It had been a long gloomy Fall day. When I got home, all I wanted to do was climb into bed and sleep and sleep and sleep. Emotionally, I was spent after a long day at work. But my husband and I had planned to go to services at temple that night – there was a guest singer that comes once a year, and I love his music. So, with a long sigh, I pulled on my coat, and we headed out.
As I settled in for Friday night services, the rabbi began with my favorite part, a brief meditation. He asked us to close our eyes and breath, to let go of the week as the Sabbath began.
“Breath in … your gift from God. Breath out … your gift to the world.”
Instead, I felt my breath had been knocked out of me; I felt like a door had just slammed closed behind me. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to focus on his words.
Then the memories rushed in.
The day she was born. I didn’t know if I was having a boy or a girl throughout my pregnancy – I wanted it to be a surprise. Then as she was delivered, my doctor yelled, “It’s a girl!” A daughter! It is what I hoped for! Although I would have loved a son equally, in all honesty, I hoped for a daughter. I thought long and hard about her name, wanting something of significance attached to it — Olivia, which means peace. At the time, it wasn’t a popular name, but in years to come, it became much more common. Then the middle name Rose – roses were a passion of mine then, and we had a thriving rose garden in the backyard. Olivia Rose. What do I do with that name now?
The beautiful painting my sister worked so hard on to commemorate Olivia’s birth. It is a watercolor of a quilt. Each square symbolizing something unique about me or Olivia or her father. For me, the quilt itself symbolizing my creative sewing. For her father, machine parts symbolizing his crafting using machinery. For Olivia, a dove with an olive branch, another square of tiny roses. For us all, a square for Michigan, another with acorns symbolizing the Fall. And then in the center, Olivia’s full name, her birth date, and weight. What do I do with this painting now?
The framed pictures in the family room. In one, Olivia and I are at a restaurant. I think it was a party for a friend, so Olivia was the only child there. A friend caught us with our foreheads together, both heartily laughing. Olivia has her hand to her mouth as if there were a secret between us. Her long hair is curly and pulled back; she has a flowery blue dress on. Her spirit seems alive and playful. As I look on down the row of pictures, there is another one with her sister. They are wearing matching dresses — something common for them to do — sitting on the stairs, Olivia squeezing her sister, both with silly grins. And down the line, there are many more — Olivia in her dance costumes, Olivia holding her baby sister. My sweet Olivia. What do I do with these pictures?
Eli has been going by the name “Eli” for the past four years. Olivia feels foreign on my tongue now, and some days, I don’t register Olivia as anyone I know. But when Eli talks about legally changing his name, literally wiping out any trace of Olivia, a deep sadness fills my heart. What do I do with the birth certificate then?
Soon, Eli is planning to have “top” surgery to start his physical transition to become male, and I’m scared. I’m scared of the surgery itself and possible complications. I’m scared of the pain he will go through. I’m scared to see his new chest. I’m scared to lose my daughter. I’m scared I won’t know my child anymore.
I have been with him every step of the way exploring his gender. I have found him help. I have driven him to countless appointments. I have stood unwavering as he faltered and then regained his grounding. I have researched for myself, for him, about transgender issues. I have found parent groups that push supporting your transgender child unquestioningly and others that say to question every step because it is all a “phase.”
But where is the middle ground? Where is the space for me to mourn the child I birthed? Where is the space for me to keep my “daughter’s” memories while also welcoming a “son?” Where is the space for me to question and support?
The cantor starts singing; I know the meditation is about to end and I’m not ready. I want to keep the door open, the door that keeps these two worlds connected and separate. Finally, I open my eyes. Although the door still eludes me, somehow I have to respect the memories of my Olivia as I balance celebrating Eli and making new memories.
Published with permission from Eli.
Andrea Eisenberg is a obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at Secret Life of an OB/GYN.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com