There are a lot of things I would do differently if I could go back in time. But there’s one thing I am rock solid that I made the right choice about: not finding out the gender of my babies when I was pregnant.
Everyone is different, as my Dad says. For some, finding out the gender is a natural part of the pregnancy, others agonise over whether or not they should ask as they lie on their back in the dark at ultrasounds or when blood tests come in. Then there are people like me who choose not to know.
I never thought not finding out the gender of my children would have such a long term impact, but I can’t count how many times I have taken myself back to that delivery room.
I have replayed in my head those intense, intimate hours of labour and birth where I can see my husband next to me, sometimes holding my hand, sometimes rubbing my back, trying to be useful, looking more helpless than I’ve ever seen him, thinking I’m the most amazing woman on earth. And I see that we don’t really understand what is about to happen. We had seen grainy ultrasound images. We had a boy’s name and a girl’s name picked. We had the cot set up and little, tiny singlets in piles and we had a stroller in the hallway; but we hadn’t yet grasped that there was a real live little human about to join us.
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I’ve been trying to work out why I keep coming back to that moment in the delivery suite. A time that was not perfect, that was full of pain, that was messy and definitely didn’t resemble in any way a birthing scene from a movie.
Then I read a story about how technology is impacting on human relationships in The Guardian by Jonathon Safran Foer and someone else said it for me:
My wife and I debated learning the sex of our first child before birth. I raised the issue with my uncle, a gynaecologist who had delivered more than 5,000 babies. He was prone neither to giving advice nor anything whiffing of spirituality, but he urged me, strongly, not to find out. He said, “If a doctor looks at a screen and tells you, you will have information. If you find out in the moment of birth, you will have a miracle.”
I am not spiritual either (yet the older I get the more I seek something to fill that void), and that ‘miracle’ is what I felt also. So did my husband. And I think that ‘miracle’ was helped along by having so much to discover in one moment. I mean how could this be an actual real live person we created?
“What is it?” I asked. (Yes, I called the baby an it.)
“It’s a girl,” he said.
Our world would never be the same.
Giving birth is such a personal experience. Find out the sex or don’t. Snapchat it like The Young Mummy Sophie Cachia or decide you’ll opt for intimacy. Invite friends and family or just keep it between you and your partner. Of course, one option is not superior to the other — we are all different and we all need different things.
I needed "less information" and more "not knowing". The "not knowing" made me feel instead of think and I'm the type of person who can think way too much.
When I saw my babies, all girls, for the first time, all those months of wonder turned into reality and I needed - and still need - to remember that wonder.
I'm glad I kept it intimate too, because in the years and years that have followed the most superhuman and mortal hours of my life, I've called upon those three days of labour and birth so many times.
Between the knowing of school holiday dates and foods the third child won't eat and ideas for Mum's Christmas present, the worries and the stress, these days of wonder are inside me, still so very clear.
When I need to, I time-travel back and I watch. Me, my husband and a whole person we are about to meet for the very first time, who we do not know much about at all and do not understand. The two of us who, being adult humans, think we know so much, in a strange light-blue delivery room. I let the memory sit with me and I fill with love and some laughter because now these girls are growing up. One maybe even grown up.
And something else travels with that love, something I don't have a name for. Something that is a gift to feel too.
Maybe it is a miracle like the gynaecologist in the story says. Maybe it's spirituality or perspective? Maybe it's feeling connected to something so much bigger than me. Maybe it's simply a flood of wonder.
I can feel it but I don't know what it is. Sometimes it's good to not have "the information".