I knew before I was married or even pregnant that my first child would be a girl. I knew her face. I knew her joy and her smile.
When I was still a nun I had an experience which to this day still leaves my faithful soul in awe. One Saturday afternoon, after our formation classes as a community, we were all just hanging out at the Sisters' convent house out in a small harbour town. Out of nowhere two very dear friends of mine dropped in with their daughter. In retrospect she must have been 7 or 8 months by her size and the confidant crawl she had going. Their small family left me with a feeling of joy but when they left I felt a sudden deep feeling of longing. It was as though for the first time I realized I would never be a mother so long as I stayed with the nuns. I'd always believed I was fine with that. In my mind I had decided I would be like a spiritual mother, praying for all the lost souls and my students when I eventually become a teacher. Cuddling with that little baby girl had opened up a wound in my heart I had never realized was there.
When my friends left it was time for Adoration in our small chapel. We had the whole community with us that day so I ended up sitting on the radiator while trying to muster myself to pray. I remember how uncomfortable I was and how distracted I felt by my realization that I would never be a mother. After about 20 minutes of this I was about to leave the room to get some air when all of a sudden a wave of peace washed over me. As I looked up at the Blessed Sacrament a strange vision came before my eyes. I saw clearly an image of a woman sitting with a child in her lap. Not just a child, a little girl with reddish hair that had a cute curl around the fringe, big blue eyes and the most joyful smile I'd ever seen. The woman was me. I was wearing nondescript clothes but it wasn't my religious habit. I was sitting with this painfully beautiful child in my arms with a look of perfect joy. She and I were rocking in this very particular Boston rocker. The stain, the shape everything stuck in my memory as though it was essential to the scene. As I looked closer I noticed a man's hand on my shoulder in this vision. My mind travelled up and in the vision I saw a very familiar face. With a flush the vision fell away and I found myself weeping in our tiny chapel, my hands clutching the uncomfortable radiator. I ended up leaving the room to have a quiet moment in one of our side rooms, shaken by my vision of a life that I still felt I could never have.
Was this a calling or a gift of realization of what motherhood could have been had I been led along another path? I couldn't allow myself to see the vision as cruel even as I tied my rope around my grey habit the next morning, counting the three knots symbolizing poverty, chastity and obedience. All good things deserve sacrifice and I knew religious life included the sacrifice of physical motherhood. I still couldn't help being haunted by the clear vision given to me, though I pushed it aside as I struggled on in this beautifully difficult community life.
Flash forward more than a year later. I'd left religious life not long after that day in the chapel and was married less than a year later. Two days after Christmas I was in my in-laws bathroom staring at this strange scientific creation with its code of colours and lines. Two lines to be exact. I let out a choked laugh and then ran across the hall with the tiny stick tucked behind my back. Pregnant. We were pregnant. I was pregnant. The girl who thought she'd never be a mother. A beautiful joke on me by a God who always has a better plan. O was convinced right away that this new life (that made me very nauseous) was a girl. Everyone found my conviction laughable except my husband.
Fast forward to our 3rd Christmas as a married couple. In my lap sits a buoyant and joyful little girl with pretty strawberry-blonde hair, smiling in the glow of her loving extended family. Behind me stands my husband with his hand on my shoulder. We're sitting in a particularly beautiful Boston rocker. It had been a gift by my father-in-law to his wife when she was pregnant with their first child, my brother-in-law, on the occasion of her first mother's day just before they became parents. I can't help but smile as I know this moment was mine before I knew the truth of it. This day was planned for me before I believed in any of the details. Every detail down to whose hand was on my shoulder was exactly right. I knew in that moment how good it was to really trust, to really give in to a plan greater than my own.
And that's how I knew my first child was a girl before I was even pregnant.