Keeping the Gender a Mystery

by Vanessa Wingerath
This piece originally appeared on What To Expect on Feb. 1, 2016

When I was pregnant with my second son, I was sure I was having a girl. I was wrong. I gave birth to my second, beautiful baby boy in August of last year. To be honest,  I was disappointed, but still joyous. I was also embarrassed because we never found out the sex before the baby arrived and I had told almost everyone that I was sure it was going to be a girl. However, before I had a chance to develop those feelings of disappointment and embarrassment, I had the incredible experience of pulling my baby up to my chest and lifting up one leg to discover for myself that he was a he.

We were told my first baby was a boy when he was 20 weeks in-utero. So, I have done it both ways: knowing as soon as possible and choosing to wait to find out the gender.  I preferred finding out the gender when I could see for myself, at the moment of meeting my baby, as opposed to learning from a technician while looking at a strange image. If I have a third baby, I will wait again.

I feel that pregnancy is a private experience that inevitably becomes public when you start showing. Once you pass a certain point, you cannot choose who knows what is going on inside your body. Everyone from your mother to the deli counter guy has something to say about your body, your baby, and your experience before you even have a chance to meet the baby. Keeping the gender a secret was one way I was able to maintain some privacy during the pregnancy. It allowed the baby to be a mystery for a bit longer. And it was an invitation to keep guessing, questioning, and dreaming. And to me, that is much more fun than knowing. Apply the jittery, excited energy that we associate with children on Christmas morning, multiply it by one hundred, and add a heaping portion of intimacy and exhilaration and that is something close to what it felt like to me when I delivered my baby and saw their body in the flesh as a completely new human. Having the added surprise of gender is just another layer of true discovery that I find irresistible.

And my final, and possibly controversial reason for waiting to find out the gender is driven by a bit of rebellion. We are in a cultural moment of expanding awareness around gender nonconformity and increased visibility of trans people. I cannot say I have more than a sliver of understanding of what it is like to question to your own gender and the expectations foisted upon you by your born anatomy. But, I do believe it is important to question why gender identity is an issue that makes so many (myself included) so uncomfortable. Throughout my second pregnancy, I did have an attitude that wanted to snap, "It doesn't matter!" when I was asked about the gender of my unborn child. Of course, I know why people ask. I do the same thing. But I felt the need to rebel against that urge to label and categorize and investigate. I wanted to see what it would be like to just let my child show himself to me when he was ready.

It is a personal choice and everyone has the option to know their baby's gender before birth. And I am so glad we have that choice because it gave me the opportunity try it both ways. To me, the question of anatomy of a creature still unmet and unjudged in every other way is unnecessary. This is my attempt to explain why I made the choices I made. But ultimately, aren't we lucky that if we want to, we can find out one small thing about our children when they're still completely protected inside? Because the real mystery is who they will become.