By Emm Zee
Growing up, there was a familiar joke my mother always told me about the children I would undoubtedly bear:
“Boy or girl, I will be a happy grandmother… so long as there’s a bris.”
I come from an Arabic background, as a daughter to a Yemenite mother. My entire life I was inculcated in Middle-Eastern cultural norms, one of which was unfortunately the value of men. My mother wanted sons; she encouraged me daily to pray for sons and to regard having a daughter almost as a mistake—try again, you’ll get it right next time.
When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I naturally assumed it was another boy. I refused to find out for certain, perhaps a part of me was afraid, but if you were to ask me, it was clear as daylight: of course, no question, I was having a boy.
I had even already named him.
Late in my pregnancy, a week before I went into labor, I needed an emergency ultrasound. I was told the baby was measuring too small and just wasn’t “active enough.”
When I walked in, on a Friday, irritated and rushed, only a few hours before candlelighting, the ultrasound technician who greeted me was an unfamiliar face.
She introduced herself as Olga, a new technician in training covering for a sick employee who was out for the day.
From the get-go I could tell she was a lot less professional than the other technicians.
She was a lot chattier, and in her foreign accent, peppered me with unwanted questions and comments.
“Aww, this is so sweet you are pregnant—yes?”
“Did you paint the room?”
“The itty baby, waving. Look, she’s saying hi.”
There it was.
Olga accidentally let a “she” slip.
My baby was a “she.”
My reaction, secretly and ashamedly, was to run to my car, shut the door and park in a deserted area of the parking lot.
I spent the next 15 minutes screaming and crying in my car.
I couldn’t bear it.
Twenty-nine years of mental and emotional baggage came barreling down on me. My relationship with my mother. My ingrained perception of gender.
I’m sure that growing up in a poor Arabic nation, it made sense for my mother to constantly seek strong men and mistrust women as competitors. She’s told me more than enough stories of the dangers her mother and female-kind faced, without the social capital that comes from men, and being under their powerful rule. Stories of the cruel men who surround us all in every corner of our lives. And stories of the few good ones we can find and trust, to protect us from the cruel.
But I am an American; I am a Monsey wife. Women’s lib, equality, first-wave feminism, second-wave feminism, the notorious RBG, Hillary Clinton (well, almost).
I’ve spent half of my life growing up in America, and the entirety of my marriage here, in my husband’s hometown. All those feminist notions are familiar to me… but don’t ring quite true.
My psychology was back in my mother’s native environment.
A vicious mental battle broke out.
Women are equal, but not really. Women can be whatever they want to be, but not really. Women are just as safe in this world as men, but not really.
I couldn’t bear it.
For the next few weeks, I had a greater fear of meeting my future daughter than I had ever felt before. It was worse than fear: a dread.
I dreaded the life she would have.
I dreaded the things this world would do to her.
Worst of all, I was terrified that I would have no love for my daughter, that she would feel like nothing but a burden to me.
Childbirth went well, and my baby was healthy. I held my breath as the doctor brought her to me. I felt my heart drop—this was the moment. The moment I had feared since that incompetent tech had told me my daughter’s gender; the moment I would meet my “burden.”
And then I held her. And something in me broke. I felt it break. I couldn’t feel anything, I couldn’t think of anything, I couldn’t imagine anything in the world—but loving Elle wholly and completely with everything I have.
I didn’t care about the world I knew or the world my mother knew; she was my world. And she is all I would ever know.
Elle is now 7 weeks old.
And every day I celebrate this child.
I was, and am still, shocked and overwhelmed by the amount of love I have for her.
She is unbelievable. She is my entire world.
I feel so painfully and joyfully connected to her, I have trouble putting her down. Turns out, I wanted a daughter more than a son, and am still taken aback by that daily.
I am so grateful she is in my life, as she’s making me work on myself internally in ways I never imagined possible.
I am now the staunchest feminist, the most vehement fighter against sexism.
Through my desire to stand up for my daughter I’ve experienced an inner healing and am happier than I ever thought I could be. Her face lights up mine, and her heart has melted my own.
I have been a woman of two worlds—deeply conflicted from the journey from the world of Yemen, to that of Monsey, New York.
I’ve found resolution—in the form of a 7-pound bundle, with olive skin and soft blue eyes.
Elle is my world. And we will make it work, together.
*Yemenite bracelet, passed down five generations
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