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The daughter I never had

I was sitting at my desk in the farthest corner of the office when I heard the high-pitched cooing that can only mean one thing: women entranced by a visiting baby. Sure enough, there she lay in the arms of one smitten staffer after another, submitting to the fuss with the slightly weary grace of a queen on a royal tour. When she rubbed her fluttering eyelids with a tiny pink fist, I murmured the same breathless inanities as everyone else. She was winsome, all right. And thank God she wasn’t mine.

I once assumed that a daughter would be part of my life someday. I thought so growing up in a proudly female family (my mother had two daughters, like her mother before her). I thought so during my pregnancy with the baby we were going to call Miranda. Ben arrived instead, supposedly the first of two children. How could our second fail to be a girl? For years I pictured myself reading “The Little Mermaid” to Miranda (Ben preferred Curious George), making paper dolls with Miranda (Ben was into Lego). She would grow up to share my passion and my mother’s for what some would call gossip, although I prefer to call it the study of human nature.

But the moment never came for another baby. My husband and I waited until we could buy our first house, waited until we established two careers, waited some more for reasons long since forgotten and all well short of the truth. In our late 30s, with Ben well into high school, we both realized we’d waited too long. Our family was complete, and it was time to make absolutely sure we wouldn’t have another baby.

We didn’t agonize over the choice between his vasectomy and my more complicated tubal ligation, as so many couples do. “It’s his turn to worry about birth control,” says a woman I know who’s in the thick of this debate right now. But for my husband and me, the issue wasn’t fairness; it was knowledge. Over the years, imperceptibly at first, I’d come to know as surely as I know my name that I would never want another child—not even the sweet possibility of a daughter. If something happened to my husband, I could end up pushing a stroller at 40-plus, with my next love. No, thanks. And if something happened to me? My husband wasn’t ready to rule out a second family.

I volunteered for the surgery. The consent form warned that it couldn’t be reversed (of course not; wasn’t finality the whole idea?). I signed with a flourish.

There’s something surprisingly exhilarating about an irrevocable decision that simply feels right. You don’t need to tally up the pros and cons; you’re not afraid to be held accountable. You know what you must do—often after much struggle—because you know who you are.

A friend of mine spent years in an excruciating marriage. Many people, including her therapist, had advised her to get out, but she was determined to make it work for the sake of her children. When she knew she’d tried everything, she spent many tearful months trying to find the mental clarity to leave. Once she made up her mind and faced the truth she’d been trying to avoid, it was easy. She rented a place for herself and the kids and fixed it up to suit herself (in the marital home, her husband had called the shots). These days she looks so vibrant, you might think she’d found a new love. What she has actually found is knowledge.

I predict it’s going to serve her well. Since I signed that consent form a dozen years ago, I’ve found other decisions less daunting. (Sell the house? Take the job? No sweat.) Instead of a daughter, I have a 20-something friend whose complicated dilemmas have been the theme of some lively lunches. I can’t resist giving her advice, which she seldom follows. Which is just fine with me—although if I were her mother, I’d take a harder line. Whether she’s right is for her to know someday—the privilege of a woman in charge of her life and all it’s daunting, thrilling possibilities.

First published in Chatelaine, June 2000. Copyright Rogers Media Publishing.

 

Posted by Rona

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