Does the gender of your baby really matter?

“I really wanted a boy,” my mother said of her first pregnancy. We were sitting side by side at a faux Japanese restaurant where food is prepared at an enormous grill in the middle of the table. A handsome Korean twirled his spatula in the air. “And I had a boy.” My mother looked pleased. In one deft movement, the chef squirted teriyaki sauce on the tofu on the grill.

“Then I really wanted a boy,” my mother laughed. The chef added a heaping portion of white spaghetti to the tofu. “And I had another boy.”

The chef flipped the tofu dish onto my plate and shot a mass of oil onto the grill. At a nearby table I heard the squeal of delighted customers. Their chef was hurling shrimp directly into their open mouths. Although there was space for ten others, the rest of our table was empty.

“Then,” my mother continued, “I REALLY wanted a boy.”

Something in the way she said this—her emphasis on the word really and her forced exuberance perhaps—made me suspect she wasn’t really telling the truth.

I looked down at the tofu and spaghetti on my plate. This restaurant had been my mother’s idea. “And I had a boy!” she exclaimed.

Okay, boys are great. I like boys. I’ve always liked boys. But does anyone really want three of the same gender in a row?

“Then,” my mother paused for a moment and pointed at me, “I really wanted a girl.” Her voice was full of remembering how much she wanted me to be a girl. “And I had you.”

When I was pregnant for the first time, I really wanted a healthy baby. Forget counting fingers and toes. If some of those were missing, I knew I wouldn’t care. The bigger issues worried me: mental retardation, crippling physical ailments, heart problems, cerebral palsy. Abortion was out of the question and I knew I would try to love any baby we had, but I secretly feared I would not be a good parent to a baby with special needs.

I didn’t want a boy or a girl per se, I wanted a living breathing baby. Even though I was young and healthy and strong I was terrified something would go wrong. We kept a journal to the baby (we called it Dear Chickpea) and every time I wrote an entry I worried that the baby might die before he was old enough to read about the love we felt for him.

Like some Jewish people, I was too superstitious to have a baby shower or to buy anything in advance except one tiny outfit. No crib. No changing table. No clothes.

So when I was eight and a half months pregnant and the doctor looked at my small measurements and ordered an immediate sonogram, I panicked. She mumbled something about wanting to rule out “inter-uterine growth retardation.” Then she clicked her pen closed and walked out of the room.

The sonogram confirmed that the baby was fine but my nerves were raw. Then, ten days before my due date and more than three weeks before I expected her—I was sure my firstborn would be late—I was flying home on my bicycle over jagged potholes and terrific bumps and my water broke. Twenty-two hours later my oldest daughter was born.

When it was clear that she was strong and healthy I finally had the luxury of admitting that I had been lying to myself. I had waited my whole life to have a daughter! I was so happy she was a girl! Even though I never admitted it out loud to anyone, I had really wanted a girl baby all along.

Readers, do you think the gender of your baby matters? If you have children, did you want a boy or a girl when you had your first child and beyond? If you don’t have children, do you want to have sons or daughters?


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on Friday, September 10th, 2010 at 11:23 am and is filed under American prejudices.
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