Girl or boy, all children are unique

When I was pregnant the first time, I wanted a boy, but now, I'm glad my first-born is just herself

You hear it all the time: "As long as the baby is healthy, it doesn't matter if it is a boy or a girl."

When I was pregnant with my first child, that was what I said, too.

But truth be told, I only imagined being a mother to boys. I was unable to articulate exactly why, but my bias was clear.

As soon as the pregnancy was confirmed, I found myself picking out boys' names instead of girls' - Owen, Seth, Alex and Luke.

About 16 weeks in, my husband and I sat on a picnic mat in the Botanic Gardens on a wet Saturday morning, our board game left untouched as we talked, with nervous excitement, about what was to come.

I observed a pair of brothers balancing on the brick-lined perimeter of a pond, each trying to push the other off and laughing as they fell.

A little boy poked the ground with a stick, exclaiming that he had found a beetle. His father picked it up and put it on the child's palm and they both watched it fidget and hum before flying away.

Boys, I surmised, learn by doing. They have a lot of energy to expend and are happy as long as they have an outlet. They are cut-and-dried. Things are taken less personally, social navigation is less prickly.

Of course, I knew enough to recognise that my preferences were likely to be more deep-seated.

I never quite fit in with the girls in my early youth, which I spent in several international schools in China, where my father was posted for work.

I was the geeky teenager with the weird accent struggling to fit into a new environment filled with "grown-up girls" who wore push-up bras, listened to hip-hop, knew how to put on mascara and were invited to house parties.

Many of them seemed to me to be self-involved, caring only about boys and how they looked.

When I was in college in the United States, my female roommate would spend hours telling me about who was mad at whom and why.

She was good at holding a grudge and would block people on Facebook if, say, they had not been "loyal" to her - whatever that meant. I soon stopped listening, wondering why all this mattered and was grateful when she finally switched rooms.

It could be that my biases were formed closer to home. Being the eldest of a family of girls, I may have come to associate the gender with wonderfully frank conversations and deep love, but also of ceaseless competition.

I sensed that I was also scared. Would I be able to connect with my daughter? Would I like the things she did? Could I raise a strong and confident girl?

At a routine check-up at about 20 weeks, my gynaecologist casually asked my husband and me, like she was wondering if we wanted our coffee black or with milk: "Want to know the gender?"

We did. And just like that, we found out we were having a girl. "Wow. That's amazing," I mouthed.

But I could not fight off the wave of apprehension and guilt that washed over me. I knew I was lucky to be having a healthy child, so why was I feeling this way?

I agonised over the outcome for days. But as time passed, I got busy getting her room ready, ordering confinement food, hiring a good helper, choosing a name.

I started wondering about this relationship between my daughter and me. I thought about the conversations we would have about friendships, periods, first dates and break-ups.

As my due date came closer, more and more of my anxieties melted away. On the day my daughter was born, I saw her and was overwhelmed with emotion.

It was so simple: I absolutely did not want her to be a boy because, if she were, she wouldn't be her.

Then I realised that what I had felt was completely normal. I was unsure of what kind of mother I would be, and worried that I would be unable to handle a spirited child - a fear shaped by my own limited experiences, personality and myriad other circumstances.

Babies, it turns out, are largely the same. They all look like wrinkled little prunes as newborns, want to be held constantly, are clueless about the difference between night and day and tire you out completely.

Now, at three years old, she is obsessed with the colour pink and has a teddy bear named Mei Mei that she puts to bed at night.

She jumps in muddy puddles, builds blocks and picks up bugs to peer at. She prefers cups with handles, likes her clothes to match and dislikes fruit.

She has pet peeves. Don't call her "a baby", remember to remove your shoes before entering the house and do ask for permission before taking her photograph.

And if you're a stranger, she's going to need some time to warm up. I love this little adult, with her opinions, personality and mind of her own.

And yes, she's also a girl.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Girl or boy, all children are unique'. Print Edition | Subscribe