"The Gender Diaries" - an excerpt from an essay
This is part of an essay I'm working on about the gendering of my boy-girl twins--and my own gendered transformation as a new mother--in the first 8 days of their life, ending with their naming/bris ceremony. What I'd like to know is this: Where might I layer in more references to gender? How might I play up the generational theme -- either in terms of how my experience differs from my own mother's, or how it reflects something about my generation (Gen X)? Six am. I feel dripping. It doesn’t stop. My mood—depressed throughout the pregnancy and especially during the last seven weeks of bed rest—lifts. Whatever’s next, it won’t be this. I rally Marco, call the car service, grab a towel. The early morning darkness lends an aura of importance as I plunk into the cab, elated that soon I will be lighter. The weight of this pregnancy has nearly sunk me. I’m in awe of any woman who goes through this without complaint. Safely at the hospital, I’m prepped for a c-section. No gentle birth plan with whirlpools and aromatherapy for this 40-year-old mother of breech twins. I throw up on the table until I see Marco’s masked face. He starts talking to me about the ocean. I imagine our twins walking by our side and try to relax. The boy comes first, the girl two minutes later. In spite of the tugging sensation, it’s peaceful, and then it’s over. Marco laughs as I turn my head his direction, arms splayed crucifix-style with tubes running every which way and tell him I feel better already. My mother’s pregnancy was not like my own. When she gave birth 40 years ago, my father was not by her side. A resident in the hospital where she delivered, he had permission to be in the delivery room, unusual for 1969. But he declined. (“Emotional squeamishness,” he said when I asked.) To this day my mother talks about my birth as if it were a walk in the park. So what that it was actually ten degrees below and snowing, and that she had to walk across the street from their apartment to the hospital through wind and sleet. Giving birth, as she tells it, was such a pleasure that I grew up unaccustomed to equating pregnancy with pain. When my own pregnancy grew far worse than anything I could have imagined, I felt betrayed by the experience. “I wish you could enjoy this more,” said my mother’s sister. I’d wished people would stop telling me to enjoy this more. Because in spite of how much I wanted it, I did not enjoy my pregnancy. Yet I loved those dots on the ultrasound, which Marco said looked like stars. We learned their sex as soon as we could. The sheer bounty of their anatomy kept me going: One of each. An instant family. A foursome, just like that. So now here we all are, thirty-six weeks later, nestled in the recovery room, Marco and I each holding a healthy baby, miraculously ours, while our friend Ilana sat by our side knitting a tiny green sweater. For a few timeless hours inside that hospital cocoon, though we know their sex, like the Marlo Thomas and Mel Brooks babies in “Boy Meets Girl” they are genderless. Marco and I have yet to think of ourselves as their parents. And we are all of us—babies, mother, father—just beginning to get ourselves known.

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  • Deborah Siegel Writing

    Going through old posts, 5 years later, now that my twins are 5 and I'm still writing about them! The final version of this essay appeared in the anthology, When We Were Free to Be, http://www.amazon.com/When-Were-Free-Childrens-Difference/dp/0807837237

    Thanks, She Writers below, for your comments 5 years ago - which so helped!



  • Lynette Benton


    I love the candor (and smooth writing) f this essay—and can't imagine how you've found time to write it!

    A suggestion about adding gender: when you write towards the end that your twins are genderless, you might ask what that means. I think yours is a provocative (as in thought-provoking, not as in antagonizing) statement, and as a reader, I'd love to follow your thoughts as you work out what the terms gender and genderless mean.

    I heard long ago that when a girl is born at 6.5 lbs, people say, "Look how delicate she is." When a boy is born at the same weight, people say so version of, "Isn't he the sturdy guy!"

    Re: the difference in generations, in your mother's I doubt if women asked themselves if they wanted kids. In later generations, women do.

    I hope to read more of this essay!

  • When we have Author's Chair in my 4th grade class, we use the audience or readers' questions to guide revision. Here are a few of mine for you to consider: Do you have a brother? I have a son and daughter and they each remind me of how differently we raised them. Maybe you could layer something here that reflects gendering in your family growing up with your brother. Do we lavish love on girls more than boys? Do the nurses need that pink/blue visual cue to care for the newborns? There are many things written regarding gender. How early does gendering begin? You might explore your observances in how you react to your two.

  • Judith van Praag

    Thanks for the quote ; ) Re: how to set up the virtual workshop. In response to that question the first thought that came up was the SW private "studios" but that would defeat the purpose of building a platform, a readership, interest in what eventually will be the finished products resulting from the works in progress work-shopped here. Why not try this out the way you started it, have at least a go-around of group suggestions for each of the present participants?

