I was so sure I was having a boy. I’d even given my baby a boy name, and I talked to my belly and told him he was a great son. A strong, noble, excellent son. People said, “A mother knows…” and nodded along with me.
Not this mother. Apparently, this mother doesn’t know shit.
“Can you tell if he’s a boy or a girl?” I asked the sonographer at the 20 week ultrasound, just to be sure.
She bit her lip and tried not to smile. “Oh yes. I can tell.”
He was a girl. She had always been a girl. I burst into overwhelmed tears. And then something shameful happened. Instead of being fully happy, the way every new mother is supposed to, I was worried. I was worried that she would look like me.
What an embarrassing reaction. I tried to pretend I hadn’t had it. But the thing is, being a girl was not always easy for me. And the not-easiness tended to cluster around my feelings about my appearance. The not-easiness grew and grew until I got plastic surgery at the end of college. By then, I often caught myself feeling downright ugly, and believing that my ugliness was the most critical thing about me. I wasn’t stupid—I tried to shake it, I tried to be reasonable—but my sense of my own failure as a person due to the way I looked felt like a cancer that just kept creeping back. I wanted to cut it out of me, so I signed up for a surgery that would do just that—cut off the bad parts.
I don’t need to get into the whole thing again. The point is, I struggled with the way I looked. And I really, really don’t want my daughter to feel the way I felt. I don’t want her to look at her own body and see only a compilation of unfortunate parts, like scrap metal, pieced together. I don’t want her to look in the mirror and see everything that is missing and failing instead of everything that is present and good and working just fine. And sometimes, so many times, too very many times, girls learn to see the flaws and the lack and the tiny “problems” first and always.
I was scared when I found out that my baby was a girl. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to protect her from that. And from so many other things, of course. But definitely from that.
It’s been months since I found out that I will have a daughter, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot, of course, as she kicks and prods me, and as I get bigger and bigger and begin to gently pee myself at random moments. I’ve had some time to wrestle with my fear. There have been a lot of things I’ve needed to let go of, to prepare for her arrival, for her reality. I have been forced to confront some unresolved issues, my own hang-ups, and the things that upset me most about the world. And after a lot of thought, and a lot of writing in my journal, and a lot of eating cookies in the middle of the night just because “the baby wants a cookie,” I think I’ve finally figured out exactly what I want my daughter to look like. Because looks matter. That’s the truth. And because they don’t have to matter as much as they did for me. That’s also the truth.
So this is what I’ve come up with. This is what I hope my daughter looks like:
I hope that she will look comfortable in her body
I hope that she will look happy
I hope that she will look like she can be bold when she wants to
I hope that she will look like she’s wearing clothes that she likes to wear
I hope that she will look like she’s taken the time to get to know herself
I hope that she will look like she laughs whenever she thinks something is funny
I hope that she will look like she has a pretty good idea where she’s going
I hope that she will look like she can forgive herself
I hope that she will look like she has plenty of fun
I hope that she will look like she isn’t afraid
I hope that she will look exactly like herself
And secretly, under everything, I have come to realize that I actually hope a tiny bit that she looks like me. Despite all of the issues I’ve had over the years with my appearance. Despite the complicated, meandering path to self-acceptance I’ve walked (occasionally barefoot, in the rain, up a giant hill—because I’m friggin’ intrepid). I remember being a little girl and looking in the mirror and loving my own face. I remember thinking that I was beautiful just for existing. And I know, deep down, under the nervousness I have about my daughter, that she will be beautiful just for existing.
And also, I know that she will not be me, even though she is inside my body right now. She will be this complete other person. But maybe, just maybe, she will rock these genes I’ve given her. Maybe she will take them farther than I ever could. Maybe she won’t give a shit. Maybe she will be ferocious. Selfishly, I want that for my features. I want that for my future. I want that for my daughter.
[Photo from Shutterstock]