Finding out the sex of your baby: pros and cons

Guest post by Daisy Coles
By: jonny goldsteinCC BY 2.0

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!

Comments on Finding out the sex of your baby: pros and cons

  1. Oh good, I’m not the only person with a husband who hates surprises (I had to PROPER ninja his Christmas present. Like not even tell him I was going shopping or he’d have had to know).

    We’re vaguely planning on having kids in the next 5 years or so, but while I might have liked a surprise, he’d explode if he couldn’t find out. I’d have to keep it a secret as well – I’ve seen the deluge of pink with my two nieces (even when told not to buy so much for the second one because the first stuff was barely worn. Not to mention the toys … )

    Anyway, call me weird, but I already have a bit of a preference for having a boy, but only because we’ve had the two nieces. Which is stupid of course, because it’s not like we need a variety (if anything, a quiet child would be a nice change. My nieces can run around mad with the best of them). I think – it’s only just popped into my head – that I might want a boy so there can’t be as much comparison drawn between the children. Which is also stupid, because my nieces are compared to each other all the time and their new second cousin probably will as well.

    I just don’t want pink and scary baby dolls everywhere until they’re old enough to ask for them, regardless of gender. My hypothetical son can have all the scary dolls he wants once he’s old enough to write his own Christmas list. ‘Til then, primary colours, dinosaurs and lego

  2. I knew – KNEW – that I was having a boy. I had excruciatingly vivid dreams of a little blonde boy, and an eerily accurately prophetic friend told me early on that I would only ever have boys, so when we went for our 20-week ultrasound, we just needed confirmation. That, and his junk was very obviously…well, obvious…so we really had no choice but to know! We desperately wanted all our child’s clothes, toys, and stuff in general to be gender-neutral, regardless of whether we knew the biological gender of our child; honestly, this was more for financial reasons than social/personal ones, because we know we want two kids and want to recycle everything one way or another. For kiddo #2, however, we will probably still find out the gender, but we will NOT TELL EVERYONE ELSE. Despite our begging, pleading, and sometimes even demanding, we still got tons of blue, sports-themed (and we don’t even like sports!), puppy-covered (we’re cat people!), cars and trucks-encrusted (we walk everywhere!) stuff…so I think we’ll just keep the gender a secret, or tell everyone we’re having a baby elephant and hope for fun jungle-themed stuff!

  3. I understand why people might have concerns about early gender stereotyping/conditioning/etc of their child, but gender can be a tricky thing. My husband and I aren’t good with surprises (waiting for them or keeping them!) so two months ago, we found out that we are expecting a baby boy. It took a little while to wrap my head around it. When we told my parents, my mom expressed her concern “but we only know girl stuff, what will we do with a boy?” I’m an only (female) child. Mom suggested we would have to sign him up for soccer someday, and my husband chimed in that we would need to take him camping. That’s when I reminded everyone that of my husband and I, I was the only one who played soccer as a child, and who went camping with my dad. And I realized I was a bit relieved to not have to buy or receive any baby clothes in the revolting shade of bubble gum pink that seems so popular with retailers. I don’t think finding out at 20 weeks versus 40 weeks would have made a whole lot of difference to me, or my son.

    • I’m all too aware that this is a tricky topic, and all I can do is give my thoughts and hope they come out well.

      If my future child is trans or intersex, will I love them less? No. But until I find that out, am I going to assume and hope that they will have an easy and straightforward path in life, gender wise? Yes.

      • I hear you– it’s hard to discuss these things online without things becoming heated. I’ll take your comment with the good intention it was written in, and I hope you can do the same with mine! (I’ve had a hellish week- and don’t want to get into anything harsh). 🙂

        Can I offer another way of looking at this issue? In my experience, people who are trans or intersex are typically not confused at all- what is confusing is the assumptions that people make about them, often before they are even born. I feel that if I am open to the possibility my kid might not be the gender that the doctor assigned, my child will have an easier time in life whether or not they turn out to be trans.

        I also wanted to mention that LGBTIQ folks bring and develop amazing qualities that can be great for them ( things like- pride, resilience, connection to a strong community) as well as for society (social change and justice/human rights/ culture and community/awareness). It would make me very sad to find out that my parents had hoped I’d be any different than exactly who I am- and being LGBTI or Q is part of that.

        It’s okay if we disagree on this– I hope this comment comes across as another perspective, and without any disrespect.

        • And you know what? I don’t even think our opinions are 180 degrees apart, to be honest. More like 90 degrees 😉

          I totally think it’s fabulous to be open to the idea your kid may not be the gender they were born.

          Again, hoping this came across with the intention/spirit that I wrote it in, which was not to say you’re wrong (in any way), just to explain that I personally tend to look at things as simply as possible, and introducing gender variables to my own concept of my unborn child just isn’t going to be something that I’m guessing at while pregnant.