  • Judith, Nancy, Victoria, Lisa, Lynn, Deborah, Tania, Susanne: I am so honored and touched that you have each taken time out of busy lives to offer me such thoughtful critique. Together, you offer savvy, diverse viewpoints on aspects I had yet to consider, and I am taking all these comments to heart. And Judith, I love how you've described this experiment of mine. Thank you, all, for taking part.

    I'd really love to find a way to unleash the collective eyes of the site to help writers hungry for feedback--and actually, to build an audience for their finished work, but as they go. Kamy and I have even been talking about an "Open Book Project," where writers like me or others chronicle their process of working on a book, creating a community around the topic where others can post (every parent has their own story to tell about the gendering of childhood, right?!).

    But in the meantime, I'm thinking Feedback Fridays could be a useful activity for those looking for mini-workshopping, virtual style, as Judith says: "What develops here appears to be a workshop situation, yet without the rules imposed by a visible, available leader. Thus we, the participants are free to let our thoughts roam a bit more than a workshop situation would permit. Free association, personal memories, points of view, all mingling, perhaps creating an avalanche, or not quite, since we're still controlling our impulse to go with the flow somewhat"

    Do you think it could work? How to best set it up, if so?!

  • Lisa English

    Good point and very true in regards to birthing practices in other parts of the world, that could be an entirely new essay :] My comment was only meant as a direct response to her reference to her mother's birth experience as a woman in the U.S. in the late 60's- early 70's.

  • Judith van Praag

    I'd like share my reaction to what you seem to have unleashed/triggerd. What develops here appears to be a workshop situation, yet without the rules imposed by a visible, available leader. Thus we, the participants are free to let our thoughts roam a bit more than a workshop situation would permit. Free association, personal memories, points of view, all mingling, perhaps creating an avalanche, or not quite, since we're still controlling our impulse to go with the flow somewhat. I know I am. Interesting and brave of you, I imagine you did realize it was somewhat of a gamble?

    Re: your essay - I like what Lisa suggests about the competition between women re: birthing methods etc. but do want to add that the limited options she describes may have been typical for the U.S. 40+ years ago, they weren't necessarily in other parts of the world.

  • Lisa English

    Beautifully done! In regards to the generational theme, it occurs to me that forty years ago the options for birth were limited namely go to the sterile hospital room and deliver. Women for the most part, all shared the same sterile birthing experience. Now, birthing choices are many as you referred to, "No gentle birth plan with whirpools and aromatherapy for this 40-year-old..." Birth experiences come in more choices than ice cream does flavors now a days. This has almost given the birthing experience a "competitive" nature," as women sit in New Mother Support Groups and share their stories setting those with challenging birth stories up for feelings of failure.

    I also wonder how the advances in information and technology [tests, ultrasound, etc.] that we have now verses when our mother's generation gave birth contributes to or detracts from our enjoyment of or anxiety in pregnancy.

    Just thoughts thrown out for further exploration. Have fun writing and enjoying those babies!

  • E Victoria Flynn


    First, this section:
    Because in spite of how much I wanted it, I did not enjoy my pregnancy. Yet I loved those dots on the ultrasound, which Marco said looked like stars. We learned their sex as soon as we could. The sheer bounty of their anatomy kept me going: One of each. An instant family. A foursome, just like that.

    I love the feel of this--the dots, stars; the "bounty of their anatomy", and finally, "A foursome, just like that"--so simple, so final, but not.

    I wonder, you wanted to find out the sex as soon as you could, as much as I don't want to disrupt this section, it could a good place to add additional thoughts on gender perhaps? The green sweater, that is nice, I agree. Also, is the nurse offering a blue and pink cap or are they letting you choose? Do you choose green or yellow instead? The same with blankets. It seems they're always keen to lable the babies right from the start.

    For your mother's experience vs. your own--wow. I've heard of twilight sleep. It seems a lot of women were upset at not remembering the birth experience.

    As a final though, on the opening, I thought leaking milk and a 6 am feeding.

    Overall, this is a very powerful piece. I appreciate being able to read an early excerpt. Of course, you had me in tears.

  • This is a lovely piece. It read easily and I stayed engaged. I will come back and read it a second time with a more critical eye.

  • Deborah, I enjoyed reading your essay and can't add anything to the insights offered earlier. I like the idea of Friday critiques but have one reservation: unless the writing is fairly short, the critics will lack sufficient context to do a good critique. I'm thinking that if I shared a part of a chapter from my novel, you'd all be at sea, trying to figure out who the characters were and why they were interacting as portrayed. But bottom line: you have two newborns and you're still passionate about writing? You're a champion! Best wishes.

