Monday, July 11, 2005

Why know the gender sooner...or at all?

You've probably read by now that for $275 women can find out the gender of their baby as early as the fifth week after conception.

Why would women want to know the gender of their baby so early? Well check out the advertising:

Knowing the gender of your unborn baby helps prepare for your baby’s birth: you can decorate the nursery, choose your baby’s name, and make gender-specific purchases during your pregnancy.

Those are the important "preparations" to make for birth, aren't they? The decorating. The registering at Baby's 'R Us. It's such fun it's almost like a game! Just look at the box:

Those aren't hoola hoops, silly. Those are the symbols for male and female. Which will it be? Whooeee! Spin the dial and run off to the mall. Prepare for birth!! Miscarriage? Shhhhh -- don't spoil the fun.

Ethicists worry that early gender revelation could prompt sex selection among parents. Not the gender you want? Abort! Take another spin next time.

It is a legitimate concern. Already we have books and medical practices dedicated to ensuring that you get one gender over another. If it is that important to you, why not test the fetus early on and see if it fits with your needs. Interestingly, notice that if the product's name was a truer rhyme than GenderMentor (does gender need mentoring? Can a test serve as that mentor?) it would be the GenderMender, which might be closer to reality if it is used to abort babies of unwanted gender.

Family planning aside, however, what really bothers me about this -- and about determining the gender of a baby before birth in general -- is the frequency with which it is motivated by consumptive, not paternal desires. Few women say "I wanted to learn the gender of my baby so I could start bonding with a son or daughter instead of an it." They say, "I wanted to know what color to paint the baby's room" or I wanted to know whether to keep my older son's clothes.

It comes down to things. It reduces the baby to a set of purchasing instructions. If girl, then flowers (or baseballs -- whatever). If boy, then natural wood with blue plaid flannel.

I suppose this happens anyway. For many parents, even those who don't know the gender, it is important to choose "Pooh" over "Noah's Ark" for the nursery theme and begin fetishizing each nightlight and reading lamp purchase.

I'm about to run over the top into a complete indictment of Western capitalism, so I'll stop.

It is fun to lose oneself in anticipating the baby. I know that first-hand. And just because expectant parents focus on material preparations doesn't mean they aren't preparing internally, too.

Let me just say that a baby's needs are few: love, food, warmth. They are the same whether that baby is a girl or a boy. Our efforts to satisfy them-- and the basis on which we do so -- says more about our own needs than our children's.


Anonymous janelle said...

I wholly agree with you... my daughter was born June 24th and we didn't even want to watch any of the ultrasounds that were done towards the end of my pregnancy- the relationship we had with the baby was the one with the Being in my belly, and we felt that seeing her on the display would take away the Mystery that we'd had up till then. My midwife was very understanding, and her and the ultrasound tech were very good about not saying anything during the ultrasound as well (we didn't want to know about anything that we couldn't DO anything about before the birth).

1:16 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

congratulations on your new baby!

It can be weird to see the imaged "reality" of something you've already experienced internally. The same goes with birth photos. Some women find it very disconcerting to see matter-of-fact images of what from their perspective was such a tactile, timeless, placeless experience.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Certainly there are frivolous reasons to find out the baby's gender early, but that's not the whole story. In families that have a known or suspected sex-linked genetic disease, knowing the gender early on may allow the family to make more informed decisions about early prenatal testing (since both CVS and amnio carry small but significant risks to the baby). For many people (including myself) having as full and complete a medical picture of the situation is helpful for both making health decisions and for preparing for the future ahead.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Reid said...

I suspect you're right about a lot of parents, but I'm not at all an everything-matching, mega-shopper kind of mother, and I still wanted to know my baby's gender. We had no nursery 'theme', we painted the room blue before we knew the gender just because I like blue and think it's a calming color, and all of our clothes were borrowed and second-hand and gender neutral.

