As Long As It Has 10 Fingers and Toes—and No Balls

Lots of women are disappointed about the sex of their babies.

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Jun 5 2017, 7:38pm

Did you know that ultrasound techs can now send you home with 3D images of your fetus that make it look like the Pietà: sculptural, white, tragic?

Mine printed out a scan of my unborn baby at 20 weeks. I'd been lying on the table, my abdomen covered in goo, for about 45 minutes when she asked my husband and me whether we wanted to know the baby's gender. We did.

Some background: I kind of wanted a boy. I have two sisters, and their paths have been rocky, whereas my brother is a handsome, popular college athlete who gets along well with my mother. I also have a lot of hang-ups, and I worried I'd pass them along to a daughter.

I'd asked about two dozen mom friends whether they'd wanted a boy or a girl, and about a third felt the same way I did. They either fought a lot with their mothers and didn't want history to repeat itself, they grew up with sisters and knew "how complicated girls can get," or they feared passing on their own insecurities.

"I'm terrified of raising a girl between the ages of 8 and 18," said one mother of a young boy. "Eating disorders, mean girls, mental health issues; I would have driven her insane trying to keep her from sexual predators and heartbreak and body image bullshit and the color pink."

About an equal number wanted to have a girl: to be their bestie, so they could dress them up and do their hair, or because girls seemed likelier to sit down and play tea with their stuffed animals than to tear them apart. "It's often believed that it's easier to raise girls when they're young," says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

"But if the mom had a difficult teen experience, she may fear raising a daughter, or if boys were given more privileges in her family, she may want a boy since she feels he will have an easier life. Or she may be a feminist and want to raise a strong girl and not have to deal with a boy's masculinity. All kinds of experiences and beliefs contribute to her gender preference."

According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 31 percent of women said they would prefer a boy and 33 percent would prefer a girl, which roughly lines up with my results, while a study from Queen's University that same year found that women "significantly preferred" daughters. (Or as Hannah Horvath put it in a recent episode of Girls, "If it's not a girl or, like, the gayest boy in the entire world, obviously I'm going to flip the fuck out.")

Jean Twenge, author of The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant and a psychology professor at San Diego State, says that most women do have a preference. "But they don't always voice it, partly because they feel guilty being anything but grateful that they're pregnant, and partly because they believe in gender equality and therefore think it shouldn't matter," she says.

Here's the thing: Every woman I spoke to pivoted very quickly if her wish was not fulfilled. "After our last child was born, I had to come to terms with the realization that I would never have the experience of raising a boy, which was really hard," says Twenge, who has three girls. "But that lasted about 30 minutes, and now I wouldn't have it any other way."

For one thing, sex is not gender, as Jen Gann argues in her essay on learning she was having a boy. For another, I'd argue that gender is to parenthood like a wedding is to marriage: pretty inconsequential in the long run. "Turns out that when the baby is inside, there's nothing to think about other than gender," said one friend. "But then when it's born, you get a personality and all this other stuff to focus on instead." So maybe it's not even the wedding, just the wedding colors.

***

The day after my ultrasound, a friend dropped off a couple of homemade maple scones. My enthusiasm was noticeably greater than it had been in the doctor's office, when I found out I was having ... a girl. "I think I'm more excited about that scone than finding out the gender," I texted her. "Too bad the doctor didn't tell me I'm having a scone!"

It wasn't that I was disappointed to learn I was having a girl, exactly. Well, or maybe I was just able to turn on a dime. By the time my husband and I got home, I'd already confessed that I was glad our child would be less likely to be a murderer, rapist, or warmonger, and that we wouldn't have to worry about circumcision or baby boners. Or, you know, holding my crucified holy son's body in my arms.