I’d just announced my second pregnancy, and a nagging fear that had started from the moment I saw my positive pregnancy test weeks earlier had grown into a full-blown conviction that I felt ashamed to admit out loud. I really didn’t want a boy.
Please don’t condemn me. I know very little about boys, coming from a family of all girls, but what I have seen I really haven’t liked. Boys are gross; they attack their siblings with sticks, are obsessed with toilets, casually murder local wildlife and turn into disgusting teenage boys and then boring, selfish men.
My husband Giles and I already have one girl, 22-month-old Kitty, and my second pregnancy had been so different and so much worse than my first, with horrid morning sickness from the outset, that I was starting to panic that there was something radically different about it, i.e. there was that alternative, dreaded gender in the mix.
There were reasons why I could confess my boy aversion only to my sister. Mothers who declare a gender preference out loud are breaking a huge taboo — the acceptable thing to say is that your only care is that the child is healthy and happy.
If someone is rude enough to press you, you must stare off into the distance with a martyrish look on your face and say: ‘Well, I suppose it would be nice to have one of each.’ And then you leave it there.
If you are like Victoria Beckham or Jools Oliver and already have three of one gender, you are allowed to hope for one or the other, but that’s the only situation in which it’s acceptable to have any opinion. Otherwise you are just a bit monstrous and ungrateful — what about all the women who can’t have children at all?
But the truth is I like girls, I understand girls and I’ve always dreaded the idea of having a boy. People say how emotionally uncomplicated boys are and how manipulative and fussy girls are. But what use is a plain-speaking boy to me? I wouldn’t know where to start. I know exactly where I am with girls and their petty mind games. I’ve played them myself. I’m a Grand Master of them.
But alas, it seemed Mother Nature had other ideas. The other day, I lay in the sonographer’s office as he moved the ultrasound wand over my already-fat stomach, and my worst fears were confirmed.
‘There are the hands, there . . .’ he said. He moved the wand around for the ‘up-skirt shot’ as my husband calls it. ‘And there are the soles of the little feet,’ he cooed. There was a loaded silence as we both stared at the white smudge on the screen between the legs.
‘Oh God, is it a boy?!’ I said, a little bit too loudly.
‘Well,’ said the sonographer. ‘You can’t confirm anything at 12 weeks, you really have to wait to 20 weeks to be sure, but . . . it does look suspicious, doesn’t it?’
I felt light-headed; was the nausea I was feeling from morning sickness or horror at the prospect of a man-child?
Out on the street I dialled Giles, with a shaking hand. He feels exactly the same as I do. His adoration, worship, love and fanatical devotion to our daughter since the day of her birth has made the idea of having a boy unthinkable.
Acceptable: According to Esther, you are allowed to to hope for a boy or a girl when you already have three of one gender like Victoria Beckham (right) and Jools Oliver (right)
‘Had the scan,’ I blurted out. ‘All fine, only one head, in the right place and all that. And, it looks like it might be . . .’ I stalled, praying he would be more enthusiastic about the prospect of a boy than me ‘. . . a BOY!’
‘Oh,’ said Giles. ‘Great!’ But I could tell his heart wasn’t in it.
He wants only girls in his life, he confessed later. Sweet little girls who will stroke his face, kiss his nose and say ‘Love you Daddy’, not little boys with their dramatic weeing, endless reeling off of statistics, messiness and demands to kick around a football on freezing, dank Sunday mornings.
He has been badly affected by a tale he was told by a father of three boys, describing how he’d spent a beach holiday last year.
‘I was being Action Dad, throwing Frisbees, rock pooling, hurling myself into waves,’ said the dad. ‘It was exhausting. We were pitched on the beach next to a dad of two girls and he was reading a book while they brushed his hair, fetched him beer and painted his toenails. I love my boys but it did look like this guy was having a pretty amazing holiday.’
This story still ringing in his ears, I knew that Giles wouldn’t be any more thrilled than I was about our impending arrival — a fact which made me feel even more guilty.
What is wrong with us? How could I — how could we — be so mean and cold as to have such a strong preference as to the gender of our unborn child? There’s a reason that it’s taboo to admit to these feelings: they are deeply unpleasant.
Yet they are not entirely without foundation.
Mummy's little girl: Esther Walker with her daughter Kitty pictured on the beach
It is little wonder we are suspicious of little boys. Deeply, deeply suspicious. I once read a survey that had found families with two girls were the happiest and I chose to believe it completely.
It’s not just me. Mumsnet identifies the phenomenon of the SMOG — the Smug Mother Of Girls. They love their little girls and find boys yucky, noisy, smelly, boisterous and destructive. At playgroups, they will draw their girls closer to them when any boy comes within three feet.
It used to be that having children was just a biological imperative — you are born, you grow up, you have children and that’s it. It’s now a lifestyle choice. You’re not just a mother, you’re a Yummy Mummy, or a Boden Mum, or a Hippy Mum, a Working Mum, or a Slummy Mummy. You are a type, a tribe, a sort.
To offset the occasional hardship and boredom of looking after small children, you get in return a fashion accessory to mould in your own image, or a crazy idealised image you saw in a magazine.
Little girls, with their own interest in wholesome things and willingness to have their hair done and to wear dainty shoes, fit in with this ridiculous pursuit of the picturesque and the perfect in a way that riotous little boys do not.
For most boys don’t want to do nice things like baking, colouring in, and making up their own dances to Disney theme songs. They want to kill ants and shout, wee in clean laundry, break things, hurl cricket balls through windows and upset next door’s cat.
Girly time: Esther Walker (pictured with her daughter) likes girls and has always dreaded the idea of having a boy
These girls might even — horror! — marry your son and take him, and your grandchildren, away for ever. It is the mother of the bride who is the centre of attention, it is the maternal grandmother who traditionally gets the action with the grandchildren. You stand to lose everything!
Yet, despite my fears, rationally speaking, I know I am being unfair. Of all the little boys I know — and I know an awful lot, including my three nephews — I only know two who are really horrid, whom I avoid because they are so violent and crazed.
My nephews can be charming with my daughter, throwing balls to her or bringing her toys they think she might like. They laugh until they cry when she takes a long drink of water and then gasps ‘Ahhh!’
And, by the same token, I know several vile little girls, who snatch and scream and throw tantrums and narrow their eyes at my daughter and shriek ‘No babies allowed!’ because she is a few months younger than them.
More to the point, there is no getting away from the fact that my new baby is a boy, and I have no choice but to get used to it. I will have to get used to a different nappy-changing experience and accept that there will be a lot more plastic dinosaurs in the house.
I must put aside my daydreams of Kitty and her little sister holding hands, dressed as fairies or angels. I will have to get used to the house being much noisier and being held up in the kitchen at plastic-cutlass point. I will just have to hope that Kitty and her brother can find things that they like doing together.
This will be helped by the fact that, if I’m honest, Kitty isn’t exactly like the little girls in the Boden catalogue: she won’t let me put her hair in bunches and she’s fond of heading straight to the most enormous, stinking puddle she can find and jumping in it.
In fact, while my husband and I might be worried about a little boy spoiling our vision for a sweet-smelling, calm little family with a fondness for all things pink, Kitty would probably like nothing better than a baby brother with whom she can get muddy.