Friday, June 09, 2006

Finding Out

"We’re really hoping we’ll be able to find out the sex." I said it somewhat nervously at my very first appointment with the obstetrician – and it’s a good thing I did, because the doctor snatched back the ultrasound requisition he had just handed me and began filling out another one: "I’ll send you here, then, because they won’t tell you the sex here at the hospital."

This would be a good juncture at which to insert my usual rant against the condescending, paternalistic arrogance of clinics that choose to withhold such information from mothers-to-be. Do they really think we’re going to barf our way through the entire first trimester, only to abort a perfectly healthy 19-week-old fetus because it’s the wrong sex? Does it not seem just a little bit wrong to those poker-faced ultrasound technicians that they can casually glance at our babies and see the little thingy (or lack thereof) without sharing this information with those who are much more entitled to it on account of how they’re the ones who are getting up to pee five times a night for the sake of bringing these little ones into the world? But there’s an even better juncture coming up in just a bit, so you’ll have to wait for it.

When the time came to hobble into the ultrasound clinic, clutching my bladder in agony while the unsympathetic receptionist coolly remarked that if I was in pain, that meant I had consumed too much water (that is, about half the amount recommended on the requisition), I was a little taken aback at the décor. We were in the basement of an old office building, with orange-and-brown curtains on the tiny windows and cracking green linoleum on the floor. It wasn’t quite the shiny, sterile, up-to-date facility I had pictured: more like how I would imagine a 1970s-era illegal abortion clinic. And the tech looked the part: an aging hipster with a big head full of grey curls. He was palpably bored as he jotted down the measurements, yawning occasionally as he worked. Boredom is not a trait I always look for in a medical professional, but it’s a real asset in an ultrasound tech. There will be plenty of time later on for my children to develop entertaining individual quirks. At 20 weeks’ gestation, I want my unborn child to be as boring and generic as the next fetus. I was reassured by this man’s evident tedium that nothing was seriously wrong with my baby, but the big question still remained. "Can you tell what the sex is?" I asked timidly. I know the drill: they take all the important measurements, and when that’s done they bring in your spouse and turn the screen so you can see the heartbeat, and the pearl necklace of the spine, and those heartbreakingly sweet, endearing little toes. And then, if they can, they tell you the sex. I knew he wouldn’t say anything just yet – all I wanted to know now was whether or not he knew. The aging hipster gave me a withering look. "You can almost always tell if you really want to," he said.

Here, you see, is the better juncture for my rant. Because as many as half of my friends have returned from their ultrasounds disappointed that they were unable to learn the sex of the baby. The baby’s legs were crossed. The parts weren’t quite developed enough for the tech to be sure one way or the other. Lies, people. These are lies. It’s not that the techs can’t figure out the baby’s sex; rather, they have a policy not to divulge this information. But they can’t quite bring themselves to look a pregnant woman in the eye and say, "The sex of your baby – the one you conceived in a round of passionate and incautious make-up sex a few months ago, the one that kicks you in the ribs every night, the one that you will be pushing out of your privates in another 20 weeks or so – the sex of that baby is for me to know and for you to find out." Cowards and liars, these ultrasound techs. (Cowards and liars with a sadistic predilection for water torture.)

I realize, of course, that there are some people who don’t want to know the sex of their baby ahead of time. I support and understand that. (Though I am not equally supportive of those who find out the sex and then attempt to keep it a secret, forcing the rest of us to pretend we don’t realize it’s a boy when the mother pats her tummy and says absentmindedly, "Hello, little dude…or dudette.") Anyway. It’s always been clear that I would want to find out my baby’s sex as soon as possible. For one thing, I like information. I’m the one who wants to hear about the fight you had with your husband, or the problem you had with your hemorrhoids. I enjoy giving information too, especially to those who leap to cover their ears if I mention proudly that hubby and I have made it all the way through the box of 12 condoms we bought after the baby was born. But you know this about me already of course – I expect must of us bloggers are information junkies.

