Some people, when they find out they are expecting a baby, can feel disappointment at the gender reveal. Perhaps they have always dreamed of having a little girl and are now carrying a boy. Those feelings might only last until the baby is in their arms, but for some however, the disappointment can result in feelings of sadness and depression way beyond the birth. They have a healthy baby, yet can’t shake the thought that this is not the outcome they wanted. I am in no way dismissing the severity of these emotions, but it is not something I have ever dealt with personally. Yes, I have suffered loss and when my 3rd son was born with Down syndrome, I grieved the child I expected to have. But for me, whether I was the mom of boys or girls, it was irrelevant. What annoys me the most though during my continuing journey of motherhood, are the people attempting to chip away at my happiness with ignorant comments on my children’s gender.
I’ve always wanted to be a mom, for as long as I can remember. My planned future always involved children in it. My husband and I met at the University of Cape Town, dated for three years and married at the end of 2004. We worked and travelled overseas for a bit and about a year later, decided that we wanted to start a family. Long story short, it wasn’t as easy as I had expected. We suffered two devastating early miscarriages, but I kept clinging onto the hope that I would one day be a mom. We moved to Johannesburg and about six months later, found out we were expecting again. I was extremely nervous but so excited and this time around, we were blessed with a healthy pregnancy.
We’re not very good at surprises, so we were very keen on finding out the gender. We had to wait until the twenty week scan though, as the little one was very shy. It turned out we were having a boy. Family and friends were very excited for us and gender comments from inquisitive strangers were kept to a minimum. After all, you’re starting from a neutral base. I did get the odd ‘it’s great to have a boy first’ and ‘your husband must be so pleased’ but we were so wrapped up in our own joy, we barely paid attention.
Everywhere you go, a ‘perfect’ family is depicted by a mom, dad, son and a daughter. It’s supposedly what every parent strives for. Look around you – billboards, adverts on TV and in magazines. They’re all smiling with perfectly white teeth. We get told by society that that is what a real family should look like. But think about in this day and age. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe a child has two moms and no dad or perhaps a single parent. And shock of all shocks, you might just have two daughters and no son!
As soon as you fall pregnant with your 2nd child, the peanut gallery weighs in. If you had a boy first, then they’re all hoping for a girl second time round and vice versa. It’s as if no family is complete without the ultimate pigeon pair. Every father MUST have a son and every mother, a daughter. It’s a lot of pressure bestowed on that unsuspecting child. We found out at sixteen weeks with our 2nd pregnancy, that we were expecting another boy. And we were over the moon. We felt so privileged just to be able to have another child. Everyone was generally happy for us. ‘The boys will grow up to be best friends’, ‘Dad is on his way to a four-ball’ etc. We did however get quite a few ‘are you going to try for a girl next?’ comments. I even had people offer me their ‘recipe’ for a girl in case we were going for no. 3. I would just smile and politely decline.
When you are pregnant, there is a 50% chance you’re having a girl and a 50% chance you’re having a boy. For me personally, I felt that if we weren’t prepared for those odds, then we shouldn’t bet in the first place. Being a parent is a huge responsibility and not something to be taken lightly. I also never wanted any of my children to be born into our family feeling like they were a disappointment from the get go. Having three sons, I never want them to think we kept going for that elusive daughter and accumulated a few ‘spares’ along the way! I come from a family of two girls, so my dad never had a son. He was a keen fisherman and would spend every Saturday morning out on the water. I never for a second felt that he wished my sister and I had been boys. We were loved unconditionally and I felt that love every day we were privileged enough to spend with him.
If you really want to be in the centre of a gender debate, try having your 3rd boy! I couldn’t actually believe the 2 cents worth I got from passers-by who didn’t know me at all. I remember shopping one day and a woman noticed I was pregnant. She asked me what I was having and I said it was a boy, my 3rd one. That was me asking for trouble. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut? But obviously I was excited. She actually said to me ‘shame, every mother needs a daughter’. Seriously?! I was so grateful that I was pregnant with another baby and blessed with another boy. Immediately I felt defensive, like I had to prove to this woman that actually I was happy. And I was! Another favourite was ‘what sins are you paying for?’, as if I was being punished for having a 3rd boy. I even had a few moms of two sons comment ‘and that’s why I won’t have a third – it’ll be another boy!’ My sister dealt with similar reactions but on the other end of the spectrum, having had two girls. But this time it was her poor husband who was so hard done by as she had not produced an heir. He had no one to pass down the name. You honestly think we lived in the middle ages!
When we found out about Nicholas having Down syndrome five days after his birth, all the emotions went through me. One of them was anger. It was mostly targeted at those ignorant people who gave me a hard time about having another little boy, when all I wanted was a healthy baby. Yes, it sounds like a cliché, but that’s all I hoped for. I’m not proud to admit it but I actually felt resentment towards those disappointed people who didn’t get the gender they desired, but were blessed with a healthy baby nevertheless. In the end though, we all have our own personal struggles to endure. And we can’t judge or compare. There is always going to be someone who has it better than you and on the flipside, who is less fortunate. I accepted our new and unexpected journey and focused my attention on trying to be the best mom I could be to my three little boys.