I was having a little trouble thinking of the baby as a person, and somehow for me knowing the gender helped a bit. It meant I had a pronoun to use, and let us focus on picking a boy's name. It obviously didn't tell me anything about the baby's personality or future, but it did make the baby more real for me and that was a good thing.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Jane said...

"The Tentative Pregnancy" had some interesting observations on knowing the gender ahead of time, one of which being that it interrupts the "oneness" of the mother/baby experience if the mother knows she's having a boy, since American culture defines male and female as polar opposites.

Also, if we constantly surround little girls with pastels and boys with bright colors, how does that difference in visual stimulation change their personalities?

And how do we interpret a baby's movements when we don't know the gender versus when we do? Known boys were perceived as more rambunctuous whereas known girls were perceived as delicate and fluttery. Where the gender was unknown, the child was described more in terms of being active and strong, even the girls.

I just thing we gender-socialize enough that I didn't want to have a five-month jump on it. I only asked to know the gender if the baby would have a lethal abnormality.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totaaly agree. I didn't find out the gender of either of my kids. I swear that there was a drummer in the delivery room. I didn't see him. Musta been in scrubs. But, I sure heard the drum roll when the baby presented.

Folks were annoyed that they couldn't give us gifties in the "correct" color. Who cares?? We had fun with all the "tests". They were about 50/50, so clearly whimsical. I'd go into one office and folks would swear I was carrying a boy. The very next room, they'd just know it was a girl. It was FUN.

And re the comment about not bonding with an "it", we didn't bond with an "it". We bonded with "Cuthbert" the first time around & "Clancy" the next. No, those names in no way resembled their current names. But, they were their baby names. And we loved Cuthie & Clance until they emerged & became real folks.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Coulter said...

I think you are really onto something with the observations about the importance of consumption to modern parenthood (shameless plug: I wrote about this myself last fall. We have close friends who decided to wait to find out the sex of their children precisely because they did not want everyone in their families to run out and buy tons of pink or blue stuff. They did a gender-neutral nursery theme as well.

We decided to find out, mostly because my husband is the sort who reads the last chapter of mystery because he can't wait to find out. We did a fairly neutral nursery (we painted it a pale yellow, long before we even started trying to have a baby). My mom made a wall hanging, bumpers, dust ruffle, etc.; it is slightly feminine, but not overwhelmingly so (some pink, but lots of blue, yellow, and green as well). When we outfitted our layette, we bought stuff that was mostly neutral as well (though it turns out that my daughter looks good in pink, so now she has a lot of pink stuff; she also looks good in blue, so she has blue stuff, too).

The other thing I find interesting (which Jane mentions) is the tendency of moms to talk about how much more passive girl babies are than boy babies (at least those who have one of each). I say this as my one-year-old girl is busily unloading the CDs from the FIFTH shelf of the CD tower. She *never* sits still and is in constant motion. She is anything *but* passive. I can't help but wonder how much of the "girls are passive" and "boys are active" is mom's expectation...

10:24 AM  
Blogger Kimberland said...

I am a nurse by profession and the mother of three-ages 8,6, and 8 months. I did the gendermentor test and found it to be absolutely accurate. I think that there are already judgemental attitudes towards motherhood..Why add another one to the mix? I have assisted in many births. I say whatever makes the parents happier and does not place the baby in danger, why not? The reasons one has an elective (abortion in medical terms) is not commonly linked to over the counter genetic testing. As far as my reasoning, I was told I was having a son with my first child. I felt devastated at month nine when I had another sonogram. I was having a girl not a boy. I had a name and complete nursery centered around this child that was not even mine. I would have been a lot better off emotionally if I had just found out in the delivery room. Instead, I mourned for the lost dream. My two oldest are girls. My baby is a boy. I am making plans to add to my family and will use gendermentor again for more practical reasons. I think that we should all support eachother as mothers whether we agree or not.

9:25 AM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Kimberland -- good point. I take it to heart.

9:36 AM  
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6:29 PM  

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