“Do you want the girl?” my oldest son, Noah asks, pointing to Wonder Woman.
He is talking about the pack of superhero stickers he and his brother are pasting onto their Transformers, but it’s the question that hovers like a rain cloud: Do I want a girl?
We have three boys: four, two, and three months; even our dog is a boy. The sight of us—the two older boys in the double BOB stroller and baby in my wrap—elicits looks of pity for me, fist bumps for my husband, and, on the rarest occasion, a secret whisper from a mom of a teenage girl, “You’re living my dream.”
Our youngest was born at the end of October. His birth marked both the smoothest delivery—no tearing, no complications—and the most painful contractions, my third unmedicated birth. He came just before golden hour, the perfect backdrop to the dreamy newborn haze. He was everything I never knew I wanted; we were in love. “The last of our happy hospital stays,” I said to my husband as we drove away from the hospital by moonlight.
I packed up my maternity clothes less than a week later.
“All done!” I said to my husband, tilting my head towards the two overflowing bags resting next to the closet door, ready for donation.
The clothes are well-worn. My boys are beautiful and healthy. Who am I to want more than what I already have?
A month later, I return to the repurposed gift bags holding the maternity clothes I told myself I was ready to give away. I unpack the clothes, and from the garage, I pull a clear plastic bin.
I feel the weight of each item—the blessing and the longing—and ask myself, as Marie Kondo would, Does this spark joy? I fold gently into thirds: the candy red Gap dress I wore at the first ultrasound appointment and our last Bradley birthing class; the blue floral maxi I wore at our maternity shoot when I was pregnant with our second boy; the off-the-shoulder chambray top I wore at our gender reveal party where with the prick of a pin, I popped the big, black balloon that exploded with blue confetti for the third time.
I stack the clothes in the bin in neat rows, and I feel it: joy alongside gratitude, nostalgia, and the fear of missing out.
The hardest thing is not what isn’t. The hardest thing is letting go of what might never be.
With a white Sharpie pen, I label the bin “seasonal,” then click the lid shut and push it to the back of my closet.
The alert on my phone rouses me from the LEGO stupor. Sollybabywrap just posted a photo. The speed at which I open Instagram rivals my husband’s momentum on fantasy football draft day. It’s the code I’ve been waiting for, the one I can use to claim a free swaddle until they run out, just pay shipping.
I race to the laptop plugged in on the floor of our bedroom and pull up the Solly Baby website. It’s taking forever to load, so I click the link on my phone, scroll quickly to the swaddle section, then stop as soon as I see the Blush Swiss Dot. Pink, check. Polka dots, check. Girl, check. I could absolutely be incentivized to try for a fourth baby.
I add it to my cart, exhale a victory sigh that the promo code still works, and click Checkout. I run downstairs to grab my wallet in the diaper bag next to the front door, but I can’t find my debit card. Did I leave it in the boys’ room? I just used it. My faux-fur lined bathrobe flaps behind me like a superhero cape as I sprint back up the stairs past my boys.
“Dinosaur ROAR!” my two-year old says.
“This is a special Transformer that turns into a dino-”
I cut off my four-year-old before he can finish sentence. “GUYS. I cannot talk dinosaurs right now. Mommy is trying to get a free blush swaddle for the baby sister that you might never have.”
I speed search all the bedrooms then run back downstairs and ransack my wallet, dumping the contents onto the entryway table: coffee shop punch card, Target gift card, no debit card. Why in Dave Ramsey’s name do I not have a backup credit card?
My husband is on a conference call when I try to FaceTime him, so I text him instead, “NEED YOUR DEBIT CARD INFO NOW.”
Hyped on cold coffee and coupon-code competition, I make a last ditch pass through my wallet and find my card, wedged in my coin purse. I grab my phone, still open to the storefront link, and scramble to enter my card number and place the order.
This code did not match any active gift card or discount. Was it entered correctly?
I am too late. I missed it. I text my husband back: “It’s a sign. I can’t even get a free girl swaddle. How am I ever going to get a girl?”
My husband doesn’t respond to the text. He knows this condition. He calls it “greedy for pink things.”
It was never about the swaddle. It was always about the sign—the rainbow, the promise. Might it be?
It’s Friday, finally. The boys are in their t-shirts and mismatched pants pulled from the dryer where they’ve been crumpled for the last four days. We have one last errand before dinner – buying cleats for Little League.
We stop at the sporting goods store. The Little League gear is on display at the front of the store, and it is all adorable. “I never did this growing up,” I marvel to my husband. “Organized sports.” There are rows of small-scale bats in varying shades of neon and preschooler-sized briefs with miniature cups. I finger the bright white tee ball pants and mentally add bleach to our Amazon Subscribe & Save.
We head to where the cleats are, in the back, past the Yeti display, and ask for a little kid’s size 10. A woman walks by and sits down on the bench across from us. Her long blonde hair is un-ponytailed, and her bodycon camel sweater helps her look the cute kind of pregnant. I already want to be friends, but she doesn’t make eye contact because she’s watching three boys a few years older than our bunch with varying shades of strawberry blonde hair jostle each other in between the sock displays.
My husband and I lock eyes. Could it be? A family with three boys and another baby on the way? Future us? When her husband comes within ear shot, David says, “Three dudes, huh? Us, too.”
The man registers our family—the oldest half-cleated, the middle rolling a ball that he wrangled from a bin, the newborn sleeping in the wrap on my chest—“How old are they?” We tell him. “You guys knocked ‘em out,” he says.
“What about the one on the way? Is it a girl or another boy?” my husband asks. We do not mind our own business.
“It’s a surprise,” he says. “We’re keeping the girl dream alive as long as possible.”
I nod. I understand the celebration over what is, the grief over what isn’t, the promise of what might be, the uncertainty that sometimes is the price of hope.
We buy the cleats, grape-flavored Big League Chew, and a blue and gold balance bike that Noah insists on riding into the parking lot. As we leave, the sky grows darker. We buckle the boys into their car seats, three-across and drive to dinner.
Rain is on the horizon. There’s no rainbow; at least, not yet.
Guest post written by Ruth Gyllenhammer. Ruth is a wife, mom of boys, and bookworm living in Orange County, CA. She believes in the life-giving power of grace and the magic that happens when you gather friends around the dinner table. By day, she directs a center for poverty alleviation and by night, she obsesses over interior design. On the weekends, you can find her lounging with a lavender caramel latte on the beach or adventuring with her crew. Connect with Ruth on Instagram or on her blog.
Ruth is a member of our Exhale community and this essay is a product of our Storytelling Workshop. For more information about our Exhale creative community and workshops, visit www.exhalecreativity.com.
Photo by Ashlee Gadd.