sports

'When my husband asked me if I wanted a boy or a girl, I answered without hesitation.'

It feels good to be comfortable in my own skin. It took a while to get here, but I made it in one piece. I’ve reached a place where I can call out sexism and not be fearful of the reprisals. I’ve found my voice, and it’s strong. I’m me again.

The nine-year-old Angela has made a triumphant return. Being a freelance journalist helps: I’m not shackled to one organisation and its views. But I also think my changed attitude has a lot to do with becoming a mother.

Deep down, I’d always wanted to be a mother. This feeling, the desire to have a child, wasn’t something I spoke about (or quietly obsessed about, either) – there wasn’t some grand master plan that I mapped out in my head before drifting off to sleep each night.

In my head (which was far too busy with working hard and playing hard) I just assumed that it would happen – life would unfold and the rest would take care of itself. Easy.

Only in my late thirties did I start to think that it might never happen, and only then did I realise quite how much it meant to me. I’d buried any feelings about motherhood in red wine, work, travel and keeping busy – but, as forty loomed, the hole that was opening up inside of me became impossible to ignore, and the accompanying sadness became horribly real.

I thought that my chance to have a child had passed. I was beautifully wrong.

do i want a boy or girl
"Deep down, I’d always wanted to be a mother." (Image via iStock)

To cut a long story short, I met the right man and, at forty- two, I got pregnant.

When we found out, my partner said, "What would you like to have, a boy or a –"

"Boy," I answered, before he got a chance to finish his question. I didn’t even bother with the indefinite article. Not ‘a’ boy, just boy. Like a full stop.

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And the way I said it was like a full stop, too – like a gavel coming down in a courtroom. Bang. I remember the surprise on my partner’s face, his mouth stuck halfway through the word ‘girl’.

"Wow," he said. "No hesitation there."

I think he’d been expecting me to mull it over, then hedge my bets and start waxing lyrical on the delights of both sexes. But he may as well have been asking me if I wanted a glass of red or a glass of chardonnay (it’s red, by the way, every time).

It’s hard for me to admit this, but I was swayed by the same gender stereotypes that I fight so hard against. That’s how crafty and pervasive the damn things are. My automatic thinking was that a boy would be more adventurous and sporty, more likely to dig for worms, read books about lizards, play kick-to-kick and do all the things that I’d done – funnily enough, as a girl.

I was living proof that a girl could be as interested in reptiles and sport as a boy, but these rusted-on perceptions and ideas, with centuries of ‘validation’ behind them, aren’t rational. They’re kneejerk.

I guess the other part to all this was that I knew that a boy would have fewer obstacles to deal with – less nonsense. That’s sad but true. The memories I have of growing up are still fresh; I can still summon up the smells of the school corridors, the boys smothered in Old Spice and girls heavily sprayed with White Linen.

And I can still feel the challenges we girls faced – the need to fit in and the peer pressure. While I know that the boys tackled similar emotional obstacle courses, to my young eyes they just seemed to be less intense.

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"I knew that a boy would have fewer obstacles to deal with." (Image: Instagram)

After I gave birth to our son, Francis, my whole life changed. Having a baby liberated me from my past. For the first time in a long time, I was free to think about a future where I wasn’t front and centre.

This change of emphasis re-energised me and gave me a sense of security that I’d never felt before. It allowed me to think about what was really important to me: things that were more important, it turned out, than my need to be accepted. A weight had been lifted.

Francis has made my book a lot easier to write – and the idea of wanting to fight harder for a better future for him feels right. A future where he’s not told to ‘man up’ and ‘playing like a girl’ isn’t a put down but a compliment for playing with skill and grace.

Women’s sport should be celebrated in its own right – equality is about being valued for you are, not being forced to take on characteristics of others. I feel a responsibility to Francis and his generation of sporting girls that’s stronger than my desire to protect myself, and I want to use my privileged position to promote equality.

do i want a boy or girl

This is an edited extract from Breaking the Mould – talking a hammer to sexism in sport (Affirm Press), available now at all good bookstores, $29.99.

Do you worry about the gender of your child and the challenges they might face?

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