When it happened for a third time in one day, I was still taken aback. In between the sa-wheep of baby wipes and Kleenex sliding across the scanner the cashier glanced at my boys and my bump. After a few moments, she acquired the satisfied look of someone who successfully replicated unicorn poop cupcakes from Pinterest.
“Tried for a girl this time?” she asked, though it wasn’t a question. I could feel my cheeks get hot as I fumbled a response. I wish I’d said, “I think I got pregnant in the shower while my sons watched Daniel Tiger in the other room; do you think that has any influence?” so she’d feel just as uneasy.
Now that I’m pregnant with my third, after two boys, it seems everyone is stuck on the same refrain. I’m endlessly answering uncomfortable questions hinting at how we conceived (if that’s what “trying for a girl” means?), or probing whether I’m to be pitied for being the only female in my house (“can you imagine having three boys?” they whisper as if it’s terminal). Family, friends, and strangers often tell me about their desires for my baby, usually “I hope it’s a girl.”
There are outcomes I am hoping for from this pregnancy, but they’re not things I get into in a two-minute conversation. Take hemorrhoids, for instance. Like script tattoos listing offspring names on a dad’s bicep, they can become life-long reminders of your children, only chronically uncomfortable and slightly more unsightly. My friend lovingly calls hers “perma-rhoids” (short for permanent hemorrhoids). I’ve acquired tempa-rhoids (temporary hemorrhoids) during labor; it’s a relief when they go away. Additionally, I would like to leave the hospital intact—alive and without any cuts or stitches (in my abdomen, my perineum, or my labia (!)). I care more about not having perma-changes to my body than I care about my baby’s sex.
And I hope, more than anything, to have a healthy baby. I know that’s cliché, but I also know parents who spent excruciating weeks with babies in the NICU, babies who needed early surgeries, or kids whose conditions lead to frequent trips to the ER. I know parents who left for the hospital to deliver their baby and never got to bring them home. Not having to go through those struggles would be a tremendous gift.
“Wouldn’t you just love to dress a little girl? Girls clothes are the cutest!” people tell me in voices that are nearly squealing. Why yes, I’d love to help perpetuate our gender biases. I’ll just go ahead and put my baby in clothes embellished with sparkly expectations like a “perfect princess” so that people can exclaim, “She is so pretty! She is a little princess!” and ensure she gets the message that how she looks (and behaves) is tantamount to her value.
“You really should have a daughter,” I was instructed last week (though without actual instructions for making that happen). But what if I never have a daughter? I can’t imagine that if my children had been born with vulvas instead of penises that I would love them any more than I do. Will I be missing out on a magical mother-daughter bond? Perhaps, but having a daughter doesn’t guarantee this—I know plenty of women who would rather invite a fully-outfitted marching band playing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” into their labor and delivery room than their own mom.
I think the reason so many people are so inclined to focus on the sex of my baby is because they think I should want a girl after having two boys. But I loathe these conversations, in part, because so many of our expectations for boys and girls seem to be wrapped up in stereotypes we create for them. We put headbands on bald baby girls and “little ladies man” onesies on boys. And even before infants show gender-related preferences for toys, we give girls pink teething purses and boys plush baseball-bat rattles. As they grow up, the underlying message for boys: “be tough,” and for girls: “be kind (and pretty).” I wonder, would anyone care about the sex of their (or others’) baby if boys and girls were treated equally?
And the primary reason I dislike these sexpectations is that we don’t choose who our children will be. Boy or girl, this baby will be unique. He might grow up to be a nurse who bakes (like his father!), or she might become a scientist who loves the outdoors (like me!). Do I want to have a child who is compassionate, empathetic, nurturing, and communicative? Heck yes. But I don’t believe I need to have a girl to support those qualities in this young person.