In an effort to record as much as possible during this special time in my life, I’ve been writing about my pregnancy. Today’s post is meant to be a reflection on how and why we made the decision not to find out our baby’s sex during pregnancy.
I have a lot to learn when it comes to issues of gender identity, sexual orientation, gender norms and stereotypes, how best to be an ally to gender nonconforming folks, and how to raise my children to embrace whatever identities they choose in a capitalistic, consumeristic, patriarchal society that seems to care more for what is between their legs than what is in their hearts.
I have so much to learn it’s daunting. I stumble over gender neutral pronouns. I did not major in gender, sexuality or women’s studies in college, and I often feel lost in the circles of brilliant, status quo challenging people who for some reason hang out with me. The more I learn, the more I see all the ways I perpetuate stigma and stereotypes and how extremely pervasive gender issues are in absolutely everything we do and every way we operate. This has become all the more clear to me as I prepare for the birth of my first child.
All of this is a long-winded introduction to say that I will probably get a lot of things wrong here. I will probably reinforce stereotypes without even realizing it. To the brilliant humans who may stumble upon this…..should you cringe at anything I say here, please guide me and point me to resources. I want to learn.
I am not an expert in topics of gender and sexuality. But I am an expert in my personal experience, and I hope by sharing my personal experience I can do my part to build a more inclusive, welcoming, loving and peaceful world.
Long before I got pregnant I assumed my husband and I would find out the baby’s sex during my pregnancy. I thought gender reveal parties were adorable and figured we would have one too. I was genuinely excited about this.
When I did get pregnant, we talked often and early about a lot of things, including finding out what we were having and whether or not we would have a party about it. We were in agreement that yes, we would find out, and sure! Let’s have a party!
But something seemed to nag at me, and I wasn’t sure why. It just didn’t feel right. At first I thought my apprehensions were about having a party. Sure, they were cute. I loved seeing other people’s. But did we really need a party? Was it too much? Would people feel pressured to get us gifts? And it’s not a gender reveal party anyway, people! It’s a sex reveal party! Because gender is a social construct and cannot be “revealed” in utero, etc. etc. and blah blah. So wait a minute…..it would actually just be a party to celebrate whether or not the kid has a penis or a vagina….but wait, even that doesn’t completely define sex, which is more than external genitalia and also includes things like hormones, which we would have no idea about. Hold on, okay….I guess this whole party thing just doesn’t sit right with me……
So okay, maybe not a party, but let’s still find out. We’ll have the doctor write it on a piece of paper, then maybe someone could photograph us opening it. That would be fun! Or maybe we would just find out right then and there during the mid-pregnancy sonogram.
Still….it didn’t feel right to me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why it was disconcerting. I had to sit with it for a while and unpack a lot of feelings and ask myself a lot of questions.
If I am someone who claims to be dedicated to equality and supporting all people across the spectrum of gender identity, then why is finding out so important to me? If I am someone who recognizes that just because the baby may have a penis, that does not necessarily mean the baby will be a boy, then why do I want to know? If I am truly dedicated to supporting my child whether my child is a he, she, they, ze, or nothing at all then why am I obsessed with knowing the reproductive anatomy?
When I thought about it objectively and critically, I felt silly and foolish for wanting to know so badly. The desire to find out did not mesh with my values as a parent. And yet, even while recognizing this, I still wanted to know. My heart was yearning to discover……penis or vagina?! And by answering that question, my baby would immediately be put in one of two boxes with a certain set of expectations. Despite my intent to raise my child outside of such boxes, I found myself longing for just that.
Because I desperately want to know my baby. Because I want to imagine the person this baby will become. Because if we knew, we could officially decide on a name. I realized my desire to find out the baby’s sex was rooted in my desire to bond with my baby — to know and love my baby. Knowing would somehow make it more real. No longer an abstract, but a real person.
What does it say about our society that knowing what is between a person’s legs somehow makes that person more real? What is this obsession with genitalia anyway?
Isn’t who this little person will become so much more important than what it “is”?
Knowing my baby’s reproductive anatomy will not tell me anything about their heart and soul…..which is what I am really dying to know. Just like knowing they have two lungs and four chambers in their heart and two kidneys and a bladder won’t tell me whether or not they’ll like Mexican food like mommy or whether or not they will want to build race cars like daddy. It won’t tell me what their laugh sounds like or what their favorite color will be.
No, for those things you have to wait. To meet this baby, to know this baby, to see all the ways they are like me and all of the ways they aren’t, I will have to wait. The waiting is really hard. I’m anxious to meet this little person. But the waiting is also necessary and exciting. Why not find out my baby’s reproductive anatomy at the same moment I find out the color of their eyes? Neither tells me what kind of person my baby will grow up to be.
