Oh Boy, It’s Another Girl

My sister and her husband have three beautiful little girls, and they are having another baby in November. When she recently came back here to visit, several friends and family members reacted to news of her pregnancy with comments such as these:

“Oh, you’re having another baby?” (This phrase is often coupled with the sometimes spoken, other times implied, “On purpose?”)

“I hope this one’s a boy, you know, for your husband’s sake.”

“Oh–another baby? Are you trying for a boy this time?”

“If it’s a girl will you try again?”

While my sister replied graciously, I bristled internally with each utterance; these types of questions and comments irritated and offended me, even though they weren’t directed at me. They bothered me because of the judgments and biases that appeared to lurk below the surface of the words. They also bothered me because I had heard many of the same comments a few months earlier when a friend of mine, who already has two girl children, announced she is expecting a third child. When this same friend found out a few weeks ago that she was having another girl, the reaction was mixed, but there was an undertone of “That’s ok, you can always try again”; as if having another girl child is a disappointment or a failure on some level. The way many in our society view family size and infant gender surprises me–I thought we had progressed beyond this point.

First, the whole another baby thing annoys me. Most people who utter that phrase do so with a look that mixes surprise and skepticism. There was a time when large families were valued–if anything, women were pitied or looked down upon if they had no children, or if they only had one or two children. I am not supporting that stance–I find it equally judgmental and narrow-minded–I just find it strange that in the space of my lifetime we seem to have gone from a society that values large families to one that sees large families as a riddle to solve. “Do you think they’re Catholic? Or Mormon? You know, one of those groups that like big families?” “Do you think they meant to have kids fifteen years apart in age, or was that last one a surprise?” “I wonder if they adopted, or had IVF...” These are actual comments I have heard people make when discussing families with four, five, or even more children. When did it become our business how many children someone else decides to have, and how they came to have that many? And more importantly, when did we decide we needed to share our opinions with the happy parent(s)-to-be?

Beyond family size, there is obviously some bias when it comes to infant gender. When I had my first child, a son, I was congratulated repeatedly for ‘giving my husband a boy’, as if I had anything to do with the gender of my child, as if I had specifically chosen to have a male child. Of course I love my son, but I love my daughter just as much. I wouldn’t trade either of them, and I would feel the same regardless of their genders; they are a part of me, and a part of their dad, and a part of our family. That is what I love about them.

Everyone has their own anecdotes and personal experiences, but the evidence goes deeper than that. A Gallup poll completed in June asked Americans: If you could only have one child, would you prefer to have a girl or a boy? The company has been asking this question in some version or another since 1941. The original poll taken seventy years ago showed that 38% preferred a boy, while 24% preferred a girl; the rest of those asked said they had no gender preference. I imagined that the numbers would be different today; after all, women have made great strides in our society in the intervening seven decades. The results were different in the 2011 poll–this time, 40% would choose to have a male child, while 28% would choose a female, with the remaining individuals stating that they had no gender preference. So although more people had a preference for girls in 2011 than 1941, those favoring boys still outnumbered those favoring girls.

In America, this preference for male children is a fairly passive issue. People may wish for boys, and lament the birth of girl children, but it seldom goes beyond that point. Unfortunately the same cannot be said across the globe. In June of this year, five United Nations agencies came together to study the effects of a growing global trend: sex-selective abortion. As the technology behind prenatal sex determination develops across the world, more and more females are being aborted. Triggering the partnership between these United Nations agencies was the discovery that China and India now see the birth of 124 boys for every 100 girls, a highly skewed ratio. Many other countries are beginning to show similarly unbalanced male-female birth ratios with the emergence of sex-selective abortion practices. The implications for nations where women are slowly being bred out of existence are worrisome, to say the least.

Of course, I am not equating those who make unintentionally hurtful comments with those who actually kill unwanted female infants. What I am saying is that people should think about what they are saying, and why. Truly, once a baby is conceived, its sex is already determined, so why make any comments about it one way or the other? Instead of worrying whether they will turn out how we want them to be, we should be excited to meet them and love them as they actually are. The important thing, as my friend having her third daughter said, is that the baby is as healthy as possible when it is born. Incidentally, my sister ultimately found out that she is having a fourth daughter, who will be loved as much as any child could–and should–be loved.

Originally published on August 2nd, 2011

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