Two years ago, I lay on a table in an ultrasound room with a full bladder. I had gulped down two 16 ounce bottles of water to make sure that the tech could see the baby clearly, especially the baby’s gender. I wanted my first baby to be a girl.
The tech sandwiched cold jelly between her hand-held instrument and my abdomen, probing my reluctant yet eager body to create what would be the image of my unborn child. The initial image resembled a nebula in the universe. Quiet and incongruous to the eye, but noisy and very harmonious inside, as if holding its universe together. As the tech moved her instrument over my belly, the nebula turned into incoherent black and white streaks of nothing, which soon transformed into a baby’s head. Then the baby’s hands. The baby’s legs, the feet, the hips. “Everything looks fine,” the tech chimed in a nonchalant tone, all the while staring at the screen.
It hadn’t even occurred to me that my OB team would be more concerned with making sure that the baby was developing well. All I could think of was the gender of the child, and I felt a bit guilty. Nevertheless, I asked the tech what the gender of my baby was. “At 15 weeks?” she said, “Too early to find out! But you see that little thing there?” She pointed to, well, a little thing at the baby’s groin, “it might go up or down from here. If it goes up, it will be a boy, if down, you’ll have a girl.” My husband and I let out a lengthy “Ah!” as if the biggest, most well-kept secret of the world had just been revealed to us. Up, boy. Down, girl.
At 20 weeks, “it” had started to go up! “Looks like a boy to me!” the tech chimed. My heart sank a little. “Please be a girl, please be a girl,” I whispered as I walked out of the ultrasound room.
For the next and last ultrasound appointment, we brought two cards with us: One said “Daddy’s little girl” and the other said “Mama’s baby boy.” We asked the tech to give us the one that reflected the gender of the baby without telling us. We would open the card at home while on a Skype call with our family in India. The tech trashed “Daddy’s little girl.” As our family jumped with joy out of sheer satisfaction of being able to find out the gender of the child beforehand (which is banned in India), I told myself, “Next time!”
Next time came soon enough. Fourteen months later my son welcomed a baby brother. That baby brother is two months old now, and this time I’m not telling myself, “Next time.” I had an aunt who ended up having four girls because she wanted a boy. After the fourth girl, she gave up. My mother used to tell me that my aunt was very upset when I was born as she was scared that my mother would end up having only girls, too. Then my parents had a boy and our family was complete. But my childhood was filled with moments where my mother constantly reminded me that my brother was more important and more dear to her because he was a boy! Indians have an insane obsession with having sons – so much so that thousands of female fetuses are aborted every year just because of their gender. That is why finding out the gender of your unborn child is banned in India.
I believe the fact that I was unwanted by my mother made me want to have a girl who would grow up knowing that she was desired by her mother. A girl I could raise to believe that she had a mother to fall back on. Because my mother succumbed to patriarchy and also would have liked me to become a vehicle to it, I wanted a girl that I could raise to fight it. Had it not been for my father, who was very progressive, and in some ways mothered me, too, I don’t know what would have become of me. For example, it was my father who educated me about menstruation, told me that it wasn’t a crime to bleed, that I needed to eat well, rest, and not feel guilty about it. It was him who made sure that I wouldn’t just end up being a girl whose identity depended on receiving validation from others, especially men. He would tell me that I was made of steel, and only when I grew up I understood that he meant that nothing could break me.
The point is that my father raised me like a boy. When I think of it, it occurs to me that maybe I’ve been blessed with two boys so that I can raise them like girls. As they say, we have begun to raise our girls like our boys, but we still haven’t started raising our boys like our girls. Maybe that’s just what I’ll do. I will tell them that menstruation isn’t a crime. That more than love, girls want respect. That they would do well not to believe that girls around them somehow survive on boys’ validation. That they should never ever treat girls like objects, reduce them to numbers. That they are made of steel, and people who are made of steel don’t break themselves nor do they break others. Maybe I will succeed in raising boys who won’t manspread and mansplain, who will believe that they can achieve anything, but not at the cost of women. That they will be whoever they want to be not because they’ll have women behind them, but beside them – be they friends, sisters, or lovers. Maybe I’ll succeed as a parent and give to the world responsible citizens who are not entitled to everything just because they are men.
Nidhi Kaith is a freelance writer who lives in Eau Claire with her husband and two young sons. She has an MA in English Literature from Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.