Thursday, December 9, 2010

Boy or Girl

So today’s Day of Thanks was again, a little bit of a mixed blessing. When I first saw the penguin items in the Gymboree collection my friend Brooke had told me about, I was pretty disappointed that all they seemed to have were boy clothes. There were a few items that might work for a boy or a girl, but everything was pretty boyish.

And then I did a keyword search for “penguin,” and turned up a whole other collection of little girl penguin items. I was thrilled. It wasn’t until I saw those that I started thinking seriously about going ahead and buying the stuff (these storewide sales usually only last a day or two) and returning it later if it ended up not being for the right gender. I bought a few items from both the boys’ and the girls’ collections. I also bought several items in both 6-12 months size, which will hopefully fit the Penguin next winter, and 18-24 months size, which will hopefully fit the following winter.

After I’d clicked “Purchase,” I had to think really hard about who I was buying these clothes for. A friend of ours told us that when her aunt became pregnant again after having lost her daughter at the age of two, the aunt was convinced for a while that her daughter was in her belly again. Even though I don’t feel this way, I definitely understand the impulse. It’s easy to succumb to a sensation (for that’s what it is—just a vague, inexplicable impression) that having another baby will somehow reincarnate Hudson. I keep having to remind myself that this baby may not be a girl. That this baby will not be Hudson’s age for another two years. And most importantly, that I will love and cherish this baby in spite of those things. I remember thinking when Hudson was an infant that I really needed to cherish this time with her, to stop looking ahead to all the milestones that she would soon hit, to stop looking forward to when she would get more “fun” by interacting and playing—I knew I would never again have this kind of one-on-one time with an infant, because the next time I had an infant, I would also have a really busy toddler on my hands. I could not have known that would prove to be untrue. I imagine that I will have to be even more intentional about appreciating the early months with the Penguin, because I know I will be tempted to look ahead even more, now that I know how much fun things will really get, and now that I miss that fun so desperately.

This is one of the reasons that Ed and I have decided that we are going to find out the sex of this baby. We did not find out with Hudson, and if Hudson hadn’t died, we would not likely have found out with the Penguin, either. When I was pregnant with Hudson, I just felt strongly that the sex of the baby is one of the only real surprises we grown-ups get, one of the only things that can replicate the joy of Christmas morning that I loved so much as a child. But this time, things are so much more complicated. The delivery day is going to be so incredibly emotional, infinitely more so than with Hudson, and adding an additional surprise on top of that just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

But even more importantly, I am going to have to do some serious emotional preparation for either a boy or a girl. Ed and I have discussed that in many ways, it seems like it would be “easier,” on both us and the Penguin, if this baby is a boy. Having a boy would be so totally different than having a girl—boys grow differently, they develop differently, they dress differently. It just seems like it would be an easier emotional experience than having another girl right away—hopefully we’d be less inclined to compare the Penguin to Hudson.

But on the other hand, I loved mothering a daughter. I was so looking forward to all the mother-daughter things. And I guess part of me was hoping to do some healing for myself from my impaired relationship with my own mother by trying to do it “right” with my daughter (I know, I know—start a therapy fund for the kids now). So I really, really want to have another daughter. And each pregnancy that I don’t means one less chance. I certainly know from my friends who have all boys that it’s a joyous and unique experience in itself. And I know that if I ultimately end up having all boys, I will still love every minute of it. But if I never have another daughter with whom I can share those mother-daughter things, then the loss of Hudson will just be compounded so many times over, at so many points long down the road. It just seems like it would be adding insult to injury—I was able to get a small taste of that special mother-daughter bond, only to have it snatched away from me. Not that another daughter could ever replace Hudson. One of my grief books sort of baldly asserts that when a parent finds herself longing for a subsequent child of the same sex, then she may be looking to replace the dead child. Although that sentence has taken on a life of its own in the back of my mind, I pretty much think it is bullshit. No child could ever replace Hudson, and anyone who thinks differently has never lost a child. Another daughter hitting puberty will not change the fact that I will never get to help Hudson through puberty. Another daughter’s wedding will not change the fact that I will never get to help plan Hudson’s wedding. Another daughter’s pregnancy will not change the fact that I will never get to share Hudson’s pregnancy with her. But I guess my hope is that getting to share those experiences with another daughter will ultimately bring some healing, because the alternative is that I will never stop longing for a mother-daughter relationship for as long as I live—every time I see a mother and daughter together, I will think, “That should be me with Hudson.” And again, even though another daughter could never just take Hudson’s place in that equation, at least I wouldn’t forever feel even more cheated, doubly so, than I already feel having lost her.

I don’t know. As I’m sitting here writing, I’m thinking, “Well, maybe this does sound like I just want a replacement for Hudson.” Because the special relationship I have been denied is with Hudson, not with another child, be it a boy or a girl. It makes sense in my head, but when I write it, it sounds a lot like a rationalization.

