A few years ago, when we found out we were expecting our first baby, my husband and I agreed that we didn’t want to find out the sex ahead of time.
When people asked — and everyone asks! — we told them that we wanted to be surprised, that we would be happy with either a boy or a girl, and the baby’s sex – or gender identity- wasn’t important to us.
“People are going to start imposing gender roles on it as soon as it’s born,” I’d tell friends (and strangers, honestly) who asked why we weren’t finding out. “We don’t see any reason to give them a head start.”
Mixed in there along with all the other (valid and true) reasons we didn’t want to find out was my own fear. Ultrasounds are interpreted by human beings, after all, and the baby has to cooperate- and I was terrified of finding out the sex only to get a shock in the delivery room. By not finding out ahead of time, we’d be surprised either way- and all I’d care about at that point, I figured, was that the baby was healthy and OUT OF MY BODY. That it was a boy or a girl would be completely secondary.
My gut, though, told me the baby was a girl, and so I wasn’t remotely surprised when that was what she turned out to be.
When our second baby came along, suddenly both my husband and I changed our minds about learning the sex. I will admit that I was interested for totally prosaic reasons: I wanted to know how much of my hoarded baby clothing I could keep and how much I should think about handing down to my cousin’s baby girl.
Baby No. 2 wasn’t very cooperative, but finally the sonographer told us she’d found an angle that made her confident enough to make a call: It was a girl.
We were thrilled. We picked out a name. We told friends. I held on to the dresses in the crawlspace.
But at the same time, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling of uncertainty. It just felt… not quite right. As certain as I had been that our first baby was going to be a girl, I was somehow unconvinced that the second one would be. When people asked, I’d tell them, “Well, we’re told it’s a girl.”
Still, for nearly three glorious months, we reveled in the mental image of our family of sisters. And then, in my third trimester, we went back for a follow-up ultrasound to take a second look at some areas where my OB wanted more images.
The ultrasound tech, a different one this time, asked if we knew the sex, and we said yes, we were told she’s a girl.
When she got to the baby’s reproductive system, she became very quiet. Then she said the thing part of me had been waiting to hear for ten weeks:
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this. It’s a boy.”
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I burst into tears.
Our ultrasound tech felt terrible. She’d been working at the clinic for more than 20 years, she told us, and knew of only one other instance of a baby’s sex being misidentified. And once the tears had dried, I did savor the irony. After all my years of doubting ultrasounds because of the rare occurrence of a mistake, as soon as I relaxed, I ended up becoming the statistic I’d been afraid of all along.
Let me be clear here: All I wanted was a healthy baby. Boy, girl — that didn’t really matter. But I’d spent almost three months building an image in my head of a family of girls. I imagined my daughter and her little sister, dressed alike, playing together, sharing a room. I was in love with the name we’d picked out and the little person I’d started envisioning attached to it. And suddenly she was gone.
Then again…she had never been there to begin with. “She” had always been my bubbly, beautiful, sociable little boy, who despite his Y chromosome still dresses like his big sister, plays with her, shares a bedroom with her. He still wears her hand-me-downs (that North Face jacket was expensive, and pink looks amazing with his coloring), he can still go to ballet class, and he provided us with an opportunity to honor the memory of my husband’s favorite uncle by naming our baby after him.