Sunday night I held a dinner party for some friends and neighbors, two of whom were pregnant, although not far enough along to know the sex of the fetus. Both of them–and their husbands–agreed that they were going to find out as soon as a sonogram could catch a reliable crotch shot.
One of my other friends said, “Oh, I don’t know why people think it’s so important to know. I mean, what difference does it make, really?”
There was some startled laughter and jokes about how we all hate pink and blue crap at baby showers, so no, they didn’t want to know for nursery-decoration purposes. But the friend persisted: “I mean, if you feel that way, why know? Will you really bond with the baby differently if you know its gender?”
It was a provocative question. Do expectant parents begin dreaming of frilly dresses for girls and baseball gloves for boys as soon as they find out their fetus’s sex? Is that the start point for gendernormativity? And even if it is…would it really make any difference if parents delay that knowledge for four months?
I have never been pregnant, but if I were, I would want to know the gender of the fetus as soon as possible. I’ve heard some parents talk gleefully about how they want to “be surprised.” Not me. I am not a spontaneous person by nature and I generally do not like surprises. Ignorance is not bliss for me–it’s my kryptonite. So waiting nine months to find out whether I was having a son or daughter does NOT appeal to me one bit. I would want that key piece of info ASAP so I could start planning my life as a mom.
Would I be planning differently if the child was one gender or the other? Fuck yes. While I dislike traditional gender norms, there’s no doubt whatsoever that a girl’s experience of the world is very different from a boy’s. Some of that is thanks to biological differences, but social conditioning is an undeniable reality, and it starts early.
Boys and girls have different needs; the world treats them differently, since there’s no “outside the Patriarchy“. I’d teach my daughters how to assert themselves and insist on the same privileges as boys, and I’d teach my sons to tone down their aggression and regard girls as equals, no matter what society may tell them. I’d be happy to have a few additional months to contemplate–and plan for–all this before the midwife places the baby in my arms.
I also think that finding out your child’s gender before it’s born allows for some time to adjust emotionally to the information–for better or for worse. For example, the youngest of my three brothers was basically conceived in the hopes that he’d have a vagina. My stepmom really wanted a girl. When the results of the amnio came back with “MALE” in the “Sex” column, she sat on the bedroom floor and cried. She felt a real sense of grief; she knew he was her last child and this meant she would never be the mother of a daughter. Had she waited on pins and needles for nine months, I think she would have been absolutely devastated in the delivery room. But because she found out earlier, by the time he was born she had processed her sense of loss and was ready to welcome him with the same joy as if he’d been the longed-for girl.
I don’t judge the people who want to wait and be surprised. Not long ago my mother and aunt laughed about the days when “you just didn’t know until they showed up, so you had two names ready!” (Full disclosure: I would have been named Ethan if I’d come with the other set of equipment). Leaving aside the problem of sex-selective abortion in some cultures, I don’t think there’s ever any negative to learning your child’s gender before it’s born, and there can be some significant positives. What do you think?