We asked our obstetrician to write the sex of our 5-month-old fetus on a paper and place it in an envelope so that we could receive the news on our own terms; in an environment less mechanical, less foreign and more personal than that which we had presently found ourselves.
The location of choice was nothing to swoon over; a non-descript pub in the centre of town with just enough volume of background voices to provide privacy but not overtake the intimacy and concentration of the conversation. With a slightly unsettling trepidation it was decided that she would open the envelope.
Despite an ongoing internal negotiation with fate, which is entirely uncharacteristic of me in any other scenario imaginable, I looked on with the facial impression of a confident, appreciative and open minded father-to-be.
As the paper slipped out of the freshly torn envelope and the word that it had kept safe since that morning leapt up to the lips of my wife and then through the thick silent air to my overly attentive ears, I knew that the terms of my naïve negotiation had been rejected. “Boy” registered with discomfort and followed with a new, greater discomfort for having solipsistically felt its antecedent.
A smile is what it was worth. But smiles are like money; they hold different values and sometimes represent distinct currencies. This smile happened to be a currency from a long lost civilization, which had little use for a monetary system anyways.
The smile and its associated disappointment quickly faded away and was replaced with genuine optimism and wonder about what this boy would become; how he would look, what he would think, and what I would represent to him.
Over the coming months this excitement and anticipation for a baby girl would be beaten down, not forcefully but by necessity; the reality of a little baby boy impregnated and consumed all thoughts related to the topic of ‘we’re expecting’.
Looking back now, I’m thankful for this movement away from my desire to have a girl. Becoming a father has taught me that it couldn’t have happened any other way. You love what you’re given, and you love what you’re given with complete devotion and ineffable passion. There is no choice in this regard; this love is both innate and learned and it certainly is not dependent on girlness or boyness.
My son is now two years old; he is bold and charming and inquisitive and strange. None of the things I love about him are determined by his boyness. And I know the same would be true had he been a girl, if you’ll accept the contradiction.
So now that we are trying for a second child, why has this desire to have a girl returned? The answer I’ve struggled to arrive at for the last 30 minutes, if not the last two months, is that a girl presents an opportunity for me take on a new perspective of life….well at least to have a small, indirect taste of a new perspective.
As a man, I will never see the world through a woman’s eyes. With empathy and contemplation I can establish an impression, but the real thing – the qualia that together form the essence of the female identity – are beyond my reach. In fact, they are of a different world, one that is not fully interpretable by my male consciousness.
Although I might not qualify according to some, or even most, I like to think of myself as a feminist or at least behave as one would. I know that a baby girl would likely guide and strengthen my feminism, but this particular journey does not require her. It’s conceivable that a more uneven, arduous path, one of self- motivation and self-discovery, will provide an even greater payoff in this regard. This will be my consolation should that Y once again claim victory and should that disappointment creep back into my head again, say during one of those nightmarish revelations that two boys, working either collaboratively or in opposition, can cause more physical damage per pound than any of mother natures wildest inventions.
So I’ll continue to intensely will my x-chromosome carrying sperm to swim fast and take no prisoners. And I’ll continue to expect that the next paper that slides out of that plain white envelope does not meet the same unceremonious fate as the last. But should that one word, “boy”, once again bounce through my inner ear and travel north to my temporal lobes, I’ll forget my previous desires and expectations and dive head first with excitement and pride into the world of my two sons and all the joy, happiness and fulfillment they will bring me.