Giveaway winner results are at the bottom of this post!
The baby was upside down inside me on the ultrasound screen, looking towards my spine, hands up. The technician kept trying to take facial measurements, but it was impossible. She tried for a long time, poking me, shaking my belly. The baby wriggled and squirmed, but wouldn’t turn. The technician, I’m going to call her Lana because I think that was her name, had a lilting Scandinavian accent, and it was clear that she liked babies. “Beautiful,” she said, of my baby’s kidneys. “Just beautiful.”
She was very good about not using gendered pronouns, since I’d asked her (less awkwardly than I’d expected) at the beginning to write the sex in an envelope. That morning, looking for a plain white envelope and card, I’d found this handmade card with a picture of a mama and a baby bear on the cover. I bought it for someone else, years ago, and forgot to send it, because I’m a bad friend like that. They had a boy, and there were lots of pink hearts on the back of the card, which I hadn’t noticed before. Not that it matters, of course. But I’m oblivious.
I was nervous, but I also knew reflexively that my baby was healthy. I was fascinated by the details. The delicate neck, the blurry organs, the long, steady femurs, this whole complicated organism with its tiny relentless heart. Surreal.
The whole time, even as I squinted intently at everything else, I was secretly scanning for the penis. It was a very dedicated secret penis hunt. “Wait…wait…” went my brain. “There! That’s the penis! I found the penis!” It appeared to be located somewhere in the stomach cavity. It was a foot. It was part of the spine. I was so sure the penis was there, somewhere. I had been calling the baby by his perfect name. I sang this song to him a lot, in Hebrew, that began with his name. I love that song. So I knew. But everything was fuzzy and gray and smudged on the screen.
Lana told me after a while to get up and walk around and maybe the baby would move. But when we regrouped, the baby was in exactly the same spot, resilient and stalwart, protecting the face.
Lana called the doctor in, and he tried his hand at convincing my baby to pose for the camera. Nothing. “Everything is fine,” he said, finally. “Everything looks great. We’d just prefer to get clearer shots, but sometimes that can’t happen. Sometimes the baby won’t let us.” And then he got up and shook my hand and then Bear’s hand and left.
“You’ll remember to write in the envelope?” Bear said, a little anxiously, to Lana. She remembered.
And then we were at brunch, ordering omelets from the familiar waiter with the long women’s wig and the big, bulky male frame, who spoke in a gentle, feminine voice. Things can go either way. Any way, really.
“I’m not ready, I’m not ready!” I said. “This is too important!”
“It’s one of those things that’s so important, but you don’t even know what kind of important it will turn out to be,” said Bear. And then he said something about playing Russian roulette, and how both dying and living are a big deal in the context, but totally different, which didn’t really make me feel better, and it wasn’t clear which one was death, a boy or a girl.
No, of course I understood: it felt as extreme as pulling a trigger. Our lives were going to change in a second. And not even because of finding out the baby’s sex so much as finding out something so real about the baby. As though with every new fact, the baby becomes more of a person to me, like chipping away stone until there’s a complete sculpture, just sitting there like it’s been waiting. It can never fit back into the expressionless block- it’s been realized. There’s no going back. I tried to memorize the position of our little table in the restaurant. Three in from the entry, along the right wall.
“It’s a boy,” I said.
“Probably,” he said.
“Wait for the coffee,” I said.
We waited for the coffee.
“I’m opening it,” he said, the brown envelope in his hands.
“No!” I said. “Okay, open it! Don’t show me!”
I felt like I should say a prayer. Like I should do a ritual.
Bear opened the envelope and looked confused. He showed me. There was a question mark written on a little sheet of sticky note paper inside the card.
“Oh,” he said, and flipped it up, revealing a second sheet.
He paused for a long time.
“What? What!” I cried.
“It’s a boy,” he said.
“It’s a boy!”
But there hesitation in his voice. “I think it’s a boy.”
He showed me. There was a little drawing of a smiling face on the second sheet. A few strands of hair poked out the top of its head. It didn’t really look like a boy or a girl, but boy seemed the safer guess.
“What does THAT mean?” I said. “Is it a boy? We have to call them!”
