It couldn’t be. Pink balloons bobbed gently against the ceiling. I was certain they should have been blue. My husband wrapped his arms awkwardly around me and my bump and said, “Good job!” as if somehow the outcome of our child’s gender had been my doing. My parents, my sister and brothers, and our two sons whooped and hollered with happiness. Cameras blinked around the room. I was overwhelmed and needed to hold onto something.
My son Luke was the closest thing for me to reach. This was familiar to me, the feeling of my son, his arms flung over my shoulders, the ridges of his corduroy pants pressed onto my forearms as I held his bottom on my hip. I hoped when I looked at the pictures later on, I could convince myself that my wide-eyes were inspired by happiness and not fear.
Over the weeks that followed our gender-reveal party, I had to remind myself that our baby would be a girl; we were having a daughter. “Daughter.” I practiced saying the word but it was so foreign in my mouth, not solid like the word “son.” Three letters, the first cut smooth like the blade of a knife, the middle, clipped and brief to lead to the end, a firm consonant with finality. “Daughter” sounded soft like a sigh early in the morning, calm and passive, reluctant to fall from my lips. I was timid and insecure saying it.
I began to obsess over strange things. I decided her room wouldn’t have any pink. Since it was impossible to find baby girl bedding without pink or butterflies on it, I had bedding custom made with turquoise spots, scrolls of navy blue damask and lavender elephants. My brother helped me paint her walls pale gray. A few relatives couldn’t bear the thought of a girl’s nursery without the color of cotton candy, so they crocheted pink blankets or painted pink hearts or frosted cupcakes “to give it some contrast.” I didn’t want contrast.
If I was going to have a daughter, I wanted her to be unexpected. I refused to be responsible for bringing another Cinderella into the world. She could be a refined Joan Jett or Jane Austen on a Harley, not the kind of girl who would need rescuing. She would be the hero of her own story.
Late one night during a bout of third-trimester insomnia, I impulsively crept upstairs to my boys’ bedroom and pushed the door open. Four-year-old Noah lie on his back, completely vulnerable, his cheeks flushed from the warmth of the room and his blanket draped over his chest. I kissed his hair and breathed in his pear-scented shampoo. He flinched and I froze over his head, holding my breath. Then I turned with all the stealth that a Buddha-bellied ninja could muster to gaze at Luke. His eyes were perfect almonds, fringed with long lashes; his full lips drew in a snore. My heart could burst with love for these tender, innocent boys. I prayed they would stay sensitive in a world where men are encouraged to hide their emotions, to believe that if they are stoic, their opinions count for more. It occurred to me how I desired almost the exact opposite for my daughter.
Women have to work harder to be heard and respected. The idea of raising a daughter who knows her worth seems arduous and wrought with obstacles. The world is flooded with contradictions of what a woman is meant to be. She needs be thin and beautiful yet satisfied with who she is. She must be intelligent, but not so much so that she intimidates others. If she is too logical, she is boring. If she is too emotional, she is melodramatic. She has to be independent and strive for what she wants in life but also needs to be nurturing and have a benevolent spirit, always considerate of the needs of those around her. Now more than ever, women are being told that it’s not enough to just be equal to men; women must somehow be stronger and more capable by being the perfectly balanced paradox.
Grace was born on May 22, 2013. She had rosebud lips and the chubbiest pink cheeks I’d ever seen on a newborn. She was so perfect, I worried she was missing her edge. The nurse in the hospital who gave Grace her first bath must have heard my thoughts because when she dried Grace’s hair, she combed it into a tiny mohawk. “That’s more like it,” she laughed handing her over to me.
Grace is three now and I’ve learned to relax about things I tried hard to fight earlier on. She likes the color pink, loves dancing and having her toenails painted. Although some of her preferences are conventional, she can be wildly unpredictable too. Her favorite song last year was Darth Vader’s theme song. She likes to shoot hoops with her daddy even more than my boys do and her favorite books are the ones about superheroes. She is my tutu-wearing Spiderman, my nose-picking sous chef, my wild-haired dance partner, she’s my unexpected Grace.
Christine Torosian is a full-time mom and writes a blog called The Neurotic Optimist (theneuroticoptimist.com). Her poetry has been recognized by the Village of Fine Arts Association in Milford, Michigan. She enjoys traveling with her family, weight-training and running in her spare time.