Indulge me. It’s the holiday season, after all, and I want to describe the best gift I’ve received. Her name is Catherine Amelia Blyth and she arrived a couple of weeks before Christmas Day–on December 13, to be exact. She weighed in at 7 lbs 11 ounces and has, to the amazement of her brunette mother and her once tow-headed father, strawberry blonde hair.
She also has a button nose, a rosebud mouth, long elegant fingers, and is absolutely adorable. She appears sweet tempered and surprisingly calm, a champion sleeper, who had no trouble figuring out how to breastfeed. “I think she learned overnight in the nursery” her mother said on the morning of the third day of her life. She was so adept by that afternoon, her mother claimed, “Now I think she’s teaching the others how.”
We’ve known for a while that the baby was going to be a girl. I have two sons and the thought that, at last, I’d have the chance to buy dresses and dolls, take someone to see The Nutcracker who wouldn’t squirm, and to whom I could read stories like The Secret Garden just delighted me. I once read The Secret Garden to my son–who is Catherine’s father. He yawned all through it and at that magic moment when the door swings open and the secret garden is revealed, he scoffed, “Boy, are they dumb. Why didn’t they just climb to the top of the house and look down.” What little girls find mysterious and magical…all he saw was a problem in spatial relations.
Her mother and father were also pleased she was a girl. My son, especially, seems content to be surrounded by wife, daughter, and female pooch. How very different than in many parts of the world where the birth of a girl brings no joy at all. We all know that in both China and in India, the two countries with the world’s largest populations, girl babies are abandoned or killed and female fetuses aborted.
Recent reports have noted that an anti-girl bias has always been common among India’s poor and working class, but now–and this is both surprising and sad–even in the heart of New Delhi, where India’s richest and the best-educated live, the ratio of girls to boys has declined sharply. Modern technology is employed to assure that a girl will not be born to a couple that only wants a boy. According to a 2001 census, the overall birthrate for India was 927 girls per 1,000 boys, a steady decline from 945 girls per 1,000 boys in 1991 and 962 in 1981. These statistics mean that, as a result of abortions or killing girls in infancy, up to five million baby girls “disappear” from India every year…
How lucky our Catherine is not only because she is healthy and has doting parents and besotted grandparents, but because she was born in a country and a culture that respect women. Oh, I know only too well the worn-out rant about how hard it is to be a woman. The truth, of course is that American women today are the best-educated, healthiest, wealthiest, longest-living women with more opportunity for fulfillment than any women in history. And, let’s not forget, one of the most important reasons America has become the strongest country on earth is because for the past 50 years we have fully utilized the creativity and productivity of our women.
In my own lifetime I have seen how horizons have expanded. When I was growing up, all a girl was supposed to want was to become a wife and mother. My best friend in college wept bitterly on graduation night because she had always expected to get married the Saturday after graduation and it wasn’t going to happen. She was 21 and felt like a failure. And we were at one of the most free-spirited colleges in America!
But I also have lived though the post-feminist times when girls were not supposed to interested in anything but their careers. For about a decade younger staffers who worked for me seemed to forget or disdain marriage and motherhood. All they should want, they were told (and sold,) by the media and by some women leaders, was success in the work world.
Now, fortunately, it seems women, at last, have real choices about living fulfilling lives and are increasingly respected for the choices they make whether it is staying at home fulltime with their kids, focusing on their career, or deciding to do both. Young women are too tough minded to buy the propaganda about how a woman should live as if all women were exactly alike. They seem capable and confident enough to simply make up their own minds and to do what they want at different stages of their lives.
A week old, Catherine already is trying to lift up her head, look around, find the light and assess her world. Fast asleep and dreaming, she seems to be practicing how to smile. “She seems so self possessed,” her mother says, looking at her with wonder and joy. Why shouldn’t she be? After all, she’s an American girl.