I have been asked this question more than 100 times throughout my pregnancy, sometimes by the same person more than once (granted, some, though not all, of those people were under 10 years old). I have also been asked my least favourite variation of this question:”What is it?” too many times. And while, because I live in a country where the predominant language is not my own, I am willing to chalk some of the issue up to a language barrier, I still feel the question is wildly unfair. What is it? It’s a baby! A human being. A person, already beginning to make its own way in the world. And who am I to introduce assumptions about that life already, for the sake of my own curiosity, before it even feels the breeze on its water-logged skin?
We named this baby Q, for question mark, pretty early on. My science-minded husband will tell you it’s also named for patient X but in a kinder way; as in, the beginning of it all. Either way, we began, from the very start of this pregnancy, to work to see the child as an unknown. People said to me all the time, oh I could never do that! I’d have to know. And I’d think, do you know how new this technology is? How everyone used to have to wait to find out the sex? Of course you could do it; that, of all things, is not the challenging part of this whole pregnancy-delivery-breastfeeding-raising a child who will one day be – gasp – a teenager!-experience. But, at the same time, I’ll admit it has been a challenge at times. Throughout the pregnancy I’d notice my assumptions, my expectations, bubbling to the surface. I’d worry I wasn’t bonding in the right way with the child, or that I was bonding, in my imagination, with a child who didn’t exist: the opposite sex to whatever was already, invisibly determined. I worried I would feel disappointed, that I would inadvertently mar the moment of this child’s entry into the world with my petty, unwanted, uncontrollable feelings. We chose two names, knowing one child will not come into this world, that we were naming a ghost. (On a side note, does anyone else find that naming another human being is a strange experience altogether?)
Parenting comes with so many expectations, and expectations are the source of so much suffering. I knew where my work was, and I did my best to sit back and watch my emotions on many, many days. I asked myself why I wanted one sex over the other, what expectations and projected disappointments were attached to that desire. I practiced accepting my own disappointment: so what if my initial reaction wasn’t perfect, if I was disappointed for a moment? I could let that be there with me in that room full of emotions. I noticed how my own family dynamics, roles and relationships shaped what I wanted or didn’t want with my own child. I worked to notice, and let go of, who I thought this child could or should be. Using an idea I got from Shefali Tsabary’s book The Conscious Parent, I practiced making a mental list of qualities this child might possess and noticing my judgements: ballerina (ooh fun!); hockey player (ugh, cold, early mornings; treating girls in high school like sh*t; hockey parents, yuck; bonding with my brothers, sweet); queer (no worries, enjoy it, you’ll be lucky to have a family like ours in this crazy world); leader (you go girl! um, boy, too); follower (really? do you have to?); video game player (nooo, go outside in the sun! climb a tree!); etc, etc. Fun right? The point is, it is not up to me, and I am convinced that my work as a parent is to realize this and find ways throughout the next 20+ years to accept this child for whoever s/he turns out to be, despite what my own experiences have caused me to believe about those aspects of life so far. In short, not knowing the sex has helped me to work throughout this pregnancy to realize that sex, and even later, gender, is just one of so many realities I am looking forward to getting to know about my child, and I am determined to let hir take the lead and reveal themselves to me.
And my reasons for believing this work, though challenging at times, is invaluable for any parent are constantly revealing themselves to me through the news and media. Did you know that Facebook has more than 50 options for gender? And yet, despite this, as Jordan Peterson of U of T is quick to point out, gender and sex are extremely highly correlated. Um, duh. (Be careful, this longwinded man is an internet rabbit hole very easy to fall into and very hard to untangle). But exactly who I expect or hope my child will be, and who they decide or are born to be, is not under my or anyone else’s control, and though much is determined on the day of hir birth, certainly not everything is revealed in that single moment. Also, at this moment in Canada, we are discussing whether students who join gay-straight alliance clubs at school should be obligated to notify their parents (or have them notified on their behalf – see here, here and here for starters). This breaks my heart. All children, all people, need a place to be who they are and to find their own way. If their parents have not done the work to let go of these expectations — and yes, I know first hand that it is work as we all have our predetermined biases and our dreams for our children to work through — where is a child to go? A parent has no more control over their child’s sexuality than they do over their hair colour, or as they should over any other choice of club or activity, financial/practical restrictions aside.
I know that not finding out the sex of this child in advance is just part of a long road of letting go of expectations. I know it doesn’t solve all of the issues I’ve brought up here, and I know it’s not perfect: even as I write this article, I struggle with pronouns, and without perfect solutions I know I’ve left it a bit messy: alternating, using s/he and hir and even ‘it’ for now, imperfect as that is. And I know the road is long. I need to keep noticing, accepting, and letting go of my expectations for many years to come, in situations when I am more tired, and have had much less time to prepare. I know. But it’s not about perfection, and it is about the journey, and I am so grateful for these 39+ weeks of being able to practice this worthy goal in this small way.
What do you do to help yourself build an authentic relationship with your child? I’d love to learn more.
Thanks for reading!
PS If you did, or will, choose to find out the sex of your child before it’s born, that’s totally up to you! You will have no judgement from me, nor should you from anyone else. Find out, buy the cute dresses (oh how many times I wanted to buy the cute dresses! Side note: not finding out the sex possibly saves you money from not overspending or over-preparing, see reasons 4 and 5) and enjoy knowing and bonding and daydreaming. There are many, many ways to practice acceptance, and letting go of expectations, and I hope, whether you find out the sex or not, that you will find your own ways to let go along your own journey of parenthood.