Girl or boy? The ultimate surprise some parents still want

May 19 2013 - 8:43am

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It's two weeks before her due date and Sara Bell's hospital bag is already packed with two cute baby outfits.

One is pink. One is gray.

No, this Ogden mother isn't expecting twins -- just one baby, gender unknown.

As unusual as it may seem, Sara and Ryan Bell don't intend to find out whether their dear little Baby Bell is a boy or a girl until he or she is born.

"To find out in the moment, when everything is so emotional and intense -- here's your son, here's your daughter ... just picturing that is so exciting," Sara Bell says during an interview, often patting the expected child growing in her round belly.

Adds husband Ryan Bell, "You're always going to be curious; I think it's just natural to want to know. But I think the reward for waiting will outweigh the curiosity."

* * *

The Bells' "reward" arrived on April 23 with the birth of their little son, who came home wearing the gray outfit decorated with a monkey.

And their son's birth was even more exciting than these first-time parents imagined, as all of the hospital staff joined in guessing during Sara Bell's labor what the baby might be.

"Not only was I meeting my child, but I had this big surprise of what my baby would be," says Sara Bell, adding, "It was definitely worth it to us to wait."

In a world where nurseries are stacked to the ceiling with appropriately colored jammies and toys months in advance of baby's arrival, Sara and Ryan Bell were swimming upstream in a river of must-know-the-sex-of-my-baby-right-now parents.

Only a small number of expectant parents decide not to take advantage of modern ultrasounds, instead waiting nine long months to know if their baby will be Daddy's Little Princess or Mommy's Little Man.

Statistics are hard to come by, but Top of Utah childbirth educators, nurses and midwives estimate only 1 percent to 15 percent of couples decide to have mystery babies.

"It's got to be 98 to 99 percent of women who know the sex of their babies," says Vivian Dearden, a Layton certified nurse midwife at Rocky Mountain Women's Health Center. "There are a very, very few who elect not to know."

Dearden, who delivers around 150 babies a year, says she had perhaps one woman in the past year who did not find out. And since January, she says, two expectant mothers who planned not to find out the sex "caved" and asked to know the results of their ultrasounds.

Birthing instructor Marie Chase says she's had only one couple out of more than 30 who have attended her childbirth classes this year at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden who did not know their baby's gender.

Nurse Kathy Field of Ogden Regional Medical Center puts the number of not-knowers at about 5 percent. "Of that 5 percent, probably 2.5 percent of those people are first-time parents, and the other 2.5 are people who have one of each (sex of child) so they don't care," says Field, clinical supervisor of the Family Birth Place at Ogden Regional.

A new normal

Once upon a time, of course, the sex of an unborn baby was always a mystery -- old wives' tales for predicting the gender notwithstanding.

During the last 30 years or so, the increasing popularity and accuracy of ultrasound technology has enabled doctors to see inside the womb to check the infant's growth or pinpoint medical problems such as heart defects, Field says.

And with the technology came a "bonus," Field says -- the ability to identify whether the infant in utero was a boy or a girl.

Nowadays, finding out the baby's sex before birth is the norm and getting the ultrasound -- not giving birth -- is the time of the big surprise, Dearden says. Not knowing the sex is now viewed as a novel or even old-fashioned practice.

Parents who decide not to find out their infant's sex are sometimes regarded with the admiration akin to opting for natural childbirth, says Melissa Schmidt, childbirth education coordinator at McKay-Dee Hospital.

"Wow, that's amazing that you can do that!" is a common reaction from the other parents who do find out, Schmidt says.

"So it gives them bragging rights ... it's a unique experience they can share that others don't have," the childbirth educator says.

Wanting a different experience is why a pregnant Dionna Mestas and her husband, Austin, will wait until their Sept. 6 due date to find out the sex of their second child.

Mestas says she knew during her first pregnancy that Charlee, now 2, was going to be a girl, but this time she elected to go another route.

"I like to try new things, get different experiences out of things," says the Ogden mother.

So far, about 27 weeks into her pregnancy, Mestas says, "Actually, I thought it would be a lot harder than it is. I'm not going all stir-crazy or anything."

Blue or pink?

Preparing for baby's arrival, be it painting the nursery or choosing names, is perhaps the most common reason parents opt to learn baby's sex before his or her arrival, the childbirth experts say.

Yet birthing instructor Chase, who didn't know the gender of most of her 10 children in advance, says she didn't worry about furnishing any baby rooms; her newborns always slept in her room.

"I'm not a real decorate-the-baby's-room-ahead-of-time kind of a person," the Taylor mother says.

Mestas agrees the decor isn't that important: "It's not like the baby's going to know anyway," she says.

Sara Bell was ready with a neutral jungle animals crib set and a plaid car seat and stroller for her baby. She picked up clothes for both a girl and a boy beforehand, but since their son was born, she's received gifts of more boy clothes than he can possibly wear in his first year of life.

"So the clothing thing was definitely not a reason to find out (his gender)," she quips.

Jill Abbott, of Willard, says her first baby was a surprise genderwise and he did just fine wearing mostly white onesies in the warm weather.

"There're plenty of neutral things in the world; you definitely don't have to have the boy or the girl things," says Abbott, who also waited to find out the sex of her second baby -- a boy, born Dec. 17.

It's a -- baby!

Even though she's known for not liking surprises, Abbott says her husband James proposed the "old-school" idea of not finding out their first baby's gender in advance. They plan to continue the practice with all of their children.

"I was OK with that, it didn't bother me at all to keep it a secret," Abbott says. Sometimes, when the baby's sex and name are all known ahead of time, it's almost a little "anti-climactic" when he or she is finally born, she says.

Not knowing doubled the excitement, Abbott says, as she and her husband imagined what it would be like to have a child of one sex or the other.

Rochelle Jones, who gave birth to her first child on March 9, says she always wanted to wait until delivery to know what she was having.

"The last two great surprises in life are getting engaged and having a baby, so I wanted to have a surprise," the new Riverdale mother says. She adds, "Thirty years ago, they didn't know and it really didn't matter. As long as you get a happy, healthy baby, everything's good."

When little Asher Bentley was born, Jones says, "My husband was the one to announce to the whole room it was a boy -- it was amazing. It was such a great experience."

Having everything determined in advance puts expectations on a baby, Jones says, and, "I didn't want that. I just wanted him to be able to be him."

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