Long time doula and bodyworker, Emily Sullivan, writes a guest piece on prenatal bonding and gender. Emily is currently pregnant with her first child.
In last few weeks the president of the United States released a statement that transgendered people will not be allowed in the military. It is clear from this current reality that there is a wide gap in our understanding and agreements around sex and gender. I long to see a day that more compassion and inclusivity is built into our collective languages. This is not meant to be a political post. Yet somehow the varied and unique expressions of who we are as humans is inevitably, also, political. Sometimes subtly and today, it is overtly political.
As many of you know, I am pregnant. I could not help but connect my lived experience of being in the mystery of my child’s sex and gender expression with the shock and sadness I felt in seeing today’s political headlines.
I have enormous respect for every pregnant person. The choice to find out the sex of your baby is exactly that: a choice, and a very personal one at that, with many factors to take into consideration. I am not writing this with the intention to shame or sway anyone’s decision in this regard, but rather to share my own experience and to ask some big questions.
Leaving the sex a mystery was one of many decisions I felt I had already made before being pregnant. I will say, it surprised me that it felt difficult in the beginning, and I allowed myself to question the decision and revisited it on many occasions. For some, finding out the sex of the baby feels like a way to bond more deeply with their baby. That is valid. Prenatal bonding is a topic near and dear to me, so I had to ask myself, “Will this make me feel more or less bonded?”
As a child I wanted nothing to do with the color pink, with Barbies or Disney films featuring princesses. In fact I quite stubbornly boycotted all Disney films other than the Lion King and Pocahontas; effectively alienating myself from my girlfriends as I spent first grade playing Ninja Turtles with the boys… with an aggressive dismay towards the Little Mermaid. My husband’s favorite activity as a child was cooking and he loved wearing a pink polo shirt, when he wasn’t already wearing his pink shorts. What would it mean to us to know the sex of our unborn child? As I felt into this and imagined the natural onslaught of pink and purple for a girl, and blue and green for a boy, the more comfort I began to feel in not knowing. When my baby is born and we see their genitals, I will still not know who they came here to be. I will not know what passions they will have as they grow. I will not know what extra-curricular activities they will want to participate in. I will not know what their favorite color will be or what they will want to be for Halloween. I will not know if they will like trucks or football or want to be a ballerina or a break dancer.
I will know that they will have a secure place to be whomever they choose. I will hope that they know this, too. I know that they will have unisex onesies with foxes and rabbits and clouds and lightning bolts on them that are specially marketed as unisex, and being that it is 2017, are just as cute as all the onesies marketed for girls or boys. I feel my heart softening in this knowing. I feel this spaciousness to welcome all facets and expressions of who this being could be who has chosen to join our family.
I feel a deep sense of curiosity about the looks of surprise, of concern and of discomfort that I notice when I respond to the common and always very well-intended question “Do you know what you are having?” Or, “Do you still not know what you are having?”
Do we ever know “what we are having?”
We did have a 20 week ultrasound and it was important to me that no mistakes were made in accidentally revealing the sex. I asked for the most experienced ultrasound tech for this reason among others. The tech’s name was Victoria and she could not have been a more intelligent or lovely human being. She noticed that I used the word “they” to describe my baby. Since then, I too have begun to notice my use of “they” as it has often confused people into thinking I’m having twins! Naturally, I gravitated towards transgendered pronouns, as my baby floats around in the warm, dark, safe and undifferentiated environment of my womb. I find “they” warmer than “it.”
She turned to my husband and I and said, “I really appreciate your use of the word ‘they.’ My daughter is majoring in gender studies.” Any shred of doubt in my decision was put to rest in that moment, and in its place was planted a big seed of hope for inclusivity, deep looking and listening and bigger compassion and vision for how we see and hold these fluid and authentic expressions of who we are at our essences.
As I am holding this baby in my body, I am also holding the vision of freedom for all expressions of identity, creativity and all expressions of love, even the ones that might make us uncomfortable. There are many personal and nuanced reasons to find out or not find out the sex of a baby. Again, these are my family’s choices, and my intention is not to influence this personal decision for others.
I do want to invite everyone to lean deeply and fully into the discomfort they may feel; whether it is regarding current politics and what that stirs in their hearts or not knowing the sex of a family member or friend’s baby, that it may break open new and unlimited possibilities of love. Carrying this currently genderless baby who is making themselves known often with their kicks and flips, is already expanding my knowing of love… whether all the kicks mean they will be a great soccer player, or not. Their story has yet to unfold.