Finding out the sex is one of those favourite sources of conversation for pregnant women and all who know them (friends, family, people waiting for the same bus), long into early parenthood: “Will you find out/have you found out/did you find out the sex?” It’s the earliest indication of the significance society places upon the gender distinction. And aren’t we lucky we live in the twenty-first century? If we’re pregnant and we want to find out whether it’s a boy or a girl, we need only seek out a friendly health professional to smear some jelly on our tums and swirl it round a bit, and the sex of the baby will be entirely visible on that jelly-swirler’s little TV screen!
In a way it seems as magical as swinging a wedding ring over a belly to see which way it swings first (round and round for a girl back and front or a boy, they say). Apparently the jelly business has a better success rate. Baby shower organisers the world over might beg to differ.
Just because it’s easy these days to find out for sure doesn’t mean you have to, of course. Not knowing a child’s sex until the day of their birth has been the human experience for millennia, which makes not finding out seem a lot more natural. And those strongly arguing against the recent (in terms of human history) medicalisation of pregnancy and birth might tell you that the 20-week scan is unnecessary or even undesirable.
A lot of couples simply choose not to because they’re looking forward to the element of surprise. I guess, in a way, it fits perfectly in the package of surprises you’re destined for on that momentous day, so many of which are unknowable: “Surprise! I am here! I am loud! I am wrinkly and purple! I am the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen … and I’m a girl!”
Even if I can appreciate these arguments rationally, it never occurred to me that my husband and I would wait that long to find out whether we what was brewing in there was a little XX or an XY. I was dying to know.
I had heard somewhere that women’s hunches about the sex of their baby while pregnant turned out to be right a surprising percentage of the time. And I started developing a hunch. I am not usually a very hunchy kind of person, but I cultivated this particular hunch, and it grew larger and hunchy-er in my gut alongside my — well, my gut. My hunch was boy. So we talked about boys’ names, and tried out a masculine pronoun here and there in our talk of the future, and speculated with the in-laws about whether he might go hunting with his daddy.
And then we went for the scan at 20 weeks and the doctor said girl. And I burst into happy tears, realising with a flood of emotion that I had wanted a girl. Really, really badly. Why? It’s hard to say — I don’t know if I can even explain it to myself.
It may seem trite, but I know girls because I am one. I guess I had an idea, however flawed, that to get to know a son would require a constant venturing over into the unknowable other side: an act of adventuring that might be possible but often seems pretty damn hard, or at least wearying. Pregnant, my greatest hope was that my daughter would be like me; that through knowing her I would be reaffirming myself somehow. In proving herself a girl at that scan, she’d proven the first aspect of similarity between us. Having been trying to come to grips with this parenthood thing for almost two years now, I’m developing a truer and truer understanding of certain lessons: our children are not ourselves! Or even what our selves would like them to be! And nor should they be.
The most important aspect about finding out the sex for me was the strange and lovely feeling of a sudden leap in my knowledge of my daughter. It was the first and (at that point) the only thing I could know about her, and I treasured it for that. The “it” in my belly became “she” and “her.” And she received her name. The difference between “It’s moving a lot today” and “Maja’s moving a lot today” seemed semantically vast — I relished it.
I think it’s that understanding that has meant that I’m looking forward to the prospect of a second pregnancy some day with an absolutely neutral anticipation of the child’s sex. I’m revelling in that other great cliché that you hear fifty million times when you’re pregnant: “it doesn’t matter what it will be, so long as it’s healthy.”
When I think about all I’ve since come to know about Maja, that little kernel of knowledge — boy or girl? — seems so tiny really: much smaller than society would have us believe. But for me, at that time, it was very important, and I’m glad we asked to know. And if and when Baby Number Two comes along, we’ll be doing the very same. Bring on that jelly-swirling!