In any event, you can see why it’s probably a good idea for us to find out in advance what we are having. If we are having a boy, then we can spend the rest of this pregnancy getting excited about that, buying boy stuff (which we have none of), and learning a little about what things might be different (and, though it fills me with dread to even think about, deciding whether or not to circumcise—argh). If we are having a girl, then we can spend the rest of the pregnancy preparing ourselves that this little girl will not be Hudson, and though she may be like Hudson (as may be a little boy), she will be her own little person, with her own personality and way of doing things (which, of course, is also true for a little boy). That may sound like it should be common sense, but when it comes down to it, I imagine it will be harder than I even anticipate it will.

Wow. This all does make sense in my head. Reading it, though, just makes me scratch my head.


  1. I think a thought can make sense and still seem puzzling at the same time... it is speaking to different aspects of who you are right at this moment -- grieving mother, expecting mother. Thank you for being so open with your feelings... it truly IS a privilege to witness!

  2. It makes so much sense, Mandy. You do want Hudson back with you (we all do so very badly). But that's not what you're getting to get, which---as infinitely crazy as it seems---will be just what you need. You're going to have a wonderful, beautiful little baby, boy or girl, and while he/she won't fill the void left behind by Hudson's short life, your love will expand and grow around that hole so that it's a part of your family, but not all of it. It seems like none of us can say it enough, but you're doing an awe-inspiring job already of being a mommy to Penguin. He or she is completely blessed to have you and Ed. -Sara

  3. I agree with LTA above, Mandy, and also appreciate your adorably wry humor at times in this post. You and Ed will have a lucky kid and will love him or her and Hudson will always be a part of your family, its stories, its history. I cannot believe that's it's 'only' 166 days until your due date.
    A few months ago I lost someone who was going to become a grandmother at the same time I am (whenever that may be, she said eagerly!), since her daughter and my son are loving partners. I look forward to talking about my friend, Rochelle, so much, helping make her known to her grandchild(ren).
    Hudson, in her short life, has left a lot of photos, videos, memories to be shared within your growing family.

    Much love,

  4. Mandy, I think you make a lot of sense and I think you are only human to feel those conflicting emotions. Boy or girl, once you meet that beautiful babe you will be absolutely convinced that that little one is exactly the baby you were meant to have as your second child. And he or she will be so lucky to have you and Ed as parents.

  5. My first thoughts after ultrasound revealed "Crew" to be a boy: 1) "Crap; now we have to decide about circumcision" (we decided against, but to each their own) 2) "My poor MIL." (Two grandsons 1.5 years apart will wreck her quiet, ordered, off-white home. Heh, heh.)

    Even though I rail against gender being a determinant of a child's interests, character, or even favorite colors, somehow knowing the gender did help me bond with my unborn baby as an individual. For certain, this is a lucky baby who will be an absolute joy (and yet not a replacement or a cure for grief) either way.

  6. Although I hope to someday, I have not experienced a mother-daughter bond (from the mother role, I mean). But I can tell you that I have been so pleasantly surprised by the enormous beauty of the mother-son bond. It is really wonderful to parent a boy. I used to think I'd be so upset if I never had a girl, but after having two boys, I know I could be very happy with all boys. And you already know how wonderful it is to parent a girl. So, either way, you have so much to look forward to. And, for that, I am very thankful.

  7. We knew for our son, but the ultrasound person couldn't get a good shot for our current baby in utero. I definitely feel like the bonding is different.
    Also, I was babysitting another baby from the time she was 6 months old until 18, she is the same age as my son. They were different in many ways, but not "the girl was more verbal" and "the boy was more physical" in fact it was quite the opposite. I'm glad I had that experience, because they were different, because they are different people, and all people are different.
    Your baby will be similar to Hudson in many ways, I'm sure, but also very, very different in many ways: their favorite first foods, wether they like to be swaddled, hang in the swing, bouncy chair, carried. If they like music and hum when you sing to them, or not... they will be different because they are different - and that is ok. They will be similar because they will share genetic material and have you and Ed as their wonderful parents - and that is ok too. In fact, it is a beautiful miracle, and the gift of being able to reproduce.
    Don't worry about all of your feelings sounding nuts. I think lots of parents have feelings like that, even when they haven't lost a child.
    Part of me wants the baby inside me to be a girl, so she is different than my son, and part of me really wants a boy because I love my son so much and I just want more of (HIM?? - yes, no, yes, maybe......)
    So, don't worry too much about that... I think its common for most parents with subsequent children.... and enjoy your pregnancy and all of the time you have to spend with this one.
    Your story has made me treasure time spent in pregnancy so much more, knowing that every week I have with the baby, even in utero, is another week that can't be taken away from me. =)

  8. In some wild way, everything you are saying makes perfect sense. Your thoughts are running rampant-as they would be if you were either only the grieving mama, or only the pregnant one. But you are both! Planning for the Penguin is good. Trying to make sense of your loss is also good. You are a wonderful mama and mama-to-be.
    Hugs to you, Ed, Penguin, and of course to Hudson. I feel sure she knows how loved she is. And I know that for every sweet, loving moment you shared, she knew darned well that nobody could ever replace her.

