25 May 2006

on gender preferences

When I got pregnant with James, Greg and I did not find out his gender ahead of time. We weren't able to, for one thing, due to the timing of my ultrasounds, but then, we didn't really care, either -- having a baby in the first place was enough for us, never mind getting worked up about the kid's gender besides. When I got pregnant with Evan, we opted to find out his gender ahead of time, partly for practical reasons (ie, how much of James' baby stuff can we re-use?) and partly to help James prepare -- to get him used to the idea of not just a baby on the way, but a brother.

But I've noticed over the years, living in a neighborhood full of plenty of pregnant women and new babies at any given time, that some people find out their baby's gender ahead of time for other reasons -- namely, to find out whether they're getting the gender they want. I've had people admit all sorts of disturbing things to me -- the woman who told me matter-of-fact that they needed to find out all of their children's genders ahead of time so her husband could get over his disappointment, before the babies were born, if they should turn out to be girls; the woman who told me that her husband lost interest in her pregnancy once he found out their child was a boy, and agreed to his choice of baby name mostly because he was finally showing a little interest in the baby; two women who regularly claim they had each other's babies, because one wanted a boy and got a girl, and the other wanted a girl and got a boy.

I've no doubt that all of these parents love the children they have, but it bothers me to hear people saying they really wanted a particular gender. Why get so worked up about something you have no control over? Why pin your hopes on something that has a fifty percent chance of disappointment? If it's so important to have a particular gender, why leave it to chance? Why not adopt and eliminate any chance of error? And if gender is not important enough to adopt so that you'll get the right one, then why make a big deal out of it at all? Really, it comes down to being disappointed about a physical characteristic -- it makes about as much sense as being disappointed that your child is brown-haired instead of blonde, or hazel-eyed instead of blue. Gender is a little different, because people attribute so much of a child's personality to gender, but knowing all the kids I've known, I'm dubious that gender accounts for much more of a child's personality than hair or eye color.

I know that the children of parents like this are loved, but I still feel a little bit sorry for them. How must the daughters of Father #1 above have felt when they saw their daddy's obvious joy upon learning that his third child would be the son he'd been praying and waiting for? (Really, this man told Greg he was excited to have a son because now he could finally do boy things with one of his kids; though his second daughter was as much of a tomboy as a two-year-old can be, it wasn't good enogh for him. Though I don't know what kind of "boy things" there are that you can only do with sons -- write your name in the snow? That's about the only thing I can think of.) Kids are perceptive -- his four-year-old daughter is certainly capable of understanding that Daddy sees boys and girls differently, and may treat them differently because of that. Being devalued for something you can't even control about yourself -- well, it's a form of sexism, but I don't think many people see it that way. I'm sure these are the kind of people who, if they had the choice, wouild have chosen their baby's gender ahead of time. I am not one of those people.

I guess in a way I feel lucky that I've never experienced a deep desire for a particular gender, but I think I must be kind of rare in that regard. I was asked regularly during both pregnancies whether I wanted a boy or a girl; people asked if I was disappointed when we learned we'd be having a second boy. Gender is not something that's easy to ignore, even when the child hasn't been born yet. In a way I do think it would have been nice to have a girl, but now that I have boys, that's mostly in a curious sociological kind of way -- wondering how a girl would turn out raised by me and Greg. As it is, our two boys are very different, and it makes me wonder how a girl would compare. It would have been kind of fun to have my own little science experiment -- how much of my chid's personality and disposition is due to gender, and how much is due to our parenting? Nature vs nurture, inborn characteristics vs environmental factors. I realize I may be a little weird in that regard though.

1 comment:

kim said...

So much of this comes down to traditional gender roles. In contrast to your neighbors, you aren't stuck in the mentality that only a son would be able to play football with you or that only a daughter could help you bake cookies. For people who are, their parenting experiences are so limited in comparison. Jon and I specifically didn't find out Molly's sex ahead of time because we wanted to be excited about her as a person, not her as a son or a daughter with particular expectations based on that.

When thinking about eventually having a second baby, in many ways I'm looking at it as an experiment like yourself. Having another girl would be nice so I could reuse all of Molly's cute clothes; having a boy would allow me to really learn if there are innate differences between boys and girls. So you're not the only weird one.