Here’s the story of how my anticipated daughter turned out to be my son.
We decided early on we wanted to know the sex of our child at the 20 week ultrasound. I really didn’t need another surprise on delivery day; everything about that day is already unknown. The how and the when were enough – I wanted some idea of the who. Also, I didn’t want to have to pick out two names. It’s a tough enough job to pick out one.
Before the ultrasound, people kept asking me whether I thought I was having a boy or girl. It’s just one of those inane questions people always ask pregnant women. I would obligingly smile and say I had no idea, while stifling an eye-roll. How the hell would I know?
About a month before the ultrasound I started having a gut feeling it’s a boy. I stuffed it down. I basically only trust my gut to tell me what might be enjoyable to eat next.
Our ultrasound was scheduled for the morning of the day we were leaving for Hawaii. In BC, it is forbidden for ultrasound technicians to reveal the gender of the child to the parents during the exam. If you want to know, they will mark it in your chart and it’s up to your midwife or doctor to tell you.
So John and I stared at that blurry black and white screen with unblinking eyes, searching for a tell-tale little penis. We said nothing to each other during the exam but immediately upon walking out we both said “boy? Maybe?” We were about 70% sure.
Until then, I hadn’t let my mind picture an actual child coming out of this. But now, an image of a little mini-John easily formed in my head. I rather liked him.
The next day, now in our Hawaii rental, we get an email from our midwife clinic with one line, written in pink, “It’s a girl!”*
I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Our guess was only a guess, based on blurry images we had zero experience looking at. And still I was left with a strange sadness. In 24 short hours, my mind had grown oddly attached to this little boy it created.
I couldn’t create a little girl to fill in his shoes nearly as easily. I didn’t start using feminine pronouns until months later. It was always just “the kid.” Whenever I said out loud that we were having a girl, it felt a little forced. Our nursery and the things we bought were always going to be pretty gender neutral, but I’m not strongly against all things pink. I actually kind of like dusty pink. But I had to really talk myself into every girlish thing we bought.
Towards the end, I mostly gave into it as our drawers filled up with endless girly hand-me-downs. But I did throw a yellow onesie in my hospital bag, among the pink ones. Just in case.
I pulled him up onto my chest right when he was born. We were covered in blankets and just lay there in awe for a few minutes, while he figured out he was in the world. At that point he was still my daughter. Then the nurse, who I suspect may have glimpsed something, suggested we check.
I didn’t see anything, and I don’t actually remember her exact words, I just remember the surprise in her voice when she said it was a boy.
It felt like the other shoe finally dropping. Of course it was a boy. There was a part of me that had been waiting to hear those words all along. So I laughed. We all laughed. It was one of those amazingly genuine moments. Our nurse captured it on camera.
We mixed up our pronouns a lot that first week, but trading our set of girl hand-me-downs for boy hand-me-downs helped. I was surprised at how much clothes serve as a gender cue for babies.
Officially he didn’t have a name for about a week, though we tentatively called him Henri in the delivery room. We had thought of Henri early on, when we didn’t yet know the sex. It was a name we both easily settled on when we were just batting hypothetical names around. But still, it hadn’t gone through the months-long vetting process we would have preferred; the final decision had to be made in the blur of new parenthood. Honestly, the hardest part of our daughter turning out to be our son was giving up the name we had picked for her. I had to mourn that a little.
Luckily that’s all the mourning I had to do. I will forever be grateful for those 24 hours I spent creating my son in my head, for without them, I might have had a tough transition to cope with in the haze of new motherhood. As it worked out, it was more of a reunion.
* You might wonder if we ever questioned the exam, but we had no reason to. It was done at the province’s dedicated maternal care hospital. It is a teaching hospital, so the exam was completed twice – once by a resident and then repeated in full in the presence of a doctor. Ours was actually the first error that our midwife clinic had seen and they confirmed that it did indeed say “girl” on the ultrasound information they received.
