Xiao Di Di 小弟弟
Just over two weeks ago, I went to the ultrasound that was supposed to tell us the baby’s sex, not to mention confirm my due date. The ultrasound technician was very nice, but she was unable to tell me any information.
Seems that Canada, particularly with its immigrant population and/or some newly resurfaced “old” ideas about the preference of sons (and thus, gender-related abortions), has enacted a law whereby ultrasound lab technicians are no longer permitted to disclose information to the patient. The only way we could get the data we desired was to wait for the forms to be sent to my midwife and then contact her for the results.
She phoned within the hour. She told us over the phone that Echo would be a big sister to a little brother. Oh, and the due date really is Christmas Day, just as I had predicted.
The truth is, at first I had no reaction. Not good, not bad. I had spent a lot of energy formulating all my reasons why having another girl was my ideal, but when it was told to me that it’s a boy in there, I didn’t feel differently in the least—no shift in my perception of the baby or the pregnancy, not even a slight adjustment to my expectations.
Why was that, I wondered? Then it dawned on me that maybe the Universe is trying to tell me that I already know about babies, and I already know about children, and I already know about motherly love, and so there is no real difference.
Of course, society and culture will throw lots of different curve balls at children for lots of different reasons and biological sex is just one of the many that are zinging through the air. My job, as their mother, is to help my children gather the tools necessary to bat that ball back, confidently, secure in themselves and their identities, regardless of whether they’re male or female.
This realization didn’t come until that evening, however. Between the news and the realization, there was a lot of strangeness that I couldn’t place.
It started when we started to tell people. Guo Jian was on the phone with his parents just moments after the call from the midwife. He tricked them, actually, telling them that the baby is a girl and they rejoiced and said all the right things. His mother even said that she’d dreamed it was a girl and that two girls would be wonderful because she already loves her granddaughter so much. Then he told them the truth and they were equally happy. I have no doubt that they will be good grandparents to each child, equally.
Then, I phoned my parents. It seemed like the thing to do. I got a flutter of “Congratulations!” and exciting exclamations from my mother as she conveyed it to my father across the room while still on the phone. When we arrived at my friend’s place to collect Echo, I also told them the news. They congratulated us with hugs and smiles.
I must have looked a little stunned because they asked me how I felt about the news. I could only explain that I was “wrapping my head around it.” Processing it, so-to-speak.
The thing is, I felt odd to be congratulated for something I hadn’t completed yet. I still have several months of baby-belly cooking time ticking down on the clock. And since I’ve done this once before, I think that the congratulations is better suited for post childbirth, that monumental task our female bodies accomplish!
I understand everyone’s natural responses of support, of course, yet it was still bizarre. I couldn’t place my discomfort and so I just smiled back, dazed and on the sidelines of what felt to be a premature performance.
Later, my mom wrote me an email. She said, “I’m so excited that it’s a boy and so happy for the Guo family line.” Those words stung. She doesn’t read my blog regularly, so she hadn’t seen the last blog about how I was most worried about a boy child getting preferential treatment. Those words—implying that Echo’s presence isn’t significant to their family line but this boy child’s would be—just irked me.
Because it’s true. It’s the way things work, even if Echo uses my last name predominantly, she may marry someone who feels very strongly that their children should take his/her last name. Her surname is not set in stone, in other words, but a boy child has more power in this regard. Male surnames will forever have more assumed prominence. It’s patriarchy.
When I was little, I remember telling my Mom that my children would be Swifts. She explained that I might get married and take my husband’s name. I said, “No, he can take mine!” I proclaimed, proudly. She laughed. I was about nine years old and I never forgot that assertion. I’ve imagined having little Swift kids ever since.
I was relieved when Chinese marriage practices didn’t expect name changes. (It was one less battle I had to engage in.) A Chinese woman doesn’t change her name, officially, and only sometimes gets referred to by her husband’s surname as “the wife of <surname>” (ex. Guo taitai). This is informal, however, and her original name still remains her official name on all identity cards, etc.
Likewise, I was relieved that our babies would have the surname Swift appearing in the Western “surname position,” or LAST NAME position of their name order. Guo Jian was similarly relieved that I wouldn’t want the first position, which is the “surname position” for Chinese names (ex. his surname is “Guo,” given name is “Jian”).
In my mind, my children are Swifts. In his mind, his children are Guos. We both got what we wanted. And, technically, we’re both right. Like a hyphenated name in the West, we are a merged family.
So those things won’t be any different with a boy child than it was with Echo. At least, not in their mommy’s mind.
Knowing that this baby inside me is a boy baby has one other element of weirdness for me, I admit. And, here it is:
I’ve found myself dressing Echo in more girly dresses than ever before. Despite my assertion that babies can wear anything, I have to admit that I’m unlikely to put pink frilly dresses on my boy child. Am I close-minded? Maybe. I haven’t pushed on that sensitive perception button in my brain, except that I’ve been laughing at myself for wistfully saying goodbye to the dresses that are too small for Echo, knowing they won’t be worn again by another baby in this family. Am I too nostalgic? Am I being too superficial?
For what it’s worth, seeing her in so many dresses these past two weeks has made my mother very happy. She has occasionally (and gently) commented that I generally dress Echo a bit too much like “a boy,” causing a lot of confusion with onlookers. I have argued that it’s her absentee hair that causes the confusion, mostly, but it’s true that girls can be dressed “like boys” (or in a more gender-neutral way) whereas it’s extremely rare to see a boy child dressed like a girl, or in a more feminine way.
What is that about? Sexism, I imagine. Ingrained in all of us.
The truth is, I’m not going to solve this issue through an analysis of Echo’s dress wardrobe right now, or, more specifically, through this brief glimpse at my sentimentality towards them. I’ll simply make use of these clothes as best I can and continue to check in with myself as I go along.
People can assume Echo is male or female—it doesn’t bother me. Nor will it bother me if they assume my boy child is a girl child. To me, Echo’s just a toddler who happens to be female. This new baby is likewise going to be an infant who happens to be male.
And maybe I WILL dress this boy child in pink and frills and a dress from time-to-time. Why not? Pushing my own buttons on the issue a little certainly won’t hurt him, anymore than wearing “boy clothes” has hurt Echo, right? We’ll see.
In the end, none of it probably matters in the least in the shaping of their confident identities. They’re only clothes and babies seem to have no opinion of what they’re wearing unless they’re physically uncomfortable. When my children are old enough to dress themselves or express a preference, they can wear whatever they want—no gender specifications. This, I’m certain, is key.
Now, the only hurdle I have is thinking up another name. I have time, yes, but no ideas.
Out comes the dictionary…
*Note: The title of this blog, “Xiao Didi 小弟弟”， mean’s “Little Brother” in Mandarin