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Precious

JAN 11 -

Mine was a planned cesarean. This meant I had all the time in the world to prepare myself, and those around me, for the baby that was to come. We’d conceived after making rounds to the doctor for over a year, and although being responsible for the little life inside of you is a heavy concept in itself, I told myself I had enough good instinct and common sense to raise the child once it was out.

Easier said than done. If I’d first been introduced to the rigours of patriarchy at marriage, my real row with it kicked off after I gave birth to the baby. Six months since and today, I’m still struggling to grasp how profoundly I’d underestimated the gender divide.

Two years into my marriage, and we were still yet to conceive. My family members were worried something was wrong. Check-ups revealed that I had polycystic ovary syndrome, but it was manageable. Another issue, however, that complicated conception, was that my uterus was smaller than is common. In fact, given these factors, I was once even counselled to be ready to consider adoption.  

So it was something of a feat when I finally got pregnant. And  ever since I can remember, I’d always wanted a baby girl, probably because of the close relationship I have with my mother and sister. So, for me, my baby was always going to be a her, although I didn’t know it for certain until she was born. But throughout my pregnancy, right up to the eve of the birth, I’d been adamant that the people around me not utter the word ‘precious’ with regards to the baby. The gynecologist had been the first to say it, attributing the label to the difficulty we’d had conceiving the child, and it had caught on amid family members.

What put me off the word was that I didn’t want my baby growing up thinking she was special, and mining that fact for her own advantage. I wanted her to be normal, regardless of how much work had gone into bringing her into the world.

But, less than two hours after the birth, ‘precious’ had suddenly fallen out of fashion.

Much to the annoyance of the nurses there, my family was traipsing in and out of the observation room where I was being kept for a day after the c-section. They wanted to see how I was doing, and more importantly, get a look at the child.

Only, once they discovered she was a girl, their attitudes suddenly swung around. To my great shock, it started with my favourite aunt, a role model practically, who gave me a commiserating look and told me that I shouldn’t worry, “She’ll love you just like you loved your mother.” Another aunt went one better, spending more than half an hour consoling me for birthing a daughter, and reminding me that if I started planning another baby without wasting time, I’d definitely have a son next. What’s worse is that while my parents and aunt had long been talking about holding a little congratulatory ceremony for my husband, the new father, all preparations were forgotten when they found out the sex of the baby.

And the hits have just kept on coming since.

I’ve found myself having to constantly defend my daughter to relatives, forbidding them from ever making her feel inadequate in any way for being born

a girl. But still, practically every other day, I meet someone or the other who feels the need to sympathise with me for not begetting a son. And so I spout those lines that have become so familiar to me through repetition—“don’t you dare say that in front of my daughter”… “she’s a lovely, healthy child and I couldn’t have asked for more.”

This sort of blatant discrimination comes as something of a surprise to me, having been raised in a family where such things were never an issue. For instance, some of my in-laws were suggesting rushing my daughter’s naming ceremony because of her sex, but I was insistent on doing it per procedure. Even then, the only blessings I received from my aunts-in-law were for me to conceive a grandson by the next year. There are also the well-meaning, but deluded, relatives, who advise me to check the baby’s sex beforehand so as to avoid having a daughter for the second time.

“Are you really going to go through all that again?” they ask. “You know your father-in-law won’t stop hoping for a grandson until he gets one.”

Sometimes, there’s little else you can do except tell people to mind their own business. The fact of the matter is, I don’t want another child right away, least of all on someone else’s whim, and I’ll only consider it if I feel my daughter is ready for a sibling. In any case, that is a private issue, between me, my husband and daughter. And regardless of whether that sibling turns out to be a younger sister or brother, I’ll be overjoyed either way, and would not even think of testing the baby’s sex for the purposes of abortion. That is something I’m never, ever, going to find acceptable.

I want to ask these family members, what difference would it really have made if my daughter had been born a son? What, besides a biological detail, renders her any less than a boy her age? In the end, doesn’t it all come down to how children are raised?

Gender socialisation begins right after birth, shaping not just my dau-ghter but your sons as well. What they are told, taught and the way they are treated, these determine what they become in the future. And it starts at home. Had I not been raised as an equal to my brother, I would’ve perhaps pined for a son with a ferocity similar to yours. And I am, as always, floored by the strength my mother exhibited in sticking to her guns in light of social pressures.

That is what I want for my child, for her to become a bold, rational, kind human being, judged on the basis of her accomplishments rather than any presumed weaknesses associated with her sex. What we tell our children today will have an effect on generations to come—do we really want them to be confined within these restrictive, discriminatory gender roles? I don’t, and in whatever small way I can, I will make sure that my child is raised well enough to recognise that for herself and pass it on to her own children.

Posted on: 2013-01-12 09:53


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