Is it a boy or is it a girl? And what does it matter, anyhow?

As this pregnancy is more known and more obvious, I am hearing more comments and questions about the gender of this child. Mostly it is some form of people asking if we're hoping for a girl this time, since we already have a boy.

The idea of gender preference is both interesting and complicated, clouded by emotions of the side of both the questioner and questioned. As I have spoken with friends and acquaintances, I have found that most women I know initially imagined themselves with girl children. This is leftover from the times we first imagined ourselves as mothers, when we were still little girls ourselves. It was never an anti-boy thing (it was a time, pre-adolescence, when boys were hardly considered at all); the idea of girl children was just familiar territory.

Two specific experiences regarding gender preference have made me take a hard look at my own thoughts, feelings, and even prejudices about children of both genders, and I think have changed the way I approach motherhood. The first is my own mother's response to the birth of her grandchildren. The second was the response of a high school friend to her second pregnancy.

I approached my first pregnancy, and first child, with a real purity of spirit, I think. I was so happy just to get pregnant. So happy that the baby was healthy. I just did not care whether the child was a girl or boy. Sure, I had imagined myself with a girl child, as I had from my own childhood, but those imaginings resided in a place separate from the reality of the pregnancy. We decided not to learn the baby's gender until birth, and I was fine with that. When people asked me what I hoped for, it seemed a silly question. After all, the gender was decided at conception, so there was no hoping to be done - just wondering at what was there. And since I knew we'd wait to find out until the end, I didn't feel any impatience in that wondering. We would know in time, and that was fine. The most important thing was our child's health.

My mother, on the other hand, made her wishes clear. After three grandsons from my sister, she wanted a granddaughter, and she told us so (she'd actually been vocal about wanting a granddaughter when my sister was pregnant with her first!). It was made clear that nothing less than that would do. A few weeks before the birth, she sent a pair of knit blue booties because she "resigned" herself to the fact that it "probably was a boy." I chose to ignore her ridiculous remarks until our son's actual birth. My husband called to deliver our wonderful news and the first words out of her mouth were. "Oh, I was hoping for a girl." Similar words were spoken when I spoke with her the next day. She made clear that we had disappointed her, and her relationship with her fourth grandson has been lacking. She's just not interested.

My mother has made this continued desire for a granddaughter clear to my brother and his pregnant wife, but I have objected vocally enough to her obnoxious comments that she knows better than to say anything to me now. Still, she makes her preference known to me in other ways, and, I admit it, it hurts. I love my son unconditionally, for all he is, and I wish she did, too.

As for my high school friend, I was in for a shock when I spoke with her last summer. It had been sometime since we had been in touch, but I sent her a change of address card and she called to say hello. I asked how her son was, then she told me she was expecting. I asked if she knew her new baby's gender and she said, "Yeah, and I'm pissed." I was speechless. She went on to tell me about how she and her husband had gone out-of-state to a fancy fertility clinic and paid lots of money (but without guarantees) to get his sperm sorted to favor girl sperm, and how she had been artificially inseminated. Her second son was due in just a few months. Later, I received the birth announcement for a very beautiful boy, and can only hope his mother has reconciled her emotions, for both their sakes.

Both of these experiences played into our approach to getting pregnant this time around. I questioned myself heavily. Did I want a girl? Sure. Did I not want a boy? Not at all. Did I want to try to increase our chances of having a girl? Part of me did (in fact, for a couple of months we played around with timing before deciding it was silly, and it took a few months beyond that to actually get pregnant). Would I be disappointed if I had a boy? I don't think so. Part of what played into both our ideas about the possibility of having a girl was that my husband's mother died about ten years ago: my husband and his mother were quite close and we would really enjoy naming a little girl after her, as she was named after her mother and she had only sons.

But when it comes down to it, does it really matter? Is one gender better than the other? Not at all! I believe in equality of the sexes, so that necessarily extends to infants at birth. Men and women and boys and girls have strengths and weaknesses, both as a part of a gender group and as individuals. Spending so much time thinking one way or the other seems like such a waste of energy, particularly when there are so many couples out there struggling to get pregnant at all. Besides, what's really pretty wonderful in the whole process is that we don't get a choice! Although there are methods that supposedly improve your chances for one gender or the other, in the end, it's really not up to us. Call it biology or call it a higher power, we don't get to choose. We do get the children just right for us, whether male or


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