          And let me clarify too, that my hope that for a child to have an “easy and straightforward path in life, gender wise” is in no way saying that being trans or intersex is confusing for the individual, in terms of their identity, but rather, that society is indeed built for the male/female dichotomy (be that right or wrong- and I think we can agree it’s not right!) and therefore it is easier path in life to identify with the sex you were assigned at birth, so to speak.

          (Also, I snuck a peek at your blog. All the best with getting pregnant :))

          • Thanks for your well wishes! And yep- we can both agree that the male/female dichotomy system works for very few- trans OR cis!

            How refreshing to exchange ideas with respect! I think it happens so rarely- especially online.

    • For me, finding out the sex was a narrowing of possibilities. The first few months of pregnancy felt like there were limitless possibilities, in a really overwhelming way. The baby could have been ANYBODY. Finding out the sex was a way of limiting some of those options in my head, which for me made it easier to think of the baby as a person. My baby could be cisgendered female or intersex or FTM or nongendered, but not cisgendered male.

      • That’s really interesting.. I’m going to reflect on this for a while.. Can you explain more about how knowing that it could be cis female or intersex or ftm or non gendered made the baby feel more like a person? I’m not sure that I completely understand- although I can relate to when knowing the baby’s name (with my brother’s baby, for example), it became more human and less just a generic “baby”

  4. Ultra sounds aren’t always right, we’ve all heard the stories but I do in fact know someone who was told by multiple techs she was having a boy. They got the nursery ready, blue and white stripes and monogrammed shit and came home with a girl! My husband reeeeeaaaallly wanted to wait, I had a strong hunch in the beginning that it was a girl so I kind of wanted to find out to see if I was right so I freaked out before the 20 wk ultrasound and begged him to let me find out, he agreed but baby wasn’t giving it up! I was so relieved we didn’t find out but then when we had to go back for another I worried I’d cave and ask again, but we made it through! No more ultrasounds, hooray! I can’t wait for the surprise, 97 days (give or take) to go!

  5. Also, fwiw, I would totally find out. I don’t like being surprised by dinner plans, let alone dessert, let alone babies!!!

  6. I am currently 40 weeks pregnant and we decided to find out baby’s gender as soon as we could. Mostly because I’m impatient and couldn’t wait 9 months to find out!
    More seriously, I wanted to spend my time visualizing baby, specifically imagining his face. Finding out we are having a boy did that.
    Probably the most significant thing that came out of the experience was feeling disappointed that my gut instinct was wrong. For some reason I had felt we were having a girl. But I honestly would have been happy either way.
    Once I started telling people, I got a lot of ‘boys are awesome because’ stories, which got me even more excited. And now I’ll be meeting him any day now!

  7. Much better worded than mine, thank you. I can’t claim to know a lot about all this if I’m honest (always willing to learn though) but while I would definitely want to know the at-birth-sex (sorry, clumsy term) of my child I do think it is worthwhile to consider that it’s not the be all and end all. I think most people here recognise that gender stereotypes are often incorrect, i.e. not all little girls like pink, but it is good to be mindful of the deeper possibilities too. Again, situ if my passing is a

    • That was a total fail comment, serves me right for trying to post from my phone. It was meant to be tacked onto Pink’s response to my previous comment and it was meant to finish “Again, sorry if my phrasing is poor, typing on my phone…”

    • Got it! Being honest about what you don’t know and open to learning new things is the best way to be! This alone makes you more informed than most of the people who “know things”.

  8. I couldn’t wait to find out what we were having… mostly I think because I secretly (even to myself) really wanted a girl and didn’t want to be disappointed if it turned out to be a boy. I knew I would love and cherish and do anything for this baby, regardless of gender, but in my heart I definitely wanted a girl and it would’ve made me feel guilty and like a terrible new mother if there was even one iota of disappointment at the birth of my firstborn. If it were a boy I would have had time to wrap my brain around that, prepare for it, and get excited/look forward to it so I would be nothing but thrilled when he was born and I finally got to meet him.

    Well, my husband & I opened up the envelope privately after we left the doctor’s office, with the evidence on the sonogram photo pointed out and “FEMALE” spelled out in bold letters. At that instant I could admit to myself how much I had really wanted it to be a girl, and I broke down in such a flood of emotion realizing how happy that made me. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    • also, we made it clear to everyone that we didn’t want everything pink & purple. Although I’m not opposed to ever dressing her in those colors, we’ve made an effort to keep most things gender neutral and let her chose her likes & dislikes, just as I was allowed to growing up–in my family all of us had cabbage patch dolls and matchbox cars… gender didn’t matter and nothing was pushed upon us. So far she equally loves cuddling with her soft stuffed animals & our cats (and they are SO tolerant of this grabby little creature!) and climbing on furniture & riding her rocking horse with such vigor she moves it clear across the floor.

  9. I’m full-term right now with a surprise, and it’s my only advice to other moms-to-be — DON’T find out. It means all the gifts you get will be sweet and gender-neutral. It means you get to think about your child without gendering your thoughts. The poor kid is going to be fighting gender stereotypes its whole life — it’s nice to have 9 months before that nonsense starts.

