a . . . Baby!!
I’m six and half months pregnant. Thanks so much. Yes, we’re
thrilled. What’s that? Am I “going to find out”? Um, at six
and half months you tend to be pretty sure, what with the
big belly and the kicking and all.
OK, OK. No need to explain. You meant “are you going to have
an ultrasound technician look for genitalia to try to make
an educated (but often wrong) guess about the sex of the baby
so you can be drowned in the ‘proper’ color at your baby shower?”
I know that’s what you meant. I could count on one hand the
number of people who haven’t asked that as their first question,
and I’d still have enough fingers left to take down a phone
message from the midwife. (God bless the one of you who instead
said “Home or hospital?”)
It’s not that I don’t kind of understand. I mean, it’s one
of the first bits of information you get about a new little
human that’s likely to have lifelong implications. Most other
things about them are just going to take a while to unfold.
And it’s become such a thing that it may feel impolite not
to ask. It’s the urgency about it that confuses me.
And it’s also not like I don’t have reason to be wary of what
many of you will do with this information. I knew one couple
who weren’t intending to find out their baby’s gender, but
due to a health complication in her ovary (it’s all fine now)
ended up finding out a week before their shower. It spread
through the grapevine like wildfire, and the father-to-be’s
expression as they opened their umpty- skillionth pink thing
was priceless. (A week! Man, y’all are last-minute shoppers.)
Other friends I knew in New York City—design-minded people
with a stylish loft in Greenwich Village—had been more proactive.
They had a color theme, requesting red, white and black (sharp
contrasts are easier for babies to see). They, too, drowned
in pink. (And pink doesn’t even go with red!) Another
person locally tells of how her mother instructed people to
buy blue, and so everyone assumed she knew she was having
Now this is not actually about my having anything against
pink or blue as colors. (Interestingly I’ve heard it said
that little girls really do like pink a lot. Thing is, if
we would let them, so do little boys.) Nor is it about trying
to be control-freakish about people’s baby shower generosity.
It’s just that the color thing is the easiest representation
of so many people’s obsession with having babies easily labeled
and sorted by gender.
Some friends here in Albany who have a 10-month-old have perhaps
the most ridiculous stories in this regard. They have, on
numerous visits to Honest Weight Food Co-op (not exactly a
bastion of conservative society, you’d think), had people
approach their little girl, and either ask what his name is
or ask if it’s a boy or a girl. This is no problem. After
all, the English language makes it awkward to talk about the
kid much without this bit of information, and it really can
be hard to tell with babies.
But upon being told, some mind- bogglingly large portion of
people apparently respond with something like “Oh sorry, I
should have looked at the [insert thing the baby is wearing
that is closest to pink or frilly, which given these parents’
preference for bold primary colors is often something of a
Other amusing variations have included “Oh, right, because
of the bib/bow/pants” (Because of? I know some trans
folks who only wish it were that easy) and “It’s so hard to
tell in yellow.”
Realizing that variations on “No, you should have looked in
the pants” or “It’s because of the vagina,” might not be acceptable
responses, my friends have considered resorting to “No, you
should have looked at the chromosomes.”
I don’t plan to be gender-neutrality obsessed with my children.
My spectrum of acceptable gender expression includes feminine
girls and masculine boys. I’m willing to believe that hormones
and chromosomes do make some difference all on their
own. And I’m much more concerned about making sure my children
are healthy, secure, loved human beings with a good set of
core values and the ability to make decisions on their own
than I am about never ever communicating an expectation based
But if I got anything out of college women’s studies it was
this: Just because certain habits, behaviors, and assumptions
are so ingrained in us that they feel impossible to change
doesn’t mean they are necessarily biological in nature. The
subtle messages that we send during infancy, a time when personalities
are developing and it is being decided whether certain genes
will be expressed or not, actually do stick and make a difference.
Whether it’s expecting a boy to stop crying faster or saying
that a grinning baby girl is being a flirt, our own ingrained
attitudes get passed on despite our best intentions.
This limits us—all of us. I’m not going to run down some list
of depressing statistics about lack of access to reproductive
health care, domestic violence, crimes done to prove someone’s
manhood and on and on that show how gender biases are still
doing tremendous amounts of harm. They’re easy to find. So
a little bit of self-awareness on the most basic level feels
like the least we can do.
For now I’m just giving my kid a few more months free from
the assumptions (including my own) and sharpening my witty
repartee. After that, we’ll have to see what the kid wants.