Gradually my husband and I shifted from absolutely wanting to know to absolutely not wanting to know. I kept asking him over and over again if he wanted to find out and why until finally he looked at me and said, “What does it matter?” When neither of us could answer that, our decision had been made.
For those who choose to find out, I think that’s wonderful. I love your reveal party pictures. I love the happy looks on your faces. You, of course, have every right to make your own decisions in pregnancy and parenting. Revealing my baby’s sex during pregnancy is not the right choice for me, but that doesn’t make it the same for everyone. In my attempts to research and read other perspectives as I made my decision, I stumbled across this piece from Feministing. This is my favorite line: “But isn’t there another, more progressive message underlying these celebrations: that no matter the sex of the baby, a community of party-goers are super excited about its arrival in this world?” I love these parties because of the joy across the faces of everyone from the expectant parents to friends and family. No matter the color of the balloons or the cake, everyone is thrilled to welcome and love a new human. That’s beautiful, y’all.
I’ve received all kinds of reactions after telling people, that no, we don’t know what it “is” and no, we’re not finding out. I’ll address most of them here, and I’ll do my best to not be too snarky. No promises though. If you see your question or comment here, please don’t be offended. If I’m listing it here, it’s because I’ve heard it more than once.
Most everyone comes from a place of good intentions and genuine excitement for my pregnancy. But we all know it’s not the intent that matters. It’s the impact. If you’re part of my life. If you’re reading this blog. If you know me personally in any way, you know I’m going to push back against things I find problematic. And you know I’m going to challenge myself and the people in my life to dig deep and think critically. If you’ve chosen a friendship with me then you know that, and apparently don’t mind it. So well….none of this should be a huge surprise.
I’ve responded to all of these with a smile and tried my best to not offend the well-meaning person in front of me. But this is how I actually want to react……
“It’s going to happen anyway.”
Often said in response to my desire to not genderfy (is that a word?) my child before they are even born.
Which, ok. Yes. You are right about that. Whether I find out 6 months into my pregnancy or the day the kid is born, they will be put into a box and will receive a plethora of corresponding pink or blue items and I may even indulge in some of this (or a lot of this) myself.
And eventually the sun is going to fizzle out and so are all of us so we might as well give up now and WHAT IS LIFE ANYWAY AND WHY ARE WE HERE AND WE’RE ALL JUST GOING TO DIE SO WHAT IS THE POINT?!
Heh. Ok. So. Yes. Exaggeration.
But I mean, you follow, yes?
“It’s going to happen anyway” is the perfect excuse to do nothing in the face of injustice. And yes, I consider gender essentialism an injustice.
One person can’t end racism or climate change or economic inequality, so why try? Right? Wrong.
Just because “it’s going to happen” doesn’t mean I have to sit back and take it. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t object to it. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t attempt to stop it or slow it or challenge it.
“I could never do that! I’m too much of a planner!”
This one really gets me.
I have several pregnancy to-do lists and checklists and have meticulously planned out week-by-week (sometimes day-by-day) my entire pregnancy — what needs to happen when to be completely prepared (or at least as prepared as possible) for January 20th, 2016 (which, like, lol because what babies actually come precisely on their due dates??).
Most people would probably call me a planner too.
So what is it exactly about finding out the baby’s sex that has such an influence on your planning? Is it literally the color you will paint the nursery or what kind of clothes you will buy?
Either way it’s a baby. I’m planning for a baby here. Whether or not that baby has a penis or vagina has absolutely no significance in preparing for their arrival. It just doesn’t.
“Do you know what you’re having? Are you going to find out?”
As previously stated, I am having a baby. I think I found that out back in May when I peed on half a dozen sticks.
“But what am I supposed to buy the baby?!?!!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!” — said with a great deal of anxiety
“BUT WHAT IF I WANT TO GET IT BOWS AND RIBBONS AND PINK THINGS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”
So do it. Again, it’s a baby. The baby will need clothes. I’m new to this parenting thing, but I’m pretty confident the kid will not, say, catch on fire or something if those clothes are not the color society deems acceptable. If you consider it too risky though, get the babe Jayhawk things.
“You’re not going to find out?! You’re killing me!”
Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t realize my pregnancy was actually about you.
“You registered for such cute stuff! I wasn’t sure, since you know, it was all going to be gender neutral and stuff.”
I literally do not know what you mean by this.
“I love that. It’s so exciting.”
Thank you. I think so too.