Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
For weeks now, we’ve been preparing my daughter for the impending arrival of her sibling (circa June, though I optimistically like to tell people late May). We talk about things that babies do and potential names for her little brother or sister. This time around, we’re hoping to find out the baby’s sex, in part to help prepare my daughter with the official name and language to greet the newcomer. When I told her we’d soon find out if the baby was her brother or sister, she enthusiastically said “and then we can change which one!” I can see we still have a lot of discussing to do, so it’s lucky I’m only halfway to the due date.
Aside from the name and the pronouns, there’s not a whole lot that matters about the baby’s sex at this point. Our nursery set, baby gear, and early infancy apparel are all “neutral,” in part because we thought more of the practical finances of not re-purchasing than we did of choosing a gender-specified theme. Yet our refusal to find out the first time really irked some of our family members; there was the usual good-natured guessing but also some pressure that I found strange—like one person who told us we could always tape a bow to a baby girl’s head at the hospital (don’t worry, we didn’t). I’m uneasy about the same pressures with this pregnancy, because while I believe that gender is beautiful and God-given, I don’t think it fits the narrow definitions we culturally assign, especially to babies.
I think the pressure to categorize children says more about the adults than it does the children; and, no, I’m not talking about parents wanting to know their babies’ sex, which to me seems like an exciting way of getting to know a child before birth. Like so many things, it’s not the knowledge of the baby’s sex that is problematic for me, it’s why we want it and what we do with it—and those motivations can be as mysterious and varied as individuals. Consider for instance, the history of the colors that seem obviously gendered to so many of us today. It wasn’t until after World War II that pink was allocated for girls and blue for boys; around World War I, the color schemes were just the opposite (with blue deemed daintier, and thus more appropriate for girls), and early twentieth-century parents chose white for all their children because it was easy to bleach (and, I imagine, hand down). It’s not that earlier parents didn’t care about the sex of their children, but that the way that sex gets expressed through gendered expectations isn’t nearly as historically static as we might like it to be.
I’m excited to find out the sex of my second child, to finalize a name with my family, and to engage in more interesting discussions with my daughter about her new sibling. The baby’s sex is an important piece of information to me right now (partly because it’s the only one I’m going to get for a while), but the complexities of this child’s character will keep manifesting long after the nursery set is outgrown.