I always wanted a daughter. From the moment I knew I wanted to be a mother - which happened quite a lot later in life for me than for many others, somewhere in mid-twenties - I knew I wanted a daughter. Sure, a son would be alright. A son would be loved. A son would 'do'. But I wanted a daughter.
It took nine years from the first awakening of maternal instincts until the time the ultrasound technician confirmed that yes, that was definitely a girl in there. My daughter. My Gwen. Though I'd already spent months of pregnancy bonding with the being who shared my body, the instant she was pronounced a girl I felt a deeper bond, a profound understanding of who this being was. I now had a place to gather all the things I already knew about this baby: love of music, physically active, enjoyment of parents' voices and touch. These things were hers. These things were Gwen.
I know that I was awfully sick during that pregnancy. I took anti-nausea pills for just about the entire 40 weeks, and even still most days I threw up (like clockwork, at 9:30am. I quickly learned NOT to be on a work conference call during that time). I know that I was moody and gigantic and unwieldy and uncomfortable and didn't sleep well. I know all those things, and yet when I try to remember what it felt like to be pregnant, the image that comes to mind is lying in bed at night, holding my belly and singing to Gwen, feeling her kicks growing stronger and stronger. Sometimes Chris would talk and sing to her too, but even in those moments I was the mediator: my body was the medium through which Chris could commune with his daughter. And when he rolled over and said goodnight, she was still with me. Sharing one's body is not always easy, but the memory that is strongest is how magical it felt. How amazingly comforting it was to never, ever be alone.
For the first few weeks, perhaps even months, after she was born, I could not really truly internalize the fact that she was a separate person. I pretended to, for the sake of the other people around us, because I knew that they would think I was crazy otherwise. But in my heart of hearts, I genuinely felt that Gwen and I were two parts of the same person. She might be in a separate room from me, and yet she is still me. I imagine this is how twins might feel.
Feeling like Gwen and I were parts of the same being made the newborn phase somewhat easier. I often woke in the night for no reason, and a moment later Gwen would begin squeaking to request a nursing session. Did she wake because I did, or did I wake because she was about to? It didn't matter. There we both were. In those moments, it felt right that I was existing primarily to fill her needs. It still felt like we were sharing the same body, even though Gwen wasn't in it anymore.
As the months went on I gradually grew out of feeling like Gwen and I were the same person. However, I still felt very in tune with her. There was a long stretch of time when her father could not comfort her, when she fought him bodily and shrieked until she was placed in my arms. This was hard on all of us, yet I was somewhat comforted to know that I could put right whatever was bothering my girl. When we did sleep training, I tuned into her more than ever. I watched her vigilantly for signs of tiredness, learning her signals and cycles and responding to them appropriately so that she could learn them too.
Going back to work and getting used to leaving Gwen for a large portion of the day was extremely hard. I felt like I was being torn apart. What frightened me even more was wondering how Gwen would respond. After all, I am a grown-up who understands financial responsibility and time management. How would Gwen comprehend the changes? Would she understand that I would come back at the end of the day, or feel abandoned? I walked to work on my first day feeling utterly sick to my stomach. As soon as I found out that Gwen was doing absolutely fine, I perked up and felt human again.
Nowadays my connection with Gwen is no less strong, and shows itself at interesting times. You see, the reason I wanted a daughter for all those years was simple. I knew that no matter what chromosomes your kid gets, there will be times when s/he drives you absolutely up the wall. There will be times when s/he slams the door and shouts that you are the worst parent in the world. There will be times when you will really, really want to kill that kid. But I strongly felt that if my child were a girl, I would understand where she was coming from. I may not be able to stop her from slamming the door and hating me - but I would be able to relate, and probably even understand why she felt that way. There would be nothing my daughter could feel or think or experience that I had not also felt or thought or experienced.
Naturally, this is not empirically true. The world around us changes rapidly, and of course Gwen will have many experiences that I have not had. But internally, her emotional responsese to those things - that is what matters. That is what I can relate to. That is what I can nurture. That is what our relationship will be built on.
So here we are, in the throes of two, and there are moments, lots of them, when Gwen is hard to be with. There are times when Chris and I have had long, circular discussions about her sleep habits. Most kids, it seems, get worn out. If we take Gwen out to the beach and the playground and for a long walk, we might then think she'd be grateful to fall into bed for a nap. This doesn't usually happen. "How can she still be awake?" we ask each other. "She should be exhausted!"
My theory is that unlike most kids, Gwen gets wound up, not worn out, from these exciting activities. You can't fill her morning with fun stuff, then rush her home, throw her in bed, and expect her to sleep. She's still buzzing with energy. No, the fact that her naptime already got bumped back an hour due to those adventures does NOT mean she'll fall asleep faster: instead, you need to bump it back ANOTHER hour and give her a nice, long, wind-down time. You need to read her more pre-nap stories, not fewer. You need to talk to her about what you did that morning, and maybe about what you're going to do when she wakes up. You need to give her time to process it all.
How do I know? Because that's how I operate. Is that projection? Yes. But it's only harmful if I'm wrong, and so far, I'm not.
Last week she got herself worked up over something, we're still not sure what, and cried for about an hour. She just could NOT get herself under control. We comforted her, we practiced deep breaths, we rubbed her back, and when she pushed us away we left her alone. We reminded her often that we were there for her and ready to listen to whatever she needed to express. It went on and on, and at the end of it we were all drained.
But at the end of it, I looked at her and thought - Oh, I've had days like that. Days where everything just seems to fall apart, and one little thing sets you off and you slip into tears and can't manage to pull yourself together. You start off by noticing that a light bulb has burnt out and before you know it you're weeping and wailing about the deterioration of the ozone layer and you know you're not making any sense but you just. can't. HELP IT.
And I think if she were a son, I would have looked at her and thought: Crap. Boys are aliens. WHAT THE HELL, kid.
I may be wrong. Maybe I'd be just as empathic with a son. I'll never know, and that suits me just fine.
She is my daughter, and she is the best (and maybe some of the not-so-best) parts of me. And I love her more than I love myself. I know her as well as I know myself. I hope I always will.