I was especially determined to find out the sex of my babies, though, because both times I was so, so hoping to have a girl. And when the aging hipster showed us the Bub’s little thingy (to borrow, again, a term from Blackadder II), I had a strange cascade of emotions. I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, but I was taken aback and kind of amazed. How, exactly, did a boy get in there? Inside me? I did, of course, attend health class when we covered this topic, and I’m aware of the origin of that pesky Y-chromosome, but it still seemed profoundly counter-intuitive that I could possibly give birth to a boy. I don’t have any brothers, no experience with boys, whom I regarded with a kind of awestruck admiration when I was a girl – they seemed desirable but mysterious, and I didn’t actually figure out how to talk to them until after I graduated from high school.

For the rest of my pregnancy, I wandered around malls and sidewalks, assessing the little boys with a watchful eye. What I saw was somewhat alarming: rambunctious ten-year-old boys hurling food at one another across the food court, sullen fifteen-year-old boys with pants hanging around their knees. I’m still not sure I can imagine myself parenting those boys – and to be honest, I think that when Bub is that age, he’ll be holed up in a library, conducting experiments with his chemistry set, trying to blow up the world like Janie in Harriet the Spy (a hobby that is perhaps less joke-worthy now than it was forty years ago). Or he’ll be gathered at tables with fellow nerds, rolling d20s and collecting miniature war-game figures. But back in those early days of little-boy research, I saw other things, too: a four-year-old holding his mom’s hand while he walked along, chatting brightly; a little fellow barreling down the sidewalk on his tricycle, looking up at his dad with his heart in his eyes.

The second time around, my ultrasound experience was different: my bladder was optimally full (just a tad uncomfortable from holding approximately one quarter of the recommended amount of water), and I was prepared for anything: still longing for a daughter but also thrilled to potentially give the Bub a brother, little baby Wes (and oh! there’s a little pang in my heart as I write those words for the little baby boy I didn’t have!). And when I found out I was having a girl, I was excited enough to wear a pink Old Navy t-shirt throughout the rest of my pregnancy that said "make mine a girl." But in the meantime, I had discovered something: I’m glad, so glad, to be the mother of a boy. Not because of any particular traits that boys supposedly monopolize, but because of a new space that has opened up in my heart. Because when I see a little boy these days, I feel an almost painful contraction of the heart, of the body, for those sweet little men-to-be with their open faces and their appalling vulnerability. It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be entrusted with one of these fragile souls in a world that exerts so much pressure on them to close up and hide. And it’s so often little boys who show up in those awful stories I try not to read in the newspaper, little boys beaten up by their stepfathers, starved by their grandmothers. When my children reach puberty (most likely within hours of one another on that awful day when the Pie is 12 and starts menstruating, and the Bub is 14 and starts slouching around morosely with pimples all over his face), I suspect I will feel most anxious and protective about my daughter as she enters into the terrifying world of mean girls and predatory boys. But for now it’s little boys in whom I see so much need of protection … for their trusting tousled heads, their innocent hearts.


Her Bad Mother said...

THIS SO MOVED ME. Yes, I had to caps that, because words are failing. I've fallen so easily into the 'girls will break your heart' assumptions. But, oh, the little tousled heads of boys...

(Ovaries twitching. And that's saying something, after having been slapped around by a baby for days.)

metro mama said...

Hmmm...a little twitch from mine too. I can picture (an older) Cakes helping take care of a little baby bro.

Mother Bumper said...

I can admit it. I thought Bumper was a boy right up to the end. You should have seen the looks on our faces when she arrived. I love having a little girl but I also want a boy. I know you can't order them, but I do dream of my little guy, one just like his dad. Sigh. Sweet post :)

Andie D. said...

I wanted a girl too. For some reason, I let my hub convince me not to find out the sex of the baby until we had it. Him. It was a him. The look on my face in the delivery room video is priceless. I've since adjusted and am thrilled.

2nd time around I just KNEW I was having another boy. I named him, dreamed about him, and thought about him endlessly. 1 sonogram later, and I screamed with joy when I found out it was a girl!

