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It's a... Surprise!

Before I had my own child, I didn't understand pregnant women who chose not to find out whether they were carrying a girl or a boy. When I went in for my first ultrasound, I wanted to know everything possible about my baby--including the presence, absence, and condition of every single body part. I wanted to watch the ultrasound screen in real time and listen to the technician narrate everything they saw. There was no way I was going to ask my medical caregivers to withhold any information.

After giving birth, I still didn't understand. Some women say that not knowing the baby's sex motivates them to push. Me, I couldn't comprehend not wanting to push under any circumstances. I'd been thinking of my child as her, a real person, not just a something, and I couldn't wait to meet her. Not to mention the physical motivations to push that have nothing to do with mental curiosity.

I know that the appearance of the genitals doesn't necessarily give a clear or accurate description of an infant's gender. It doesn't confirm anything about chromosomes, and it doesn't inform about gender conformity or sexual orientation. I realized I might have to amend my broad conception of the "girl" I was about to bear, but I preferred to begin with an estimation of "she" rather than "it."

When I announced to the world that I was having a girl, I was warned to get ready to be pinked and feathered. I didn't mind, though. I was so excited to be having a girl that I secretly harbored a desire to receive pink, frilly baby gifts. After all, though I am not the kind of grown woman who dresses like Hello Kitty or Elle Woods on a regular basis, I enjoy the cheeriness and skin flattery of the color pink.

I did, anyway, before the pinksplosion.

And by that I am not referring to the literal explosion of my lady business, which is a post for another month. I mean the sickening, awe-inspiring burial alive in retina-searing pinkness that ensued.

I mean the Rainbow Bashing by well-intentioned Pinkie Pie to the face.

Since the moment of color conception, my favorite childhood palette has been "rainbow." My love of the spectrum of ROYGBIV deepened in Girl Scouts, when  I connected the rainbow to the value of diversity. The beauty of the rainbow symbolized that variety in people's ways of being, ways of looking, and ways of loving was what gave the world vibrancy and joy.

Then as a young adult, my spirit resonated with the interfaith, social justice-oriented Standing on the Side of Love campaign of solidarity with all oppressed peoples, again displaying the rainbow.

For reasons both aesthetic and symbolic, I'm all about bold and complex color schemes. Before that ultrasound, I painted my nursery neon green and yellow and filled it with prismatic objects. I was happy to consider adding fuchsia to the mix, whether or not my child turned out to have her own set of ovaries. After all, I wanted to be welcoming of all happy colors, inclusive of pinks.

Little did I know that like my water breaking, it would be impossible to stop the flow once it started.

Just before my baby shower, I took the precaution of requesting colors other than pink. I avoided registering for or purchasing any pink items myself, and when the gifts started coming in, I discreetly donated things that were beyond the pastel to a local thrift shop.

About half of my gifts turned out to be pink, and most of them were sweet and lovable, and I appreciated them very much. They played up my baby's glowing cheeks and set a snuggly mood. Friends and family members gave beautiful, thoughtful gifts that I still treasure, pink and otherwise. And then casual acquaintances, friends of the family, and complete strangers caught the baby girl fever and started generously, gleefully, extravagantly shopping at every thrift store in the land for GIRL CLOTHES.

Just about every old lady in the world loves shopping for a baby girl. Who cares if she's never even met her and doesn't know her mom? And so I've been both touched and horrified by the quantity of pink fabric that has piled up in my life.

I just inventoried my daughter's next-size-up wardrobe to see what I needed to fill in for this fall. After donating a full trash bag of gag-me-with-a-spoon-Becky items and maintaining my own pinkless shopping filter, I discovered that while most of the clothes are adorable, the dominant color is still relentlessly pink.

Now I start to understand--if not keeping fetal sex a secret from oneself--at least keeping the M/F designation hidden from the public, to stave off the colorblocking for just a little while.

It's not only moms of little girls who feel the way I do, it's also moms of boys, who are totally bored with the same old blue/gray/brown color scheme covered in dump trucks and dinosaurs.

Hyper-gendered baby clothing has started to drive me crazy, but at the same time, I have a hypothesis about why it has happened in the past century and that it's rooted in affection and hope. Before the 1940s, all babies in the Western world wore unisex white garments. Their wardrobes and hairstyles were non-gendered until about the age of elementary school. For centuries, pink has been a color associated with sweetness in Europe and the United States, so it has been considered appropriate for babies of both genders (in articles like blankets, caps, and coffins) and for young adult women. I read a lot of 19th century novels, and in my latest read, Anna Karenina, a baby boy is buried in a pink coffin, and a group of ladies gossip about which women should wear pink dresses (young ladies "on the market"; not old ladies).

People often blame "marketing" for pushing the pinks and blues for baby girls and boys, but it seems elemental that marketing primarily targets the desires it finds already existing in its consumer base; while it might encourage those materialistic desires, it doesn't usually create them out of thin air. I asked myself what happened to childhood in the 1940s, and the answer I found was advances in medicine, including antibiotics and the historic success of vaccination campaigns. Rates of early childhood mortality dropped suddenly from commonplace (hence all the pink coffins) to rare.

For the first time in human history, every baby born healthy could be expected to grow into adulthood.

I can imagine that however slight, there might have been some emotional insulation in calling a baby that would likely die "it" and dressing it in clothing that draws no attention to individual characteristics or the possibility that the child could someday become a woman or a man. I can imagine the giddy excitement of parents near the middle of the 20th century who were the first generation ever to bear children who were more likely to survive than to perish.

I can empathize with the desire to speak of such children with human pronouns, and to celebrate, even exaggerate, any characteristic of a baby that sets her or him apart from other babies. And what can we know about a newborn baby? Their looks change, their personalities and favorites and interests are yet unknowable, even their skin and hair and eye coloring evolves, but usually the presence of female or male genitalia is a strong indicator of whether that child will grow up to live as a woman or a man.

I try to keep this in mind as I forge through the Pink Jungle of Girlhood, recognizing the loving and celebratory motivations of my daughter's benefactors... and also the added manipulations and restrictions designed by marketers, who have indeed taken advantage of those positive motivations and pushed them to absurd extremes.

And now I also understand and empathize with the expectant parents who choose to stay in the rainbow zone of gender expression as long as they can.

Middle Path Mother posts continue on the first Friday Monday of each month.


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