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  • Genine Babakian

Three Cheers for the Secret Keepers on International Women's Day

In the beginning, motherhood was a secret. For one whole day after that second blue line appeared on the pregnancy test, I carried that secret around like a treasure. I had every intention of telling my not-quite husband, but he was an eight-hour time zone away. With such news, I could have justified calling him in the middle of the night. But I waited. I wanted to. For one whole day, motherhood was mine alone.

When we were expecting our second, I realized just how good I was at keeping secrets. Like the sex of our child, for example. My by-then husband and I had decided that, for the second kid, we wanted the gender to be a surprise. But since it was our second kid, my husband attended none of the prenatal visits. He’d already seen the swimming shapes of the ultrasound and heard the ka-chunk, ka-chunk of the fetal heartbeat the first time.

So, I went alone to the International Clinic in Moscow for my ultrasound, where a well-meaning Russian doctor blurted out: “Look at that penis!”

On my way home from that appointment, I wondered whether or not to tell my husband. He had wanted it to be a surprise, hadn’t he? So, I harbored another precious secret. Even as he convinced himself that we were having a second daughter. Even after we had picked out a girl’s name, but not one for a boy.

Do you know when I told my husband I had known all along? When our son turned ten – long after the secret of our child’s gender had morphed into a secret about me knowing about our child’s gender. I think my husband was a little worried about what else I had not been telling him.

Why had I waited so long? Or bothered to tell him at all?

Here’s my hypothesis: Secrets are an energy source for mothers. They grant us the control we need to face the responsibility of raising little humans. And let’s face it. There is a whole lot about parenting that makes us feel out of control: Are they safe in school? Are they bullied, or bullying? Are they too cautious, or do they take too many risks? Are they heartbroken or callous? Are they driving safely? Are they drinking? Are they hanging out with the wrong people? Will they find their way? The list of what we cannot control is long. That’s why we need secrets.

And yet, secrets have a bad rap. Relatives of the lie. This may be true in certain contexts, but if the secret poses no threat, it is a renewable energy source that is mine to keep. Regardless of where you are in the parenting cycle – the exhaustion of infancy, the tantrums of toddlers or the epic emotional roller coaster of the teen years – a good secret can help get you through a difficult day. Catch one – like a firefly – and enjoy its glow. And then release it, after it has served you faithfully.

Today, on International Women's Day, I celebrate all the secret keepers out there. May you guard them wisely, and know when to let them go.

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