But like you, I had to mourn the loss of the little brother that would never be. Funny, I thought it was just me.

bubandpie said...

andie - Funny, how it's always the husband who wants to wait to find out the sex. Do men just enjoy surprises more - or have less natural curiosity?

mother bumper - So do you think you'll find out the sex ahead of time, or do you want the surprise again?

metro mama, HBM - Go, ovaries, go!

Friend of B&P said...

This is a great post, but you failed to mention that, both times, I didn't need an ultrasound to tell you what you were having. I just knew by looking at you. And that, my dear, is quite something.

Christina said...

I wanted a girl, also, and I got my girl. Now that we're thinking about trying for #2, I find myself wanting a boy, even though I'm scared I won't know how to take care of a boy. I was raised entirely around women, so I have so little experience with little boys.

Jaelithe said...

Hey thanks for stopping by my blog today!

I love this post of yours. It is so similar to the experience I had with my ultrasound . . . I thought I really, really wanted a girl, too, but I was so thrilled when the tech told me "The heart looks great-- it has four chambers, all just the right size, and the spinal cord is fully formed, and the brain is just the right size, and that big belly there shows this one's getting great nutrition!" that by the time she said "Oh, and it's a boy," all I could say was,

"That's fantastic!"

But I felt weird about it. Like I was harboring some sort of alien. I had the same thought as you-- "HOW exactly did a boy get in there again?" Heh.

And then he came out and suddenly my heart felt ten times bigger than it ever had before, and before long I was thinking, "A boy? Of course! I was always supposed to have a boy!"

You're a beautiful writer and I shall have to come back and read more!

bubandpie said...

friend - But you know I was thinking of you when I explained how I like to scandalize people, right?

Christina - Loving the little boys is the easy part; figuring out to with them, though ... jury's still out on that one.

Jaelithe - I had your boy in mind as I wrote this post; I was so moved to read about all you both have been through - and his little red-headed self is just so sweet, I could die.

Mommy off the Record said...

Loved this post!! Loved! I have a few comments so I will bullet them for clarity because...well...I'm anal like that.

1. Cowards and liars with a sadistic predilection for water torture. Oh, how true this is! When I went in for my ultrasound I drank all the water they told me to cuz I was a first time mom and foolish like that. It was the most pain I have ever felt before. And I curse them for it. Curse them I say!

2. I decided to find out the sex of my baby as well. My husband wanted it to be a surprise, but I felt there were enough surprises for me as it was. But I understand wanting it to be a surprise too. I think I'll let him have his surprise next time.

3. It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be entrusted with one of these fragile souls in a world that exerts so much pressure on them to close up and hide. A friend once said to me that she would NEVER want to have a man because there were too many men in the world that were screwed up and they were what is wrong with the world. And I told her that if that is true, then that is exactly why I want one. I can't wait to nurture my fragile little soul. Boys really are great.

4. But I still do want a girl too. Can't help it. :)

Mommy off the Record said...

Re. #3, that should have said ... NEVER want to have a son.

Mayberry said...

We were some of those weirdos who didn't want to find out the sex, either time. And so when Opie came out a boy I was SHOCKED. I'd secretly thought/hoped the whole pregnancy that he was a girl. And you're right--discovering all the wonderful things about little boys has been amazing.

something blue said...

This is spectacular. Every word makes me heartache for a little boy.

I love my girls. I love that they have each other. I know as teenagers they might see me as the enemy. All mother and daughter relationships are complex whereas a son's love is endless.

bubandpie said...

MOTR - Oooh - I love a comment that requires bullet points (people sometimes apologize for long comments, but I say BRING IT ON!).

Mayberry - Yeah, I would have been so shocked if I'd waited - and I had enough shock to deal with already, what with the forceps and the episiotomy.

Something Blue - It's funny that you put it like that. My stereotype about grown-up boys is that they never call (whereas my mother and I chat every day). That's why Bub is betrothed to a little girl who will make sure he remembers to call his mother on Mother's Day.

Binkytown said...

I am so with you. I love love love raising a little man. Before him I couldn't fathom it- I thought it was unnatural that a woman could give birth to a boy with a thingy. How was that possible? I'm so glad I did. Oh- those pictures with Paulo! Oh oh oh! I want another.