July 2003, and I am sitting in my old-school, no-nonsense therapist's office in a bleary haze and a flowered sundress I am spilling out of--desperately longing for the familiar in the surreal post-partum days.
"I experienced a severe bout of post-partum depression with my first daughter in 1996," I hear myself say to her.
She doesn't take notes or look down at me with great authority over wire-rimmed glasses. This therapist sits relaxed in her chair, regarding me warmly but intently--her hands splayed open in her lap.
"I was fine with my son in 2000--but, I hand an unusual amount of support and he was planned well in advance."
A cloying breeze stirs through the open window and a bead of sweat rolls down my spine,
"Also, my pregnancy with him was plagued with problems. I was just so relieved to get him here...it was Springtime and our friends and family all had kids at the same time. A community."
She smiles, her dark eyes never wavering from my face.
"This time," I pause, willing the words to surge through me, "Well...with this daughter, she was planned and I have support. I'm really in a better place all around...but I feel like I'm sliding a bit and I don't know why."
"No...I don't know and so I'm here to make sure my support system is fully in place."
Pleased with myself, my foresight, and my logic--I fall silent and catalogue the endless varieties of potted plants marching across her window sill.
"Of course, there is that one possibility for why you're here again," she says, running her fingers through her cropped silver hair.
I frown, "Which is?"
"Having daughters," she answers firmly.
When I understand her thread of thought I rebel. A card-carrying Feminist...with a Bachelor's degree in Women's Studies...a deep reader of womyn centered literature, anthropology, and psychology...empowered midwifery-model of birth...female-focused worldview and a borderline obsession with dismantling the patriarchy however I could...Was this therapist actually suggesting I had a problem with having daughters? Before I open my mouth she says,
"Yes...having daughters. Perhaps your fear for your girls' uphill fight against the very things you have struggled with. You self-identify with them in a way you don't with your son. Your task of launching them into the world as strong and secure women feels daunting--and the depression comes."
I couldn't reply. I had no concept of what to say to her--was she right? Was she way off base? Her words were pregnant with meaning for me either way...and I have thought about them ever since.
Andrea J. Buchanan was thinking about gender and childhood when she conceived her essay collections, It's A Boy and It's A Girl. Here, she wanted to explore identity and experiences of diverse mothers united in a common introspection about nature and nurture and the societal roles we play based on our sex. With the newly released It's A Girl, she has compiled the writing of thirty women raising daughters and what that means to them.
Last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to attend a Mother Talk in Philadelphia where I got to hear contributors Kim Fischer and Yvonne Latty read aloud from their brilliant essays, "Shining, Shimmering, Splendid" and "Girl House". Editor Andi Buchanan led a discussion about mothers and daughters, and also shared a piece of her emotional essay, "Learning to Write"--which crystallizes not only how her daughter learned to write, but also how she--as mother to a growing girl, had to learn about letting go. All three women were luminous...their voices ringing true to me though their experiences are so different from my own. Motherhood as "the great equalizer", such a powerful agent for unity or divisiveness...whatever the case may be--as the conversation flowed it was clear, as it usually is, no one is neutral about motherhood.
The It's A Girl collection reveals the same. These mothers come to their daughters with a variety of expectations, assumptions, and fears. Their daughters prove them right, or contradict everything they believed about the mother-daughter relationship. I sit here, wanting to highlight the very best essays...but, find I cannot pick one from the other. Each is beautifully rendered and each treads on such fascinating terrain. I can say only that every mother of a girl will find herself here...
Mothers of "princesses", like Petunia at two...
Mothers of "tough girls", like Rosie at two and a half...
The same combination of parents can produce such wildly different little girls. I once would have said it was "all nurture"--now, I realize how much each child brings with them at birth. It is both, absolutely both. It's A Girl has re-affirmed my delight to celebrate my daughters in all of their unique glory. At the Mother Talk, each of the three writers present signed my copy of the book...Kim's entry a tender, "Good Luck with your girls."...Yvonne's a good-natured, "Princesses Rock"...and Andi's, a message of thanks. These, to me, speak to the essential elements of raising daughters--love and luck, laughter and irreverence, and pure, undeniable gratitude.
In her introduction, Andi writes, "Mothering a girl...makes a woman face herself anew, reliving her own experiences growing up as a girl. The mother of a girl must plumb the depths of the girlhood she'd thought she had safely escaped--but this time through the eyes of her daughter, whose experience is necessarily different. The pain and joy of this reliving, the merging of mother and daughter experience, and the bittersweet, inevitable separation between the two, is at the core of mothering a girl--and at the heart of the essays that make up this book." Like the therapist I had following Rosie's birth who illuminated the complexities and gifts of mothering a daughter, It's A Girl serves as the perfect map through this rugged and breathtaking landscape.