At the 20th week—halfway through her pregnancy—my wife and I made our first big decision as parents-to-be: not to find out the gender of our baby. I was probably the one who pushed hardest to stay in the dark—what can I say, I like surprises—but it turns out ignorance isn't always easy.

The first hurdle was ensuring we wouldn't find out by mistake. We made sure to tell the ultrasound technician, in no uncertain terms, that we did not want to know. It would be so easy for a slip of the tongue—"She looks healthy," or, "He has got great circulation"—to ruin our plan.

Next up: frustration from friends and, especially, family. I suspect they wanted to know the sex for one very simple reason: shopping. Most baby clothes manufacturers seem to operate under a philosophy of color choice. You can get newborn clothes in any color you want, as long as it's blue or pink.

Whereas finding out a baby's gender in western countries is usually a matter of convenience, commerce and curiosity, it can have darker implications in other places. With a booming population and developing economy, China in 1979 introduced population-growth laws that limited married couples to a single child. For years, anecdotal evidence suggested that because parents preferred boys over girls—in traditional Chinese culture, boys were expected to care for their elderly parents while girls did not—there was an epidemic of aborted female fetuses. Demographers now see the results. Some estimates put the number of "surplus males" in China at 35 million. This can't be blamed solely on the one-child policy, however. Many countries have no laws limiting children and still have huge disparities in the numbers of male and female children in part from would-be parents finding out the gender and aborting girls.

In that week 20 ultrasound, the baby was blessed with a clean bill of health on all tests except one—the tech couldn't get a good image of his or her facial cavity. For this reason, we were told we could schedule another session if we wanted one. At first, my wife and I balked. It's got to have a face, right? But as the weeks rolled on and the anticipation grew, at 32 weeks, my wife wanted another look—just to see the baby again. She even said that she was tempted to find out the sex this time around. I knew I'd have to stay on guard to keep us from finding out.

One reason she wavered was because the sex had become an unavoidable topic of conversation—not between us (neither of us still had any guess), but rather between her and the entire world. The clerk at the FedEx store told my wife she'd be having a boy because she's holding the baby "like a basketball, up against your body." An older Polish woman at work predicted she was having a boy too.

Then, a man in the elevator at her office building read her palm and not only told her she'd be having a boy, but also that she'd be having three kids. "Not all at the same time, right?" I asked, half-joking and half-terrified. Finally, my mom and father-in-law hopped on the boy bandwagon—completely abandoning calling the baby "it" and going with "he." But my wife and I maintained neutrality.


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