Boy or Girl?

Before modern technology allowed expectant parents to determine the sex of their babies prior to birth, eager moms and dads devised interesting ways to figure it out. Are you carrying high? It’s a girl. Carrying low? Must be a boy. If you’re gaining weight in your face, it’s a girl. No? Paint the nursery blue! Everything from a ring on a string to urine examination (don’t ask) were used in an attempt to satisfy their curiosity.

Today, most people know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether bows or baseballs are in their future months before their babies are born. In fact, it can be hard to keep a baby’s sex a mystery until he . . . or is it she? . . . makes a big entrance in the delivery room.

From Old Wives’ Tales to High Technology
Ultrasound machines began showing up in obstetricians’ offices in the late ’60s and evolved to become a widely used diagnostic tool. Somewhere along the line a doctor performing an ultrasound scan said, “Well, take a look at that. It looks like you’re going to have a little boy, Mrs. Sullivan.” It didn’t take long for the word to spread that maybe we didn’t have to get only yellow and green baby shower gifts after all.

Today, the biggest obstacle you may face in finding out your baby’s sex ahead of time may be your insurance company. “Insurance companies won’t cover non-medically indicated ultrasound exams,” said Jennifer Kalich, M.D., of Eastover OB/GYN in Charlotte. “It can be challenging to explain to a patient who wants an ultrasound simply to determine the sex of her baby that it’s not medically indicated and therefore will not be covered.”

Ultrasound is not a completely foolproof method for detecting a baby’s sex, anyway. We’ve all heard tales of mothers who bring their little boys home to candy pink nurseries with ruffled curtains.

Several significant variables affect the accuracy of determining a baby’s sex with an ultrasound exam. Fetal age is a biggie. Generally, the older the baby is, the more accurate the assessment. Sex determination performed at 16-20 weeks gestation is about 92 percent accurate, according to the National Institutes of Health.

No matter what the baby’s age though, the position of the baby, the volume of amniotic fluid, the thickness of the mother’s abdominal wall and the experience and interest level of the ultrasound technician all play a role in accuracy. Keep that in mind when you’re out shopping for a crib bumper embroidered with footballs.

Fetal ultrasound has become so popular that 3D and 4D ultrasound portrait studios are popping up in malls across the country, garnering bad press suggesting that extensive ultrasound use can be harmful. Those claims have yet to be proven.

“There is no supporting evidence that ultrasound examination is unsafe for the mother or fetus,” Dr. Kalich said. “I would caution an expectant mother going to a commercial outlet simply to get 3D or 4D pictures that the person performing the scan is probably not trained to pick up on fetal anomalies and [the expectant parents] should treat it as a photo shoot and nothing more.”

Amniocentesis, where a small amount of amniotic fluid is drawn out through the abdomen through a long, thin, hollow needle and chorionic villus sampling, where a tiny tissue sample is taken transvaginally, are almost 100 percent accurate in sex determination. But both these tests are invasive and carry a small risk of miscarriage or infection so they are only used when warranted due to health concerns.

The latest news in determining babies’ sex before birth is a mail-order blood test marketed by a large biogenetics company. At $275, the test is probably more expensive than paying for an ultrasound scan at your doctor’s office and its accuracy is not widely acknowledged.

Who Wants to Know?
Estimates state that the majority of expectant parents — up to 75 percent — want to know the sex of their babies before birth. The most common reason is practicality.

“We did choose to find out the sex of our baby ahead of time for two reasons: names and the nursery,” said Beth Barkovich, a 40-something stay-at-home mom to a 2-year-old in Rock Hill. Barkovich’s second child is due in May. “We wanted to have fun preparing the nursery in a gender-specific theme and I didn’t want to feel rushed to get it done after he was born. With baby number two we’ll also find out the sex.”

“Learning the gender helped me stay ahead of the curve before both my sons were born,” said Kris Miller, 39, a former principal and current stay-at-home mom of two children in Charlotte. “My husband and I could talk about parenting issues, plan the nursery and be on the lookout for boy clothes when we were out and about.”

Some parents feel they can more easily bond to the baby when they know whether it’s a boy or girl.

“I have to admit that since I had done baseball, soccer, etc. for quite some time with the boys I kind of had my heart set on some pink bows and ribbons,” said Elizabeth Maresma-Sanchez, mother of a 2-year-old girl and 12- and 14-year-old stepsons in Charlotte.

“We decided to find out because it makes it easier for the whole family to develop a bond with the new child,” said Kathy Martin, a Charlotte occupational therapist and mother of three children ages 14, 12 and 10 and a baby due in January. “It really brought this child to life in the minds of the other children.”

Who Doesn’t?
Other parents say that finding out ahead of time takes some of the wonder and fun out of it.

“We are adventurous; we like the surprises in life. It’s intriguing, anticipatory . . . it’s simply more fun!” said Patrice Flatau, a new mother in Charlotte. “I’d never exchange knowing what color to paint the nursery or what color clothes to buy with hearing these words for the first time in the delivery room: “It’s a girl!”

“We viewed our long-prayed-for conception as a gracious blessing from above and did not want to spoil the element of awe,” said Toni Emehel, 37, a Charlotte stay-at-home mom of a 10-month-old girl. “Much like a Christmas gift, we felt there would be no wonder in knowing what was inside beforehand.”

A Split Decision
Some couples faced with the decision simply can’t agree.
“While I was pregnant with my son I wanted to know the sex but my husband didn’t,” said Jennifer Kappas, an early learning specialist and mother of a 2-year-old boy in Matthews. “For my entire pregnancy I knew the sex but my husband didn’t. It was hard from time to time but I knew how important it was for my husband not to find out and I made sure not to slip up.”
Other couples find out the baby’s sex but agree not to share it with anyone else. It’s a very special secret they share until they’re ready to make it public.

Boy or girl? Girl or boy? If all the conditions are right, you may know months ahead of time. Or, you might decide to wait for the surprise party in the delivery room. Either way, it’s nice to know that these days you can rely on more than a necklace on a string.