    • I insisted on gender neutral stuff even though I knew I was having a girl. I did get some girly clothes, but everything else is a wonderful sage green, yellows, blues, and golds.

      I also give gender neutral gifts for baby showers…even if the sex is known. 🙂

  10. I had my first baby 12 days ago. I always wanted to keep the sex a surprise, hubby really wanted to find out. When we went for the 20 week scan the sonographer said she was only 90% sure of the sex as bub was hiding their bits so she wouldn’t tell us what she thought they were. I thought from the moment i found out i was pregnant that i was having a girl & hubby agreed & i had several dreams of a little girl. Almost everyone else thought it was a boy going by the way my bump looked. When they lifted bub over the curtain after my c-section to reveal the sex all i could say was “i knew it, i knew it, i knew it” I had my little girl!

  11. I was a little bit depressed when I found out I was having a boy. Not because I was having a boy, but because I wasn’t having a girl. But I would have felt the same if I found out that I wasn’t having a boy. It was a Shroedinger’s cat situation (sp on that!), where I went from having a girl AND a boy to having just one. To losing one. Does that make sense? I had a boy and a girl in my heart, both possibilities, and then suddenly I only had one of them.

    I definitely liked knowing, even though it ultimately doesn’t matter one bit. Knowing the details – his gender, his name – made him feel so much more real, as you said. SEBASTIAN was kicking me in the ribs. SEBASTIAN had the hiccups. Amazing.

  12. After loosing my first child, my desire to discover the gender of my baby is so strong. All I want to do if to be able to focus on the idea of raising either a girl, or a boy. I don’t care what the gender, my 20 week scan is all about the health of the baby. With 1 out of 100 babies born with a heart defect I want to insure that my childs heart, and organs are all in their right place, and are all growing as they should be.

    My daughter would have been 1 year old on October 22, with having our scan on November 12 it gives me something to look forward too.

    I know that many people are anti ultrasound, and fear that it could do harm…but with so much that can go wrong I just want to make sure that things are going right.

    I will love my baby no matter the gender…to me finding out is a bonus, finding a healthy heart, and lungs, and brain…now that will be a true gift.

  13. In my neck of the woods (about 100 miles north of Vancouver, BC), the hospitals where we’re sent to have our 20-week ultrasounds won’t tell you boy or girl. (I’m told it’s to prevent people from cultures that favor sons from aborting girls.) My husband also wasn’t allowed into the room for the ultrasound, except for the last 10 minutes, which made us feel like tourists (not helped by having to buy a disc of ultrasound pictures afterward). If we’re lucky enough to have a second kid, I’d be willing to drive farther to a hospital that didn’t impose so many rules regarding ultrasounds. We didn’t want to know the baby’s sex, so that didn’t matter, but not having my husband with me was very disappointing.

  14. Our hospital (in Scotland) will not tell you the sex of the baby during your pregnancy. It drives most people nuts but I think its a brilliant policy.

  15. I never needed an ultrasound so we didn’t find out for sure with any of our three, but I knew the first two. The third I wasn’t so sure. Someone asked “What is it?” I said “I am pretty sure it’s a baby”.

  16. I’m 10 weeks along now with a shock pregnancy, after being told I couldn’t have children. I don’t know if I want to find out, but one of my friends said to me that as I was the kind of person who must know everything, it would be impossible for me not to find out.

    However, here in Australia (unsure if it is the same in USA), we have our first scan at 11-13 weeks, and then a second one at 20 weeks. I have this massive hunch (or desire) that I am having twins, so at this moment, all I care about is finding out whether I have twins or not. Once I find out, then I’ll probably be all about the sex. But I have always hated the “gender appropriate” toys/clothing deal with a huge passion, and I dread that my kid might be given “gender appropriate” items not while it’s in my womb, but for the entirety of it’s life.

    My sister has a daughter and another kid on the way (she knew/knows the sex of both, but refuse to tell anyone which drives me crazy), and she always buys gendered stuff for her daughter.

    I just want to end this on a couple of observations that drive me absolutely mad. Why is it that people will find out the sex, but will not reveal it. What’s the big deal? Why is it such a huge secret? The other observation I have is of a similar vein – why do people choose names, but then keep it as a top tier classified secret? With the exception of weird names (Apple, Sunday, etc), the name you have chosen are extremely rarely a new one. It will have been used at least once at some point in history, why is it safeguarded like it could end the world if a single person found out? This is another pregnancy thing that drives me batshit insane.

    • The reason why I’m keeping our daughter’s name secret is that it is very important name to me and I don’t want anyone ‘poo-pooing’ the idea. My Aunt told me not to tell anyone after she had friends tell her ‘but that’s an awful name’. I would be so hurt if anyone did that to us. I’m telling everyone I’m superstitious about naming the baby.
      I was out with friends recently and the baby names topic came up and to deflect attention, I told them my two favourite names & why I loved them, but they aren’t the names of my baby. So when they told me that the names are ‘too English’ I wasn’t offended.
      I hope your pregnancy is progressing well!

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