When I was pregnant with IEP I quite specifically did not want to know if he was a boy or a girl. Not typically prone to sixth senses about things, I had the strong sensation throughout that pregnancy that I was not supposed to know. I felt that my job was to focus on keeping myself and my baby healthy – getting rest and exercise and maintaining a balanced diet – and that knowing the sex would just be a distraction. GAP (who probably would have opted to find out the sex) graciously indulged my desire to remain in the dark. And so it was that it was in my delivery room that we first heard the words, “It’s a boy” (in a decidedly uncelebratory tone…).
Because my first pregnancy was routine throughout, textbook even, I was able to make the decision not to find out my baby’s sex very much about me and my desires. This time around, it all went down differently.
In mid-May I went in for my 16-week prenatal appointment during which blood was drawn for my Quad Screen. Four days later I got a phone call informing me that my test results indicated the baby had an elevated risk for Downs Syndrome. Three days after that GAP and I met with a genetic counselor. I had a detailed ultrasound looking for physical markers of Downs, the results of which were encouraging, but inconclusive. We ultimately decided to have an amniocentesis done to determine with certainty whether or not our baby was healthy. The whole ordeal was overwhelming, and stressful, and frightening.
The great thing about an amnio is that it is extraordinarily accurate. The bad thing about an amnio is that the results take days to determine. Our initial results (which looked specifically for Downs) took five days. The full panel of results took more than a week. In the five days between the time the amnio was performed and the time the initial results were given to us we: drove three hours to spend Memorial Day weekend with GAPs family, smiled extensively for professional pictures of the entire family (19 of us including six kids aged three and under), cried as we left IEP with his grandparents and drove three hours back home to leave for vacation, caught a delayed flight to Chicago, missed our connection to Dublin, spent 24 unplanned hours in Chicago waiting for the next Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, flew to Dublin, and drove to Belfast. It was not exactly an easy few days. And that is how it came to pass that we were standing on a street corner in Belfast when we got the genetic counselor’s phone call telling us that our baby is healthy.
We ducked into a mostly-empty bar to call our parents with the news. GAP drank a pint of Smithwick’s and I drank a Coke. We breathed a great sigh of relief, and continued our sightseeing knowing our baby was fine.
At this point we still didn’t know the sex.
Until my Quad Screen results came back, I had assumed that we would take the same approach to finding out the baby’s sex as we had the first time around. I contemplated finding out for IEP’s sake, thinking that something as abstract as a pregnancy would be easier for a two-year-old to grasp if he knew whether he was getting a brother or a sister. But since IEP is only beginning to understand that he himself is a boy I eventually settled back into my original philosophy – focus on having a healthy pregnancy. The Downs Syndrome fears, however, changed my whole paradigm.
The decision which was once all about me and my idiosyncracies (again, because GAP had always left it up to me) was no longer about me, and all about the baby. I decided that if the amnio results came back positive for Downs we would find out the sex; that in that situation I wouldn’t comfortable leaving any unknown hanging in the balance. As I waited to have the amnio done and then waited again for the results this approach – this “I should find out everything I can about this baby” approach – seeped deep into every thought I had about the pregnancy.
Later that evening in Belfast we sat in a pub waiting to order dinner. It was only 1:00pm at home. A single phone call back to our genetic counselor was all it would take to find out the sex if we wanted to. After days of hoping for the best but bracing for the worst most of my convictions about waiting to find out the baby’s sex had crumbled. So when GAP said, “Oh let’s find out,” that was all it took for me to pick up the phone and call.
We are having another boy, and I couldn’t be happier.
As for my thoughts on finding out the sex, well, they are quite varied at this point. Most of all, it feels weird knowing. When you don’t find out the sex you’re always explaining yourself. “Is it a boy or a girl?” people would ask. “Oh, we didn’t find out.” Then there was always an awkward pause where I was presumably supposed to justify that decision. There is something about knowing the sex that makes conversations with people (especially strangers) much easier.
But beyond that bit of prenatal culture shock my dominant thought is that my opinions on the matter carry no weight outside of my own family. I did what was right for me both times, and made a different decision each time. If my own circumstances can sway my decision from one pregnancy to the next, who am I to weigh the merits of finding out for somebody else? It is a highly personal decision, and unless it’s my own pregnancy it has nothing to do with me. Thankfully, most of the time it is a fun decision that is not riddled with health concerns. But rarely do we know the full story of another person’s pregnancy. We don’t know what factors influenced her decision. And frankly it’s none of our business.
My baby is healthy. And truly, that is the only thing that matters.