Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Do You Want a Boy or a Girl?

“I really wanted a boy,” my mother said of her first pregnancy. We were sitting side by side at a faux Japanese restaurant where the food is prepared at an enormous grill in the middle of the table. I had left my three children at home with my husband so my mother and I could spend some time together. A handsome Korean twirled his spatula in the air. “And I had a boy.” My mother looked pleased. In one deft movement, the chef squirted teriyaki sauce on the tofu on the grill.  

“Then I really wanted a boy,” she laughed. The chef added a heaping portion of white spaghetti to the tofu. “And I had a boy.” My mother looked smug.  

The chef flipped the tofu dish onto my plate and shot a mass of oil onto the grill. It started to sizzle. At a nearby table I heard the squeal of delighted customers. Their chef was hurling shrimp directly into their open mouths. Although there was space for ten others, the rest of our table was empty.  

“Then,” my mother continued, “I REALLY wanted a boy.” Something in the way she said this—her emphasis on the word really and her forced exuberance perhaps—made me suspect she wasn’t really telling the truth. I looked down at the tofu and spaghetti on my plate. This restaurant had been my mother’s idea. “And I had a boy!” she exclaimed.  

Okay, boys are great. I like boys. My brother will never forgive me for asking this question But does anyone really want three kids of the same gender in a row?

“Then,” my mother paused for a moment and pointed at me, “I really wanted a girl.” Her voice was full of remembering how much she wanted me to be a girl. “And I had you.”

When we were pregnant for the first time, we really wanted a healthy baby. Forget counting fingers and toes. If some of those were missing, I knew I wouldn’t care. The bigger issues worried us. We hoped for a baby who was mentally okay and who did not have a crippling physical ailment. We didn’t want a boy or a girl per se, we wanted a living breathing baby.

So when I was eight and a half months pregnant and my doctor looked at my small measurements and ordered an immediate sonogram, I panicked. She mumbled something about wanting to rule out “inter-uterine growth retardation.” Then she clicked her pen closed and walked out of the room. I had been exercising a lot during my pregnancy. We lived in Atlanta then and I would zoom down the bike path in a sports bra and tight shorts with my enormous belly (I don’t care what the doctor thought, it seemed enormous to me) hanging out.

“You go girl!” African-American women would call out to me. So I’d pedal faster, leaving open-mouthed teenagers in my wake. 

Feeling better after six and a half months of toe curling nausea, I was in the best shape in my life. Still, I was too superstitious to have a baby shower or to buy anything in advance except one tiny little pink and yellow striped outfit. No crib. No changing table. No clothes.

The sonogram confirmed that the baby was fine. Then, ten days before my due date and more than three weeks before we expected her—we were sure the firstborn would be late—we were flying home on our bicycles over jagged potholes and terrific bumps and my water broke.

Twenty-two hours later my daughter was born. When it was clear that she was strong and healthy I finally had the luxury of admitting that I had been lying to myself. I had really wanted a girl after all.

1 comment:

Lilian said...

Oh, this is a beautiful, beautiful post! (more like an essay, really -- I LOVE the dialog with your mom peppered by what the chef is doing, I got very hungry too...).

I really really really wanted a girl, and I got two boys. My mother-in-law really (X 3 as well) wanted a girl and she had FOUR boys, and now, FIVE grandSONS.

What would your mom say about that ? :)