In just six hours, my wife and I will be in a medical office with a machine over her belly, watching live pictures of our twelve-inch daughter or son in his or her twenty-second week of gestation. We last saw her or him two days before Christmas, when the ultrasound revealed miniature versions of all the major body parts and systems - except the not-yet detectable reproductive bits. I'm very nervous about what today's pictures could reveal about the health of our child, since we've had friends who have found out about serious problems at this stage. However, for the rest of the world, today's visit boils down to just one question: boy or girl?
Though I want to know, I'm deeply ambivalent. Here's why...
We've been gradually letting people know about the pregnancy for three months. Almost invariably, the first question is, "Do you know the sex?" When we say no, the second question is, "Do you want a boy or a girl?" My answer is always, "Yes" (though more recently I've been replying that I want at least one X chromosome).
Why is this the one question about our child on which the world is fixated? While we are worried about whether s/he has a cleft palate, or Down syndrome, everyone else wants to know whether our baby has a penis or a vagina. We worry about day care options while my wife's aunt sweetly worries about when she can select the colors to knit him or her a sweater. We hunt every day for an apartment that has room for a future toddler, while well-meaning in-laws wait for a pronoun so they can select toys to help fill that space.
Until now, baby has just been baby, a beautiful lump in my wife's belly. What I dread is that, in a mere five and a half hours, the gender indoctrination begins. We contemplated keeping the sex to ourselves, but we've realized that will be impossible - we'll inevitably start using the pronoun, I have a hopeless poker face, and even people we swear to secrecy will blab to the world. (In the age of Facebook, there is no putting the cork back in the bottle.) So at the same time that we announce that we are expecting a baby in early July, we will say what sex it is.
And then? We visited a Babies-R-Us in January, so we have an inkling of what happens next. Starting with newborns, there is a wall of pink clothes and a wall of blue clothes. For a little girl, little flowers and butterflies. For a boy, little spaceships and footballs. From birthday cards (I mean, day of birth cards) to crib toys, our baby's delivery seems poised to engender the delivery of gendered merchandise and gendered expectations.
These expectations, of course, will imprint themselves on our child as she or he grows up. Will he or she be a social scientist like one parent or a natural scientist like the other? No: the question for the next several years is, will she be a princess, or will he be a superhero. Liberal or conservative? No: dolls or legos. Computers and airplanes for a boy, unicorns and ez-bake ovens for a girl.
Did I mention the thing about pink? If, in five hours, we find out that we are having a girl, there is an entire industry salivating to furnish her with pink dresses and pink coats and pink bikes and pink skis and pink bows and pink booties and pink phones and pink sheets. If you think it, they'll pink it. But pink is a horrendous color! While I don't yet know the sex, I know our little creature will be born pink, and she or he will stay pink for his or her whole life. Why would we want to drape pink fabric on that skin? From a photographer's perspective, the only people I've met who can pull off a good pink have dark skin tones, and our baby is not going to qualify. If I have just a slight pull toward one sex or the other, it would be an inclination towards having a boy so that we don't have to deal with pink.
On the other hand, the expectations for a boy can be equally noxious. Trucks? I really hope that my child is not fascinated with loud, dangerous machines that hasten climate change. WWF wrestling? Heaven forbid. (WWF animals, on the other hand, are just dandy.)
I'm not too worried about our friends, who are kind and considerate and will be happy to help us in our efforts to minimize our child's being railroaded by his or her pronoun. I'm more worried about the people with whom we will come in contact every day - on the bus, at the park, in the nursery school. No matter what we learn in four hours, we will have years of parental angst about raising a happy, healthy child with a range of interests (cooking? ultimate frisbee? micro-electronics?), and we know that we will not be able to avoid the unrelenting societal pressure that channels those interests in gender-typical directions.
Although our child's sex has been determined since the October day when sperm met egg, the gender-casting starts today. Like it or not, there is only so much we can do about how the world shapes our child. Whether we are going to have a boy or a girl, though, I am going to be equally ecstatic about the joy of having this person in my life.
I am much more concerned that she or he is healthy than I am about the pronoun with which he or she is graced from this day forward. Nevertheless, we will know in three and a half hours. Our baby's world will never be the same.