There is such a stereotype when it comes to boys and girls. Boys are supposed to be the hooligans who can’t sit still for a minute and girls the quiet ones, who will happily sit in the corner and colour in. I actually joked to my husband one day and said don’t be surprised if we start getting fewer lunch invitations to people’s houses. No one wants 3 ‘crazy boys’ tearing their house apart! I really think it comes down to personality and not gender. I remember once someone early pregnant saying to me, when we had two boys at that stage, that they really hope they have a daughter as they want a child who loves reading and who’d be interested in learning. (I honestly could write a book about the idiotic things said to me!) Adam, our firstborn, has had a nose in a book ever since we can remember. His obsession with the solar system started around three and his love for facts has just grown from there. He literally is a walking encyclopaedia and I sometimes have to sneak off and Google the question he’s just asked me because I literally have no idea how to answer it!
What makes me the most proud though, is my boys’ kind and empathetic nature towards others. They show such love for their baby sister and their younger cousins. They just really enjoy the company of little ones and in turn the little ones look up to them and feel protected. I have no doubt that my older two have only benefited from having a brother with special needs. They’ve learnt from an early age that everyone is different and we need to embrace those differences. When people comment on my boys’ gentle nature, it really fills my heart with pride. So yes, they can be very busy and they do give me a few grey hairs at times, but to put them in a box and label them a certain way, would really not be a true reflection.
We took a long time in deciding whether to have a fourth child. The desire was there, but we had a lot of other factors to consider. In the end, we went with our hearts. The boys were so excited at the prospect of another sibling and we couldn’t wait to add to our family. Due to Nicholas having Down syndrome, I did the panorama blood test to rule out any chromosomal abnormalities. I didn’t want to be caught off-guard again. This test would also tell us with 100% certainty, the gender. It was quite a shock to find out we were having a girl. I just naturally assumed that it was another boy, as I didn’t know anything else. I’d even picked out a boy’s name (not easy when you’ve already used three of your favourites!). We told family and close friends that we were expecting around thirteen weeks along, but kept it relatively quiet until we had the blood test results. We then only really went public once we knew the baby was doing well and we knew the gender. I just wasn’t up to hearing everyone’s preference and I felt fiercely protective of her before we found out. Obviously when you have three boys, no one is going to say to you ‘I really hope it’s another boy!’ And that irritated me, because I would have loved another boy. I think because we already had three boys and one was special needs, I was very sensitive to subjecting another child to everyone and their opinion. I had heard it all before. I wanted each and every child of ours to feel loved and special in their own way.
The boys were ecstatic to be having a sister for the first time and you can imagine the string of comments we received. ‘Your family is finally complete’ and ‘you can now stop having kids’ is what we heard over and over again. Yes, our family was complete – we had our four children. If we had had another boy, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that we would not have had another child after that. And that’s not due to admitting defeat. We were a family of six. That’s what we had hoped for and we considered ourselves very blessed. I also have come to realise that people generally mean well and often it’s just finding something to say in the situation. You really can’t take it too personally.
So in March 2016, we welcomed our daughter. When we decided upon her name, Tessa, we found out that it actually meant ‘4th child’ in Greek. Very apt! She’s definitely our most independent, strong-willed and feisty baby so far. Not sure we’ll ever find her sitting quietly in a corner doing arts and crafts, but more like munching on the crayons! And with three besotted big brothers, she’s probably always going to get her way. I’ve already seen the fiery little temper and I have no doubt there are many power struggles ahead. Who knows what the future holds? She might turn her nose up at ballet and head straight for the cricket bat. In the end, it’s up to her. I’m not going to shove her into a tutu purely because I ‘finally’ have my little girl to play dress up with.
Being a mom of four children, I get asked all the time if the fourth (or even the third, back in the day) was planned. It’s quite a personal question. To set the record straight, yes all of our children were planned. We can’t blame load shedding or lack of anything better to do! With Tessa, even the brothers were consulted about a possible future sibling. But to be perfectly honest, if one of our children wasn’t planned, I wouldn’t be telling you anyway! I wouldn’t want that label placed on them.
At the end of the day, being a parent is a privilege. Some enter that journey easily, others not so much. I’ve known too many couples desperate for a child and fortunately some have been successful via IVF, adoption or surrogacy. Others have not. I can’t even imagine what that devastating emptiness must feel like. Boy or girl, to be able to hold that baby in your arms, is a feeling like no other. I hope that those lucky enough to become parents, although initially disappointed by the gender outcome, find peace and acceptance. A child really is the greatest gift.
“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” – Dalai Lama XV1