Today, I’m thinking about my daughter. She is not my daughter, and she does not exist and has never existed. But to me, she is still in here somewhere: a real, solid little person who gets older with us all every year with my four boys who are now men, all achingly precious to me. All of them continue to people my dreams in all the stages of who they’ve been and are and will be. I hope my boys always visit me there, always come back to me in the middle of the night with their frayed baseball caps, their round shoulders, favorite T-shirts, sticky little starfish fingers endlessly reaching for me. They are in my dreams as real and solid and fragrant as they ever were in my life. But she is there too; she is there with them.
She came to me first in the early days of pregnancy with each of my boys, before I knew they were coming to me. When my belly could still have been anyone. When a little girl was still a possibility. When I wandered the mall with my hand on my belly and touched all of the gendered bits of cotton in stores and felt weird about it, but still. I imagined her fully there. Her face, so much like my boys. The round cheeks, round eyes, smiles so big sometimes people would say “Whoa, that’s a big smile,” like their joy is a thing of power. I named her in the privacy of my own brain: Grace or Bridget or Emma. I laid our daily future out for us, our mundane days of sturdy rubber boots and braids tucked inside the hoods of rain coats. Long bangs and monkey bars and best friends and questions I had possibly been waiting my whole life to answer.
My friends and I, we talk about it. Whispers over wine, admissions so quiet we barely even say them to each other.
She was there then in the question mark that was my pregnant belly, and mostly she has left me because I have exactly enough space in my heart for my boys and only them. But there are days sometimes when I think about her and us and who we would have been together. And I cannot decide how to feel about that.
Guilt is there, too, familiar as my own hands. Guilt that my sons would ever think for a single moment that they were less than everything, or that I would give even one of their breaths away for a lifetime of someone else. Because I wouldn’t, and they know I wouldn’t, don’t they?
I am not the only mother to miss having a daughter. My friends and I, we talk about it. Whispers over wine, admissions so quiet we barely even say them to each other. We share that moment of mourning, when we knew we would not be mothers to daughters. When we knew we would have to battle the stereotypes other “boy moms” wear as comfortably as old cardigans they forgot they put on. That we are meant to live in service to our boys instead of in kinship with them. That we are giving them away, always, and this is the way of things. That we are placeholders, stewards of their lives who have to learn to fade away when we are told unless we want to be called troublesome women. My friends and I have chosen to be troublesome women who don’t want to fade, but it’s not easy. It’s not what’s expected. We are meant to lose these sons, and we will; we know this for sure.
I give myself an hour to just sit in it like a too-hot bath on a cold day. And I let that small heartbreak that sits just under my ribs expand as much as it wants.
But it is not the losing of them I would ever chance for the gaining of a daughter. Each pregnancy, each time I found out I was having a boy, I turned away from thinking about Grace or Bridget or Emma. I did not look at her gendered soft cotton clothing. I became their mother utterly, only their mother in a way I am still struggling to understand even now. When people asked me if I wished for a daughter instead of a son, I said no and I meant no. When people asked me if I missed having a little girl of my own, I said no and mostly meant no. But sometimes, like today, sometimes I miss what it might have been. Being a mother to a daughter. And yes, I give myself an hour to just sit in it like a too-hot bath on a cold day. And I let that small heartbreak that sits just under my ribs expand as much as it wants.
For an hour, I think about what I would have wanted her to know. I would have told her she was brave and smart and funny because surely she would have been. Like her brothers and some days even me. I would have protected her from worrying about things we worry about. Reminded her that her smile was a light, but she did not owe anyone that joy; it was up to her to decide when she wanted to share it.
I would have told her that she didn’t have to pretend to be cold when she wasn’t cold or delicate when she didn’t feel delicate. That she didn’t need to make herself smaller or quieter for anyone. That her friendships are worth nurturing as much as her romances — or more, sometimes. I would tell her that we could be friends someday, but when she was a little girl, she needed me to be a guide more than anything.
I think I would have been a good guide. I think we would have been friends someday, Grace or Bridget or Emma and me. I think it’s OK that I miss the people we could have been to each other. Just for an hour. It’s OK.