All those years I spent pondering whether to have a kid or not, I cursed the fact that no one really tells you what it’s like. I had heard every variation of you’ll never sleep again and you’ll be lucky to shower and your life is over always followed up by the mandatory oh but it’s all worth it! Fuck, I hate that mandatory all worth it thrown in at the end. What the hell does that mean?
I swore to myself that when I was on the other side I would come and tell you the truth. I would post the Complete Truth of Becoming a Parent.
Well here it is: I’m lucky to shower*, I haven’t had more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep in 7 weeks, and it’s all worth it.
When Henri joined us the evening of November 19th, he didn’t instantly change me. I didn’t look into his blue-grey shark eyes** and become a mother. Those first two blissful weeks when John was home and we played at being parents, I didn’t particularly feel like a mother. When he wasn’t gaining weight for a bit due to my crappy milk supply, I cried for failing him, but the tears came from some unknown instinctual place. My brain wasn’t there yet.
I’m becoming a parent gradually, over endless nights of watching his little face catch the bluish glow of the nightlight as I feed him yet again. Over hours spent rocking him to sleep in a cocoon of white noise that drowns out any thoughts I might have once held other than please go to sleep. It happens when, after screaming bloody murder that I dare change his diaper, my son stops and looks up at me with the purest of smiles and even though I’m so tired I have a hard time seeing straight my whole face lights up like some kind of fool.
That’s how they do it, you see. They break you down to your very core, but just when you are ready to lose your mind/throw them out the window they give you a little hit of endorphin juice, and then you fucking love them for it. It’s like a heroin addiction.
So there you go. Parenting is like a heroin addiction that you can’t kick. Hope that clears it up for all of you wondering!
*I’m sacrificing precious nap time writing this instead of showering. So it’s your fault that I smell faintly of milk and spit-up. Guess it works out that you can’t smell me.
** Newborns have shark eyes. Try and tell me it’s not true.
You will never have a moment to yourself again.
I hear this a lot, from every parent. Even the ones I consider rational and chill, the ones who don’t peddle in the “your life is over” cliches that some parents throw around when they’ve given up trying to say anything meaningful. And if the rational and chill parents say it then it must be true.
But you don’t mean it literally… do you?
Here’s the thing – I really, really like moments to myself. They are some of my favourite moments of all. And the thought of never having another one makes me break out in hives.
Maybe this is sanity-preserving denial talking here, but I can’t actually imagine it to be entirely true.
Realities I believe:
1. Parenting is a very demanding job, especially while your kid is young and entirely dependent on you in order to stay alive. You need to be constantly alert to their needs – needs that are many and varied and confusing and occur at inconvenient time intervals.
2. Kids sleep. More than adults.
3. The kid in question also has a father with two capable hands, even if he does lack boobs.
Despite the total overwhelming-ness of truth 1, I would like to believe truths 2 and 3 still add up to some moments to myself. Moments when I can brush my teeth and my hair, when I can linger in the shower for an extra few minutes, when I can stick my face in my dogs adorable fur, when I can soak in some sun at the dog park. Moments when I can indulge in checking twitter and reading the next “22 things that will make you feel like you are understood” list.
But maybe this isn’t what you mean. Maybe you still have physical segments of time that are yours, albeit much smaller ones, but the true cost is a mental one. That even those moments you are brushing your hair you are thinking about your kid. What she might need and when.
This I can begin to understand.
In our household I tend to be the manager. Not the boss mind you, but the manager. The one who keeps track of shit. I try to explain how exhausting it is to John but it’s a difficult thing to communicate; it’s not a chore one can check off a list. It’s not a physical activity that occupies a specified time period. Perhaps this is what parents are trying to express when they say they have no moments to themselves; kids infiltrate your mind even more than your physical space and time. And at that point, the best babysitter or the furthest vacation will not allow you a true moment to yourself.
This might almost be more terrifying, but at least it’s a territory I somewhat grasp. Mental obsessing is well-beaten ground for me.
So parents – be honest. What do you really mean when you say you have no time to yourself?