The woman pushed a magic wand hard against my stretch-marked belly. There you appeared, black and white on the screen. Your profile made my thoughts say “little elf,” your nose so delicate. I fixated on the quick rhythm in the middle of this first image – a heart inside my body, but not my heart.
I was sure you were a boy. Simply positive.
Or positive that I needed you to be a boy.
I had no idea how to raise a boy, and it seemed worse having no idea how to protect a girl. I knew too much about the world.
If it’s a boy, I can teach him to respect girls and women.
I was blind to the implications of this knee-jerk idea, how it was my biggest-yet attempt to get my power back, to do something about the relentless taking of women.
I grieved over the sexual harm done to boys, and I still willed you their way in hopes the known stats would be on our side. It was my best chance to get you through the minefield of childhood with your body and spirit still intact.
I had no other plan, still gushing blood from my own shrapnel wounds.
No other plan, ‘cause who ponders preventative care while frantically stitching? Who looks calmly toward the future when the stormy past feels so right now?
And then, the wand woman diagnosed you GIRL.
GIRL is to perpetually be or contain or take in the world’s darkness. My bones and hollows and flesh were certain of it.
Still, I reacted to the news as I imagined a mother would – a smile, a reach toward the father’s hand. I held them both tight and numb-like until I was alone. This is what you do when you are housing antique stories of violation – you spend your life in role play, the whole world a stage.
Lady says, “Here’s a tissue for your belly.”
You say, “Thank you.”
Lady says, “Congratulations!!!”
You say, “Thank you!!!”
You become mirror on mirror, reflecting a reflection through all your years until your identity has all but disappeared. You say what you’re supposed to say, do what you’re supposed to do, be what you’re supposed to be.
Prude for saying no.
Slut for enjoying pleasure.
Adulteress for being groomed.
Bossy for being bold.
Slanderer for telling the truth.
Bitch face for not smiling.
Crazy for having feelings.
Temptation for having a body.
Thankful you’re wanted for anything at all.
You learn to smile and wave. To adapt. Work with what you have. Make the best of what you’re given.
It’s what you do when you’re a woman living as a victim.
We walked out of the ultrasound room. Light rolled toward us in the bare, echo-chamber hallway, the kind of light that comes from a place unseen, the kind of light that waits for a person just around the corner. I walked toward it with my awareness of loving you already, of failing you already.
Guilt was an unmentionable between me and your father, so we spoke of our genuine surprise instead. We had already chosen names for our son; now we needed to wonder about yours.
Please understand, and forgive me, my beloved! I had no words then for the complexities I am unfolding now. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want you, it’s that I had always hated being me. Hated being GIRL.
But this I did know – you quieted my soul at once, daughter. Quieted me all the way around that corner, all the way into the unknown, all the way into now.
Perhaps I needed quieting – It is the Teacher’s invitation to speak.
You are ten years old now.
Just recently you burst into the backseat of the car and announced you would be intentional about using important-sounding words. Then you asked me what intentional meant.
“It means to do something on purpose. Here, I’ll use it in a sentence.”
I sat up straight and gave each word like a last word.
You tilted your head, chin up, and grinned in agreement.
I hear parents say they can’t wait to see what God’ll do one day in and through their child. They await a greatness, forgetting how greatness so often comes through the least of these, forgetting how it is already before them now, living and moving and breathing.
Do you remember our bedtime prayer several weeks ago? You, a self-proclaimed “doubting Thomas,” threw your hands up in surrender and told the truth for both of us, maybe even for the whole world.
“I just want someone to FOLLOW!” said your tiny voice.
May we all have the courage to name this universal ache out loud. May we all choose The Resurrected One who answers our plea with a whisper: “Follow me.”
Who’s to say Jesus was the only infant who ever illuminated a heart?
Who’s to say any child can’t also be the mustard seed? The little bit of faith that can move a dark mountain, mend an old wound, hold up a new mirror?
I had no idea when you turned four and six and eight I’d see myself as a little girl in your face and love myself at four and six and eight, and you, all at once and for the first time, over and over again.
I had no idea your blue water eyes would be a new reflection. Those little mirrors see with the heart and could not be fooled by my old role-play games. They gave a sobering and beautiful truth back to me – You didn’t care what my story had been or why. You didn’t bother with my hating myself, with my hating being a girl.
You just needed me. You just needed your mother.
Freedom invitations come to each of us differently, but if ever there was a reason for me to move from victim to survivor, from survivor to a woman who thrives, you were mine. And after a little while, I discovered I was reason enough, too.
Together, we have grown up into love.
When you were cradled safely inside of me, I refused to consider I would never be able to shelter you from everything.
Being a girl in this world can mean you’re vulnerable in ways that could make even God scream. It’s no wonder we so often parent from a posture of fear (control) rather than from our place of freedom (love) – we parents feel so powerless sometimes, so vulnerable in our own ways. Our hearts want nothing but goodness for you, yet we cannot promise it.
What I can do is fight for you. Protect you through boundaries and wisdom, teaching and prayer, presence and help. I will be both gentle and fierce, and I’ll never give up, not on myself or on you. Your body and spirit deserve this.
Above all, I promise to reflect back to you your own true heart, to remind you always of who you really are – chosen, lovely, powerful, sacred, made-in-God’s-image warrior, and on and on. Should your bones and hollows and flesh take in the darkness of the world, the darkness need not destroy you, no matter what measure of it may come. You can always bring heaven to earth, and you can still give birth to light.
I continue to feel the weight of that guilty hush in the hospital hallway, but I count it now as holy. In the months that followed, your dad and I searched intensely for your name. We knew only that it already existed in the spiritual realm, just as you did. Our mission was not to create the name for you, but simply to capture it.
There was only one name that came back to us again and again like a rolling tide.
You are my daughter, and more importantly, the daughter of the God whose unconditional love is like the vast and powerful and overwhelming sea. This sea is where you must abide, and may your name remind you of this. He will carry you and protect you in ways I cannot, but I will be there alongside you.
Thank God you’re a girl, Maryn.
Maryn “of the sea.”