Mothering Boys

By: Stephanie Rice

Catherine of Aragon. The Infanta. Daughter of Spanish Queen Isabella, one of the most ruthless crusaders of all time, founder of the Spanish Inquisition. Catherine was betrothed as a child to one future king of England, only for him to die leaving her fate to marry another, King Henry the VIII. In the end, her greatness was whittled away to nothing simply because she could not bear the king any living sons. Her destiny, no matter how grand her life began, depended on the sons she could not have. Catherine of Aragon.

This past Monday, we found out that we were having another boy. Three boys. Three sons. It’s exhausting to even type out the words. He is healthy, so far, which really is all that matters.

But still, for two days, I cried about him. For two days I was in mourning for the little girl I would never have. I cried about never getting to see my daughter pick out a wedding dress or maybe have a baby of her own. I won’t ever get to buy the cute, floral print dresses or the pretty hairbands. I won’t ever get to watch my daughter enter into womanhood and make a family of her own. There will be no daughters for me.

The grief will continue, as it did after our last child was found out to be a boy. There will always be a pang for the daughter I do not have. I don’t think this ever quite goes away for parents who have all of one sex and not the other. We move through the stages of grief over an ideal that never was, and it haunts us for a lifetime like a lost ghost.

But then I think about Catherine of Aragon. I think about how all she wished for was just one, healthy, living son. How she was sent away by her husband, exiled and separated from her only living daughter, Mary until she died, alone, on her bed. She was faithful until the end, even when her husband was not. She was blamed, to the end, for the lack of a son and heir to the throne of England, even when that was completely out of her hands. How unfair for poor Catherine.

I think about how, in other cultures, I would be thought of as being blessed, for not only having one son, but to have three of them. I teach for a Chinese ESL company, and already the parents who know of my new baby gloat about how lucky I am to have three boys. They are awestruck. And I know some of them, who have two girls, also mourn the way I do, because they will not have a boy and probably never will. It was not their fate.

Months ago, before we found out about our baby’s sex, I said to my husband, “You know, if I were a queen of yesteryear, I would be revered for bearing three, healthy sons. I would be a good queen.” It was probably a silly statement to him, but it empowered me to think about it and believe in it. I would have been a marvelous queen. If I were Catherine of Aragon, I would have been saved.

I often think back to Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” — an essay based off commencement speeches that she delivered to two all-female graduating college classes in the late 1920s. At the end of the essay, she laments that while we women might not have historically lead armies into battles, razed empires or written the works of Shakespeare, we have always historically born and raised the men who have. We may not have been kings, but we have given birth to kings. We may not have built civilizations, but we have nursed and cared for the men who have. We, the mother of sons, have been the catalyst for all these things.

Gender disappointment is real. It doesn’t mean that the mother experiencing it is ungrateful for the baby she was given or selfish for feeling as she does. It simply means she is in mourning for the baby she may not ever have, and that is okay.

I will forever be the mother of boys. This is not a curse; this is my blessing. I will stand tall with my crown sat high on my head, and I will look down at my three princes in wonder because they have made me a queen.

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