The nurse suctioned out the nose and mouth and placed my baby on my stomach. All I could see were two bewildered eyes and one alarmingly prominent ear. I waited about 90 seconds, until I was sure no one was worried about my child’s welfare, then inquired, “What kind of baby is it?”
Gone are the days when the obstetrician lifted up a newborn and announced, “It’s a boy!” Because second-trimester ultrasounds have become common, many parents know the gender of their baby about 20 weeks in advance.
My husband and I chose not to find out. Brian would have enjoyed knowing, but I didn’t want friends and relatives to stereotype the baby before it arrived. Because I felt more strongly than he did, he accepted my preference.
Friends warned us not to look at the ultrasound monitor for fear we’d learn inadvertently (especially if the baby was male). But we proved inept at sonogram interpretation. “Is that the heart?” “No, that’s the gallbladder.” “That’s the head again, right?” “No, that’s the abdomen.” The ultrasound did produce my one great moment of temptation, when the technician pointed out that she knew the gender. I was annoyed that someone had more information about my child than I did.
Then came the onslaught. Wherever I went—the cafeteria, the movies, the checkout line at the drugstore—strangers would approach me, as they do all pregnant women. “Do you know what you’re having?” was, at best, their second question. Often it was the first thing out of their mouths.
Formulating a response was tricky. At first, I said “no,” but in return I got a wistful, sympathetic look. “They couldn’t tell on the ultrasound?” they’d ask. So I came up with a more declarative answer: “We decided not to find out.” Brian was less polite. When someone asked him if we were having a boy or a girl, he’d say “yes.”
This inevitably provoked a lament (“But you won’t know what to buy!”) or a resigned sigh (“Well, I guess you’ll get a lot of yellow.”). Come on, I thought. A baby needs clothes, diapers, a car seat and a place to sleep. Why do those have to be color-coded? Plus, blue is my favorite color. Why should boy babies get a monopoly on it?
Some people tried to help me out by deducing the gender. I was having a boy because my butt didn’t get bigger (oh, yes it did!). I was having a girl because I was carrying the baby high. I was having a boy because it kicked a lot. I almost believed one woman who had successfully predicted the sex of her three grandchildren—once contradicting the ultrasound. And yes, it turned out she was right about mine, too.
The longer this went on, the more secure I felt about my decision. I watched a close friend, pregnant with a girl, open 40 baby shower gifts. Thirty-eight of them were pink. She started referring to her unborn daughter by name. I couldn’t relate. Would she become so accustomed to the name, I wondered, that she’d be unable to change it at birth if it didn’t fit the child?
I know most expectant parents are so excited about their babies that they want all the information they can get. They say the child’s gender is just as much a surprise at 20 weeks as at 40 weeks. That’s true, but it’s also one of nature’s great mysteries, designed to be revealed at the transformative moment of birth. Sure, I got antsy not knowing, but it was part of the anticipation of meeting my baby. And I wanted to meet the entire individual, rather than make assumptions based on my own notions of gender. Would the baby be contemplative, like me, or a nonstop bundle of energy, like Brian? (The latter, I’m afraid.) Have Brian’s thick, powerful legs? (Yes.) My crooked index fingers? (Yep, those too.) Be verbal? Love music? Chase butterflies? (Here’s hoping.)
Oh, and by the way: she looks beautiful in yellow.
Kathy Zonana, ’93, JD ’96, is associate editor of Stanford.