To My Daughter on Her 1st Birthday,
I did not know how much I could love you. I did not know how much joy you could bring to my life and the life of our family. I did not know how much I needed you, to help me, become the mother I am today. I did not know this because I did not think you could possibly be meant for me.
I was going to be the mother of two boys. I knew it. I felt it and therefore it had to be so. When I found out you were a perfectly healthy, baby girl growing in my belly, my world, my vision of what was to be… shattered. I knew I was supposed to be happy, joyful, and have all those other emotions a mother is SUPPOSED to feel when she finds out she is pregnant with a HEALTHY baby, but I did not. I was panicked, crippled, all – consumed with worry that I could not possibly be the mother of a girl.
I was not good enough, smart enough, accomplished enough to be a role model for you and all that you needed to grow into a strong, independent, and confident woman. How could God have given me this task with the brokenness I felt as I looked at my own reflection.
I researched and read and cried (almost daily) trying to discover the root of my sadness; Gender Disappointment. While it seemed a farfetched and fake syndrome, the more I read, the more I understood. Many mothers and some fathers battle this and mostly in silence, too embarrassed to share with anyone for fear of being ostracized over not being elated about a HEALTHY baby. I wanted to be elated. I wanted to start the “nesting” process as I did when we found out about your brother. I wanted to imagine your face and smile every time I felt you kick me.
But I could not.
As your daddy comforted me telling me I was good enough, smart enough, and accomplished enough to be your mother, I tried to believe him. I wanted to believe him.
Months passed into my pregnancy with you and some days I would smile and rub my swelling belly with affection and hope everything would turn out ok and other days the fear of having a daughter would plague me.
It was the week before Christmas, a month before your impending arrival. Your brother and I went to an evening church service. The music and sermon were beautifully aligned with the upcoming birth of Jesus. As I was listening to the music, I thought of Jesus’s mother, Mary. She must have been fearful, scared, and felt inadequate to be giving birth to this baby. Would she be good enough, smart enough, or accomplished enough to care for this special child? It was at that moment, tears welled in my eyes and a warm feeling came over me… It was all going to be ok. I didn’t know how it would be ok, but God knew and he was showing me in that moment. I hugged your brother tightly and let that feeling, the feeling of peace wash over me.
Over the last few weeks of pregnancy. I tried to remember that feeling…peace… that I felt during the Christmas service. I began to reflect upon my fears of being a mother to you. What if you didn’t feel pretty enough to be happy in your own skin or confident enough to follow even the biggest of your dreams? What if you didn’t believe in yourself or respect yourself enough to choose healthy relationships with friends and partners? What if you were teased by other girls or boys, allowing yourself to believe that you were any less than perfect?
On January 22, 2015, you came into my world. My world of peaceful fear. You were beautiful from the moment I saw you. The day after you came home from the hospital, your daddy, granddaddy, and I were sitting on the couch while I nestled you close. Tears began to flow, just as they had on the night of the Christmas service, tears of joy, happiness, and unconditional love that I thought I would not be able to feel for you. I cried as I said to your daddy and granddaddy, “I can’t believe how much I love her. I never thought I would be able to love someone this much.”
It wasn’t until some time later, that I could process all that had happened in that moment. But when I did, I realized that I did in fact love you from the moment I knew you were going to be my daughter, the moment of that first ultrasound. But what I did not love enough, was myself. I was reliving my own insecurities of being a girl, an adolescent, and a young adult and the memories of that struggle. I was not always confident nor did I feel comfortable in my own skin. And the fear I had over having you as a daughter was for you to have the same feelings and struggles I had.
I know now that there will be hard times in your life. There will be times of struggle as you navigate the world and find your own identity. But now, now my dear Ellie, I can help. I will teach you to be confident; able to follow even your biggest dreams. To find comfort in your own skin; knowing you are beautiful inside and out. And to respect yourself; enough to choose healthy happy relationships with those around you. I will teach you as you have taught me.
I am enough. I am smart enough, accomplished enough, and confident enough in who I am as a woman to be your mother.
I will love you always.
Happy 1st Birthday to you my sweet, sweet Ellie Belly.
This letter was written years before Charlie died, not knowing I would eventually have not just one but two daughters. As I reflect on the words I wrote, I believe the fears I had then, have come to the surface with the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ruth served 27 years on the Supreme Court during which she fueled the legal fight for women’s equality in the 1970s and supported women’s reproductive freedom. Ginsburg was the woman, for all women and we need to continue her fight. We live in a country where women are still battling equal wages, medical care, maternity leave and rights to make decisions for their own bodies. We need women to be empowered as a gender, as we are not only strong mothers, strong workers, but strong Americans. We need women in roles of leadership not only to advocate and speak out for progress but to be a constant reminder to us and our children that women can and should be in the forefront of America.
So I ask you humbly, to read my letter once again… with this in mind, I am a master’s educated, middle-class woman with a career and family who still fears that her own feelings of inadequacy as a female will be reflected in her daughter. I was scared to have a daughter not because I wouldn’t love her, but because our world would not treat her the same way as a son. I can’t imagine I am alone in my fear and as we celebrate the life of our dear Ruth, I suspect more of us are worried now than ever before.
Let us not allow her work, the work to make a more equitable America for women, end with her death. Instead, let the women she leaves behind be her legacy, giving us the fuel to stand up for our rights and know…
We are smart enough, confident enough, and accomplished enough and deserve to be just as valued as a man.