I understand that having a daughter is the journey that will bring these things to light, and initiate much-needed change. Facing my fears, and raising my daughter with brave intention, is precisely the act of defiance that will forge in me the strength and confidence for which I always longed.
To those moms out there afraid of mothering a daughter: What you are feeling is fine — normal, even — and you do not need to hide from it. Just know that you will one day see the purpose and the pleasure in your task, and you will manage it in your own way, on your own terms. Be brave, and walk with confidence. You need her every bit as much as she needs you.