  • I have to say I had two daughters, and the first one just happened, in twenty minutes! Amazing but true. Lucky I made it to the hospital, and the second took two days, born on LABOR DAY which was funny. And, the doctor only said the word C Section and her little head emerged. So the old saying the first one is harder, and they get easier, was an old wives tale. My mother was one of 17 children imagine that one!

  • Judith van Praag

    Dear Deborah,
    First, congrats with your babies birth and thanks for offering this tender post up for critique, admitting to the feelings you had/have is brave and the essay once finished will give many women a pang of recognition.
    "Gendered transformation" of you as a new mother, makes me think of feminism, of you the author until your pregnancy having believed in total equality. I'm curious after your notion of being "made" to know firsthand that there is a distinct difference, being forced to "feel" gender differences by carrying babies, then delivering them into the world.
    Writing the last words, I wonder whether you'll want to add something about the C-section, having your babies delivered to you by the attending doctor? Mind you, not that I think a C-section needs to make a difference, but I understand it can be an issue. (*)
    Re: the generational theme, I like what you write about your mother and your aunt (meaning I hate them for creating that sunny expectation with you), I recall a girlfriend feeling totally let down by ALL mothers not just her own, for not never telling her what she could expect of pregnancy, delivery and the time after. Perhaps you'd want to probe around a bit more uncovering the similarities and differences in "what is allowed to express about pg, labor and delivery" between the generation of your mom and your own.
    Re: "Six am I feel dripping" as a beginning, that actually made me think your breasts were leaking.
    Re: "Green sweater" I like how the color is non-gender specific, not the obligatory blue or pink, this sweater may be for either child, perhaps she'll knit two before offering them to you, so neither baby has to wait, neither will be considered "first"?
    Re: Nancy's suggestion about the boy child being first. Consider that since the babies are delivered by C-section you can't really speak of one or the other having arrived first. In the Dutch language a baby delivered by C-section is "retrieved" not delivered (even vaginally born babies are often said to be "retrieved"), thus the choice is the attending doctor's and not a matter of one baby being more pushy/ heavier/ (or whatever else) than the other, as those delivered vaginally often are thought to be.
    re: personal versus others. Have you considered talking to other women, a more journalistic approach, hearing from others who felt the way you did? This could enable you to draw a conclusion about the secrets mothers keep from the not yet initiated.
    Look forward to more, the bris of course the ultimate gender "coming out".

  • Deborah Denson

    The "dripping" threw me off as well... I also thought dripping with sweat ... menopausal thoughts.

    I have asked my mom about her six birthing experiences, and she does not remember anything. I found out that when I was born, they put women in what was called twilight sleep, so it makes sense that she does not remember anything. I am wondering if you might add generational differences about the delivery procedure? Did your Mom have a c-section? When did they start doing epidurals? My mom could not relate to that either.

  • Hi Deborah - regarding your post The Gender Diaries -

    Perhaps telling about your mood first - about being SO pregnant - then fall into the 6 am?

    Another area you asked about was gender - I immediately thought about the boy (your son) being born first and perhaps something to do with the boy leading the way for his little sister. Get a little personal with the writing, up close as if you were in the minds of those little ones.

    Regarding your Marco holding one baby - make this part of the story of gender too! Will he be mommy's boy as his little eyes look your way, or his hand reaches in your direction. And too, the little girl can be a daddy's girl, kicking her feet harder while she is in your hands? Maybe? These are the things that you have to recall and jot down.

    But it's a wonderful story - a wonderful way of keeping track of all that they have done and will do. It's real life. Great job!

  • Susanne Dunlap

    Oh, powerful! I have only one comment. The very beginning was odd for me. "I feel dripping"; as a menopausal woman, I immediately thought "dripping with sweat" so it took some time for me to realize that you were referring to dripping from somewhere else! That might be a place where you could beef up the gender specifics, if you can do it without being too anatomical. Don't know if that's helpful!

  • Deborah,

    What rich material—the point you make, and the image you supply—about instant family, and both genders instantly represented, is beautiful. My overriding impression as I read was a thirst for more…I know so well the challenge of laying out background, in order to get to the story…and yet, I wanted to dwell longer in each scene that is hauled up. Might you try letting yourself write 3 or 4 pages to each of the scenes, almost like freewriting, and then see how it urges you to shape the opening? It could also slow down your entrance, but I think in those pages, the gender references might crop up naturally…flashback to own beginning understandings of gender? What is the root scene for you around gender?

    Would love to see how you end up shaping the finished work. Thanks Deborah, for the read.