What the hell was Lana’s problem? She took on a sudden, malicious edge in my recent memory. Was this some kind of sonographer’s inside joke? Some sort of clever, condescending comment on our effort to control the situation?
We stared at the image for a while. “I think it’s a boy,” Bear said again.
“I think it is, too,” I said.
And then, suddenly, he said, “Wait!” And there was another page. He flipped it.
He said, “Oh my god.” His face went blank and gentle and his eyes got that glistening, held-in tears look.
“It is a GIRL,” Lana had written.
And I burst into tears.
“It’s a girl,” I choked out.
“It’s a girl,” said Bear, slowly.
And I felt so many things at once I couldn’t do anything. I thought, “This whole time, she’s been a girl.”
She seemed so badass for that. Just being a girl no matter what her parents were thinking. Even as I sang her that song without her name in it.
“Are you okay?” Bear asked me, reaching across the table for my shaking hand.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m just shocked.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised,” he said, smiling and serious and shaky, too, “It was always fifty-fifty.”
But we were surprised.
And I remembered that Bear had said, long before we decided to have a baby, that he really hoped we’d have a daughter. “You’re going to have a daughter,” I told him.
“I don’t know anything about girls,” he said.
“I don’t really either,” I said.
“She’s smart,” he said.
“She is,” I said.
And then I said, “She doesn’t have a name!”
I was stupid. I understand that now.
I wouldn’t let myself think about the baby being a girl. For some reason, in my brain there was only room for a boy. I’m trying to explain it to myself. I was scared. I grew up with two little brothers, and I loved them fiercely. Tiny toddling boys always smile at me on the elevator. I can picture Bear’s son perfectly, but my daughter seems foreign and confusing to me. My picture of myself isn’t clear, that’s why, I think.
Boys names were easy. They sound decisive, firm, cool. I compiled a long list before I settled on The One. I could have five boys and they’d all have great names. But girls names–so many of them sound too pretty to me. They sound interchangeable, sweet, easy. There’s a light, breathy quality to them. And I want my daughter to have a name that sounds strong. I want so many things for her name. I want it to be certain and interesting and meaningful and fresh. I want it to be Jewish. I don’t want it to have emerged from inside a male name. I want it to be simple to read and write. I want it to maybe be a little quirky.
It probably doesn’t matter even close to how much I feel like it matters right now. I know, I’m typical. Just another bobo, according to this line I just read in a Forward article: “Bobo names sound classy but not snotty, familiar but a little quirky, family-feeling but fun, traditional but in a cool ‘Auntie Mame’ way,” Satran says. In other words, they’re names an acculturated but identified Jew might love.
Yup. That’s me. Boringly unoriginal in my effort to be more original. Of course I live in Brooklyn. Of course.
But God, I want to give this girl the best of everything. My daughter. This mysterious baby who hides her face. Who stubbornly refuses to move from the place in the world where she is comfortable, regardless of external pressure. Who measures ahead of schedule because she is big and strong. Who is surprisingly calm. Lana said something about how you can tell the personality of a baby while they’re still inside. And she said something else about this baby being very calm. I am not calm. But I have definitely hidden my face. I have refused to pose. I am terrified right now. I am so absurdly happy. I am pouring over lists of names. What should I call my daughter?
* * *
What is your favorite girl name? Tell me if I’m not allowed to steal it and I promise I won’t. One of my favorite non-Jewish girls’ names is Lyra, after the heroine in the His Dark Materials series.
People with kids– what is the story of you finding out the sex? I’d LOVE to hear it! My mom waited until we were born. She’s a big believer in that. I’m glad I didn’t wait!
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in this photo that Rachel took of me, even though it’s clear I’m in my messy bedroom and not on some glamorous set:
When Rachel found out it was a girl, she started wildly kicking the air, yelling, “YES! YES! SISTERHOOD!”
Oh, and don’t think I forgot!!! The winner of the Shabby Apple birthday giveaway is….commenter #77, Karoline! Congratulations!!! I hope you’ll let me know what you end up picking so I can drool over it And please send me an email so I can hook you up with Shabby Apple!