  9. It makes perfect sense to me. We find out next Wednesday whether we are having a boy or a girl, and we've agreed that a girl would be easier emotionally for a number of reasons -- primarily because it would allow our son to remain our special, only son, even though we never brought him home, and because we are afraid that the rest of the world will treat this baby as a replacement if it is a boy.

    But by the same token, I am grieving the loss of the chance to parent a son. I would so love to raise a little boy.

    Either way, we need time to process it; we are definitely finding out ahead of time.

  10. Not everything translates into words.No matter how articulate, words are kind of top layer projections, static and held in place; unlike thoughts that are accompanied by feelings that arise from experiences that can only be known to the speaker.

    Two nosey comments on your child-rearing plans, big sister style:

    I have had the therapy..put that out of your head and your kids will be just fine.

    Do NOT circumcise!!!

    Love ya!


  11. It makes perfect sense to me. You've made me pull a funny face whilst reading this post as I'm trying to smile and cry at the same time.

    “That should be me with Hudson.” I wish it could be. It seems so terribly, terribly wrong that it will not be. I know I've said it before but I am so deeply sorry that your sweet girl is not here with you.

  12. Mandy,

    I heart is in my stomach. I have had an impaired relationship with my mother too. I am thankful she is still here because having my first child made me see her differently and see another side of her that has "simmered" some of the sparks/issues we have had. I laughed out loud at the therapy fund part. I had a son first and the whole time I was hoping it would be a boy and until I read your post, I realized it was really b/c I was worried I would have the kinda crappy mother daughter relationship I am experiencing. I am pregnant again and like you, we are going to find out (unlike last time) and I am thrilled.

    Sorry for the self therapy, but thanks for your open thoughts and incredible insight of this journey.

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  14. Mandy, it all makes sense to me. Of course, no child will or could ever be a replacement for Hudson! But I do know you will love parenting (and just plain LOVE, with the same intensity and passion you love Hudson) the Penguin, whoever he or she is. If the Penguin is a boy, know that there is a very special bond between a mama and a son that I couldn't have prepared myself for and that is something truly wonderful. (Although being Jewish, the circumcision decision was made for me -- so I didn't have to deal with that :-)).

    Finally, I had to laugh at your therapy comment. I'm convinced that everyone needs a little therapy from time to time -- it's just part of being self-aware! (Or maybe this is my rationalization....)

  15. I think the end goal is to be as happy as one can be and to help make the life of your little Penguin as happy as it can be. While it's probably good to roll all of these ideas about replacement around in your mind sometimes, I think you have such a clear vision for wanting to be the best possible mom that really, it doesn't matter if you are rationalizing or not or maybe some mixture of the two....

  16. For what it's worth, I don't think it sounds like you're trying to magically bring Hudson back with the Penguin. It makes perfect sense that you would have the desire to parent a daughter independent of your missing Hudson -- I mean, if you were to have a daughter, and she turned out to be the total opposite of Hudson in likes and style and personality, I for one am confident you wouldn't love her any less.

    (On the circumcision: I feel you. I'm Jewish, and I still don't want to do it, should we ever have a boy.)

  17. I can understand all of this--I hope that whatever the Penguin is that he/she is as charming and delightful as Hudson. I hope that as you come to know and cherish this baby it will fill some of the hole in your heart. We are eagerly awaiting your announcement in January!

    PS-- we have an "unmatched set" (my poor boys, this is waaaay too much info for the w.w.w.!) because as it turns out, our experiences taught us that circumcision isn't really all it's cracked up to be!

  18. I think all of this makes perfect sense... it is a place between what was and what will be that you are trying to navigate. And all that is missing in between makes this that much more difficult... full of questions and thoughts like what you have written here. Sending you grace Mandy...

  19. Mandy, sorry, I have to almost chuckle, because I could have written this post myself (of course not nearly so eloquently). All my life I dreamed of having three daughters (ask my therapist about that one!). When I finally did, I felt so vindicated for my less than ideal childhood.
    When V. died -- talk about adding insult to injury! And then my sub being a boy...well, it just felt like the universe was having the last laugh.
    I can't say I've completely reconciled myself (or that I ever will) to the loss of that girlhood dream, but I'm really coming to love my new reality of two girls and a boy. My little son is so sweet...I kind of think we're going to have a great time together. :)
    xoxo, Olivia