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Maybe ‘Boy or Girl?’ *Does* Matter

16w1d - We call the baby Tertiary. Or Tersh, for short. I don’t recall how The Mister and I arrived at this—I especially don’t remember which of us was Primary and who was Secondary in the initial discussion—but somehow we did and, for whatever unfortunate reason, it’s stuck.

(An aside, I briefly referred to the babe as “2.0.” As in, The-Mister-and-I, second generation. Except then smartyface Mister reminded me that actually, given our past, this baby would be version 2.3, and that in turn made me weep, and so Tersh he or she has remained.)

Referring to this baby as anything at all is a major advancement among our crew. During my first pregnancy, we brandished the B word with abandon: There was no question I was normally growing a healthy person-to-be, and so of course we spoke of The Baby in tones reserved expressly for the giddy conversations humans have about their first progeny: Pregnancy means impending babies and impending babies mean hours spent goofily talking through Punnet square outcomes and exchanging potshots as to how long this baby will be bald like Daddy or whether it will be mousy and overly nervous like Mommy. We decided from the outset we’d not find out the baby’s gender, assuring ourselves that “It’s the last, best secret in the world!” and that no outcome of that test could augment or put a damper on the dream-state in which we floated about our first first-trimester.

In those still-vivid days 12 months ago, my partner and I lived in the sort of blissful naiveté that I can only now wish for every woman whose test line darkens as her bladder instinctively kicks into hyperdrive. But as indulgent and profoundly sweet as The Baby talk was so early on, it felt perversely shameful to the same degree the moment I began to bleed.

Elizabeth McCracken, in recounting the weeks following her stillbirth in her brilliant book An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, recounts:

“I had just stepped over the border from happy pregnancy to grief, but I could still see that better, blither country, could smell the air over my shoulder, could remember my fluency there, the dumb jokes, the gestures, the disappointing cuisine, the rarefied climate. I knew already I could never go back, not then, not for any future pregnancy, should I be so lucky.”

I was so lucky, just five months later, to wander back into pregnant territory. But this time, there were no saccharine discussions of nursery themes or family middle names. In fact, we only knew for sure I’d been pregnant this second time when it became abundantly clear that I was again miscarrying.

(Is a baby even a baby when you only knew of it as it ceased to be?)

So you understand why giving any moniker at all to this baby, even in half-jest, has taken some time and hard swallows. Out of superstition and self-preservation, I’ve consciously dug a moat around my heart, one that cutesy nicknames threaten to drain. But now, four months in, I worry the water is prohibitively high: To protect my still-tender self is one thing; to all but deny the existence of someone who is deserving of adoration, even now, is another entirely.

The midwife asked last week, Have you considered finding out the gender? It might make me feel more connected to this baby, she proffered ... and we didn’t need to tell anyone at all even if we knew …  and yes, she knew that we’d not planned on it in our earlier pregnancies, but …

Oh, Tersh. What now? Midwife had a point: There is something achingly tantalizing about being able to better imagine who it is I plead with all day long. Knowing the sex of this baby is an idea that, in one breath, soothes and placates me (my wickedly funny co-blogger Sally Wilson does an awesome job exploring the should-we-find-out? issue here). Besides, during this third pregnancy, we’ve had every test and exam offered to us—something we’d never wanted before: Wouldn’t finding out this baby’s gender just be another normal-pregnancy milestone, one we deserved to indulge in?

But in the next breath, learning Tersh’s sex feels like information so loaded, so caustic that it trips my But what if things go south? wire. What if we lost this baby, now knowing its gender—could that possibly make this loss harder than the ones before?

(Rereading that last sentence makes me cringe: I don’t want to be that terrified woman, and don’t know that I can ever stop being her.)

Really, the biggest quandary remains: Could knowing this baby’s gender drastically alter our experience for the rest of this pregnancy? I’m all ears as to how you made the choice whether or not to learn, yourselves.