My husband apologised to his mum when we found out we were having a girl.
The joy of being pregnant was like a falling of fairy dust around us and now, we had just returned from the hospital where we had seen a little prawn (imagine if he’d told her we were having a pink crustacean?) in a shaky black and white scanner. I could vaguely make out an alien head, but the doctor assured me that not only was it human, but it was a girl.
I had only ever expected a baby! But here I was being told it was an actual girl. I’m not sure I’d had a preference. I’m not sure I’d even thought beyond baby. I’m not sure I knew how much I wanted a girl until my prawn turned out to be one.
So as soon as we got home, I called my mum. The screams of delight from Belfast to Dublin carried down the phone, as in fact they would have if I’d told her it was a boy (or a pink prawn I suspect). Then I handed the phone to Not Quite (what I’m now calling the man who is not quite my husband, not quite my ex-husband). Certainly his mum had made it very clear she loved boys. She’d gone as far as to say she’d only ever wanted boys (with a voice that whispered in between the spoken words that why on earth would you have a girl?) I thought it odd, but put it down to her just being over the top about her sons. So when I handed him the phone, and he took it into the garden, I followed him, waiting to share the excitement of her being told about her first grandchild. But what I heard was an apology. “I’m sorry mummy, it’s a girl.”
Obviously that is messed up for so many reasons, but that’s a whole different blog post.
I’ve always been a feminist in the fact that I believed (and was taught by my Mum and Dad) that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. I didn’t realise it was feminism. It was just I didn’t expect to be limited because I was born a girl. I realise now how lucky I was. And how blessed I am to have three amazing girls who will grow up to be three extraordinary women. Who I will never apologise for. Yet I apologised often for being me.
I have grown up under the watching eye of my mum and her friends who mothered and bothered me to be me, and some amazing female mentors and bosses who showed me that strength was a good thing, and my possibilities were limitless. When I worked for UNICEF I travelled to the world’s worst places and met girls with nothing, but who had everything they needed to struggle to have something. I met mothers who fought to live to give their children a life. And I met women who lived courage and kindness every day. I realised what feminism was and I believed in it even more. It wasn’t anti-men feminism, but rather pro-women feminism. Yet, I often felt my strength was ugly.
I work in the world of fundraising, and I was talking with a gang of fellow charity hacks last night about the rich white men of America who were hailed as the leaders of Philanthropy. But I realised something. It is not the big rich men and women of society who are leaders in philanthropy. It is the impoverished and disadvantaged and downtrodden people – and more often than not, women – who demonstrate philanthropy every day…. through generosity of spirit, neighbourliness, kindness at a time when you have nothing and support means everything.
Since the moment I found out I was having a girl, my wonder at women has turned from a distant thing to a resounding force of feminine empowerment. I look at my girls and I gasp at their gift for life, for love, for lists. (Ok, I love that last one the best!). Women are strong. They have to be. Because the world is a tough place.
My eldest daughter is currently in the throes of a Harry Potter obsession… she is on the 4th book and for the last month there has not been a single conversation from her that doesn’t relate to the stories. And I think she relates to Hermoine… strong, clever, brave and passionate (and I really try to make sure that she won’t ever feel that because she’s a girl those traits are seen as hard, cocky, bossy, or pushy. They will be and she will have to fight back). So recently it was great to be able to show her Emma Watson’s speeches in the UN and have her see a mentor in action. I want them to see a world of wonder, a world of women who will pull them and push them, catch them and hold them, show them and lead them, teach them and listen to them.
In the last few weeks I have been kept afloat by the amazing women in my life. My friends, my mum’s friends, my women. And they have made me see that my strength is not ugly. But vital. And I know that I have to make my girls proud to be who they are destined to be, because they see me being that first.
This blog was meant to represent the sandwich years of being stuck in the middle of raising small children and caring for elderly parents. But it represents the sandwich years of something else too. The ten years of a marriage that was great at times, awful at times and draining most of the time was the filling in a sandwich of my evolution as a woman.
I nurtured the seeds of being a woman in the years before I got married (the bottom slice of bread). I grew a strong stem in the ten years of my marriage that shows the circles of each year with dents and knocks as well as growth.
But now, as I put on the top piece of bread as a single independent woman again, I am finally starting to blossom. I am becoming the woman I was always wanted to be, and the woman I was meant to be.
I’ve just finished a novel about a young woman’s emotional evolution. I’m writing a second now about a woman’s sexual evolution. But I realise through this blog, I have always been writing about the story of my evolution as a woman. I have spent a lifetime thinking strong was wrong. And I realise that after all I have seen, and gone through, this is the evolution of my strength and my power.
My evolution has brought me to a place of power. Where I know and am proud that power is kindness, power is love, power is strength, power is ambition, power is determination, power is belief, power is forgiveness, and power is gentleness.
I can climb mountains, I can run marathons, I can write books, I can make change, I can raise children, I can survive, and I can thrive. Because of the wonder of women.