I recently summoned up the courage to read my mother’s autobiography she wrote the year she died, 18 years ago. It took me that long to realize I would never be strong enough to read it without the raw emotions bubbling up to the surface again. Sure enough, I cried when I read it having not heard “her voice” for so long. After finishing it, I wished she had written more about how she felt to be leaving the family she loved and what she hoped for her grandchildren’s future. One extremely interesting sentence she wrote was how happy she was to have had the “all-American” family of happy parents with one boy and one girl. I never knew she felt that way when she was alive and yet, it must have resonated with me unconsciously.
I always wanted a family that looked like the one I grew up in—two parents, a son and a daughter. When my mother died, my second son was only two months old and everything seemed shattered. I no longer had that perfect relationship with my mother and my expectation of having a daughter wasn’t met. I was completely in love and overjoyed with both of my boys and yet, my “perfect” family was different than what I had always wanted. I was missing the “girl” part of the equation. I have always wondered if I would have needed a daughter as much if my mother hadn’t died so young.
I also wonder if every mother suffers from perfection issues when it comes to their family. Do we develop a picture of the “perfect” family for ourselves at a young age and then strive for it when we are old enough?
After I adopted my beautiful daughter, many friends and acquaintances with two sons approached me for advice about adoption, since they too wished for a girl. I referred to this group of women as the “all boys club” in a previous post. Why do so many women need their own daughter? Do we feel that we want to replace ourselves in the world or do we just crave that female relationship within our own family that friends just cannot successfully replace?
We all know the couples who have three or even four sons. When we were growing up, my brother’s best friend had five brothers and no sisters. I never really thought about his mother when I was young, but I surely thought about her when my second son was born. The number of sports uniforms and the amount of laundry alone were staggering thoughts. Now that my boys are both young adults, they make my life so much easier and bring me joy every day, as they always have. Even though I was very blessed with my family of four, I never felt complete until after I adopted my daughter ten years ago.
Everyone has different needs and dreams. Many women are completely fulfilled with only sons or only daughters. I know many mothers who have only girls in their family. I often wonder if they feel a deep need for a son? Many women need both.
For some, like me, adoption is the answer. Other couples look to science for family balancing. There are a number of approaches including centrifugal sperm spinning and laser-based MicroSort which separates X and Y sperm (with varying degrees of a success) to control the gender of a baby. Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) where doctors can examine embryos for genetic disorders and gender before implanting them into a woman’s womb is another technique. But as the Newsweek article from February 1, 2004 titled “Science: Brave New Babies” points out, “The ability to create baby Jack or baby Jill opens a high-tech can of worms. While the advances have received kudos from grateful families, they also raise loaded ethical questions. Even fertility specialists are divided over whether choosing a male or female embryo is acceptable. What’s next on the slippery slope of modern reproductive medicine?” That article was published close to a decade ago and science has only gotten better since then, and the moral discussion has grown along with it.
Life is short and living without your dreams completely fulfilled is challenging. There are no right answers, just lots of questions and options to consider. The one thing I am sure of now is that there is no “perfect” all-American family for everyone. We are all different and thankfully, America boasts and supports all types of families. That’s what makes life more interesting for all of us.