I wanted a girl, but it’s so hard

Baby feet in a pink blanket

By Rica Keenum

I wanted a girl. Twenty and newly married, I stroked the globe of my belly, imagining pink fluffy dresses, flowered headbands and tiny jewel-studded sandals. But two pregnancies later, what I had was two muddy boys growling into the camera and sporting their superhero capes. Now in my early 40’s, I look back and think what the hell would I have done?

Over the years, a million scenarios have swirled in my head. What would I have done if my little girl learned to hate her own face?

What if she stole makeup from my purse, watched YouTube tutorials, learned to paint cat eyes in the yellow light of the middle school bathroom?

And if her first boy crush didn’t like her, told her best friend she wasn’t his type? Too fat, too brown, too something?

What would I have done if she came home hungry, stormed into her bedroom, said her stomach ached, stripped down to her underwear and stood before the bathroom mirror, pinching flesh, tasting tears? Skipping meals?

What would I have done if she found a way to be the boy’s type? To mold herself? Cut, cut, cut — my little girl running with scissors, the cruel blade of self-loathing?

What if my words couldn’t reach her? If the sound of my voice repeating you’re beautiful, smart, special, talented, loving, made her flinch? Made her hate me for not understanding, for being a fool?

What would I have done if her shorts got shorter, tops dipped lower? If she learned to sharpen her body like a tool. Learned that pretty girls went further, that men sometimes love with their hands and not with their hearts?

What if my little girl became a #MeToo casualty, if a decade post tiny shorts found her sporting baggy sweatshirts and shaking out pills from a bottle — something to help her sleep? Forget? Cope?

What would I have done if shame became a part of her body, a layer of skin that bristled on summer nights when she walked to her car, walked through a crowd, walked into a meeting with a table of men?

These questions leave me breathless. Stories of rape, fear, blame, sexual harassment, social injustice. It’s hard enough to be a woman with my own wounds and scars, my own #MeToo memories.

I wonder how it must feel to be raising a daughter in a Harvey Weinstein world. An Instagram influencer world. A world where photos become fans and social proof becomes self-esteem, becomes the impossible standard.

Two weeks ago, my son and his wife met me at a restaurant. Fidgeting, beaming, stuttering, they broke the news: I’m going to be a grandma.

I keep thinking, I hope it’s a girl. I hope it’s a girl. I hope it’s a girl. But also, I hope it is not.

Rica Keenum is a senior magazine staff writer, the author of Petals of Rain: A Mother’s Memoir, and a new grandmother with not one, but two granddaughters. She is currently shopping for all the girl gear she can find, much to the dismay of her husband. Rica writes about life and motherhood, and takes lots of Instagram pics.

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