When you learn that I’m pregnant with my third son, please don’t ask me if I’m going to get pregnant again to try to have a daughter. Please don’t ask me if I want a daughter. Please don’t tell me that I’m going to have my hands full with three sons. Or say something about how sons are better than daughters, anyway. After all, I am a woman and daughter, so it’s not helpful to hear negative feedback about females. Please don’t label me as a ‘boy mom.’ I am a mom to humans who have more characteristics than their gender. Please stop reducing my children and my relationship with them, to their gender. I didn’t have children in order to have ‘one of each’ or to check some sort of gender box that means my family is complete. My miscarriage was a reality check, forcing me to resolve if I was having another baby to have a boy or girl, or a child. And at the end of the day, I confirmed that all I wanted was to bring a new life into the world, and I am only hoping for one that is physically and emotionally heathy. Because ultimately, that is what matters.
A 33-week baby kicks in my belly, it shakes and rumbles like an earthquake with aftershocks. I see his arms and legs trail across; I feel and watch, amazed at what our bodies can handle and at what we are capable of. Ryan is a few months short of five years, and Connor will be three in a month and a half. Every day brings a new, surprising parenting challenge. Every day brings sweet moments of joy and happiness. Every day brings peace, too. As a young adult I was always looking for peace, but there's something about parenthood, that has taught me to relax, because I have learned that I can only do so much, and we are all doing the best that we can with what we have.
I've been watching the Handmaids Tale, and at one point in season two, the main character, June, is reflecting on her mother and her daughter, and she thinks: "No mother is ever completely a child’s idea of what a mother should be. And I suppose it works the other way around, as well. But despite everything, we didn’t do badly by one another. We did as well as most." These words were so true for me—I will strive to do the best I can, and my children will feel what they feel about me, and I will feel what I feel about them—and hopefully in the end, we will know that we loved each other and did the best we could, and that will be enough.
I think a lot about what I say to the boys, the words I use and how I use them. I also think about the things I heard when I was a child. I think about the things that had a positive impact on me and my self worth, and I also think about the things that were hurtful. Things like hearing people say, 'You should be ashamed of yourself.' Now I cringe at those words. How does assigning shame motivate someone to change behavior or even understand how to improve? It doesn't—and I think phrases like that are intended to hurt, and do nothing more.
I don't want to emotionally manipulate my children by using words that make them question their value. Instead when they do something hurtful, I want to communicate that what they did is bad, but not that they are bad. I want them to understand consequences and pain, in a way that teaches them empathy, but not in a way that makes them feel embarrassed or overwhelmed by guilt. In The Heretic, Rob Bell says, "The fundamental good news is that you are loved exactly as you are." Because ultimately, despite our behavior, we are loved. It's this idea that I belong, you belong, we belong... And I think if we can rest in this, then we can learn how to better love ourselves and others, and create a world that respectful and generous.
A heart beats in my belly, the flicker climbs quickly into peaks and drops into valleys on the screen and the quick thump, thump whispers through the monitor. New heart, new life, new love.
Twenty-three weeks into my fourth pregnancy, I have a moderate but growing bump. My doctor's appointments and pregnancy tests, all point to a healthy baby, but still I carry a heavy, emotional weight. Pregnancy after miscarriage is such a strange tug of war. I'm excited and eager to have another baby and add a child to our family, but I also have this fear that is dimming my hope. I'm not much of a worrier, but with this pregnancy I live from appointment to appointment, test result to test result. I constantly wonder if baby Jack is ok; and I face thoughts that I didn't worry about in previous pregnancies, because I didn't personally understand the reality that a baby could be lost. It is so much to feel. Doubt, worry, fear. It clouds my judgement and my happiness, and it steals my peace.
I recently watched the movie Tully, which is about a mother who has two children, and is pregnant with her third. The movie shares what she experiences after the birth of her baby. This film was one of the first times I felt that the challenges of motherhood were so honestly and clearly portrayed, and I practically cried through the entire movie. The truth was overwhelming for me, including the reminders of how life changes with a new baby—how the responsibility and love is all-consuming.
For me, being a parent, is the hardest, best thing I have ever done. It’s so heavy, and sometimes you feel like you are going to break, but love for a child is so fulfilling and overwhelming and purposeful, and it makes you want to give it as much as you can give—even when that means sacrificing yourself.
I’ve always considered myself a feminist—feeling strongly that women should be treated equally to men, because we are equal. But in becoming a mother to boys, my passion for female rights and equality has strengthened, because I want to raise men who are able to support a society in which the concerns of women are equal to those of men. I want my sons to understand how women are unique and powerful in our own right, and for them to appreciate and honor us, rather than fear or dismiss us, or worse hold us down.
As a mother to boys, I am also impassioned about my responsibility to be open and honest about experiences that are specific to women. Experiences that don’t make me less or weaker than a man, but experiences that should be respected and considered. I’m talking specifically about periods, pregnancy, miscarriage, and breastfeeding. I recently read a book called, ‘Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity,’ and in the book, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf puts it like this: “How we equip our children to understand, empathize, appreciate, and manage periods—personally, and as members of our community—matters as much as anything else we do. Eradicating stigma starts with the ways we raise and communicate with the next generation.”
A woman’s body is magnificent. We endure and survive and support the advancement of humanity. We should be celebrated and embraced and men should honor our role. Additionally, Weiss-Wolf says, “there’s no reason that embarrassment or shame have to be universal rights of passage.” To be honest, I think this can apply to all of us, no matter our gender. I think that as we become better educated about one another, we can learn to respect our differences, and eliminate shame.
In my parenting, I will not perpetuate stigmas that promote discrimination. In my home I will not hide my body, and I will not dismiss its functions. They are of course, they reason my children exist, and I will be sure to help them understand and appreciate this. In the same way, I will also teach my sons to appreciate their own bodies, and not to fear them as they grow, or hide as they change.