Nine years ago I gave birth to a beautiful, perfect baby girl.

But this story begins even before that.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was 26 years old. I was in a transitional period of my life. I wasn't sure if I could be a good mother. I wasn't sure if I was ready to be a mother at all. Abortion was a very real option on the table and I weighed every option very carefully and very seriously. In the end, I made the selfish decision. (Yes, selfish.) I had fallen in love with the idea of the zygote developing inside of me and I couldn't bear the idea of giving it up. It was a very difficult, emotional decision to make and I tried to prepare myself for making every necessary sacrifice to keep and care for this child. Stephen was very supportive. We rushed plans to get married and used every available resource to create a good home for the family we were starting. Ultimately, we still had no idea what we were in for.

I wanted a boy. I can't gloss this over or try to soften it. I knew what kind of child I had been. I knew plenty about raising girls, but I just didn't feel like I was ready to take this on. Boys are different. They just are. And for me, at the time, a boy was what I wanted. The mid-pregnancy ultrasound that informed us of our daughter's sex was very hard for me. I wasn't just disappointed; I felt defeated. Nothing had gone the way I wanted. Nothing seemed to make an already difficult pregnancy any easier. And after that news? Well, all I could do was try to brace myself for the long road ahead; for trying to raise an independent, confident female child in a male-dominated world; for trying to balance an infusion of strength of character and patience into every teachable moment, while still attempting to protect my child from the the battles she would have no control over and no direct fault in. Being female is hard and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but maybe, just maybe, I could help this child learn to navigate through it all on her own terms.

But nine years ago, she came into the world, whether I was ready or not. She had ten fingers and ten toes and she opened her eyes and saw us, her parents, and we looked at her with awe and wonder. She would be whoever she became and we would accept it with open arms and hearts overflowing.

There are challenges with raising a child like her. She's very intelligent. She's beautiful. She's strong-willed and stubborn, but she's also very resilient and understanding of difficult circumstances. She is emphatically and unapologetically herself, every minute of every day.

So it wasn't exactly a surprise when she explained to us at the age of 4 years old that she didn't want to be a girl anymore. She already understood her own physiology very well for a child of her age. She feared menstruation and pregnancy. She hated that her body would eventually change into a battle zone for reproduction. But we took all of this in stride and tried to give her ways to relate better with her body and understand, without defeat, that while she couldn't force herself to be different, she could manage the issues that worried her with support from us.

Recently, she has confided that she "mostly feels like a boy" and only "sometimes feels like a girl." Along with this, she has also declared her sexual preference for girls. Again, we weren't entirely surprised at these revelations, but they do present certain obstacles. Since then, we've had in-depth discussions about gender identity. We've talked about the kind of people she's attracted to and who she'd like to marry one day. We've talked about whether or not she'll decide to have children of her own. We've tried to keep communication open, honest, supportive, and (most importantly) within her comfort level.

The result of these discussions has led to some very important findings. She is gender fluid and, therefore, has no preference to being called a boy or a girl. She is who she is and she's fine with that. She is lesbian. She has no desire whatsoever for relationships with boys. She doesn't want to birth children. If she decides to raise children, she will adopt.

I know she's still very young and that her opinions and feeling may sway as she gets older, but I wouldn't bet on it. She is comfortable with who she is and I'm extremely proud of her for being so self-aware and articulate of her feelings, something I've always struggled with.

One day, my job will be done. I will always be her mother, but there will come a time when I will no longer need to protect her, urge her, or caution her as I do now. She will feed and clothe herself, find a partner, and perhaps parent children of her own. The cycle will continue, as these things do, but I will no longer need to be the mother I am today... and that thrills and terrifies me. I hope at that point she will still appreciate my company and my advice from time to time.

Until then, I'm going to continue to do as I do now, and have done from the very beginning. I'm going to love her with every fiber of my existence. I'm going to do my very best to be the mother she needs me to be. I'm going to advocate for her. I'm going to teach her everything I know about life, and love, and people, and the world, and all the treasures in it. I'm going to wipe her tears and hold her when she breaks. I'm going to celebrate her accomplishments. And I'm going to be there for her, even when that means giving her the space to decide to come to me when she needs it.

But when she does need me, I will ALWAYS be right here.

So, happy birthday to my amazing, strong, inspiring daughter. She has taught me so much in these few years and I admire her courage. She is so much more than I ever imagined and I wouldn't take back a single second of any of it. She is the greatest achievement of my entire life and I love her with every beat of my heart.

And she's only (already?) halfway to adulthood.