When you have two boys and want a girl, you have to really want another child in general to get pregnant again because of the good chance you’ll keep having boy after boy after boy after boy and then lose the presidential election (see Mitt Romney). Unless you’re going to rig the sex selection process with invasive IVF, you have to really embrace the idea of a new baby with a gender-neutral, Title IX, co-ed bathroom spirit.
Jen and I had broken this sacred commandment; we were pregnant again with our third child but only wanted a girl, and I was starting to get nervous.
“That’s the baby’s kidney,” the pint-sized ultrasound tech in blue scrubs said, probing around Jen’s gloobed-up belly. “That’s its heart.”
“Can you tell what sex it is?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “but I thought you didn’t want to know.”
“Don’t tell me,” I blurted.
We were in our 40s, had just spent all our money renovating our house, were always complaining about having no free time and never going out on dates together, and conventional wisdom said that the probability of having a girl after two boys was two percent (although it’s actually closer to 50/50). We told everyone that this baby was an accident, which was sort of true.
“That’s its spine,” the tech said.
“A good spine?” I asked, smiling.
I was still haunted by what the older Italian woman told me three years ago, when we were guests at her shore house: If you have no daughters, then you have no children. It was offensive, ridiculous, and outdated, but I sometimes looked at our two sweet young boys and got pissed that they were going to abandon us in our dotage.
A third boy would be great, too, I tried to convince myself, like a new guy joining my team. But I’d been noticing lately how all that camaraderie and closeness I had with my sons just vanished whenever I got into an argument with Jen.
“You need to apologize to Mom,” my 6-year-old would say, sounding like a gravel-voiced mob enforcer.
“Apologize already,” my 4-year-old would pipe in.
“Don’t you want to know what we were arguing about?” I’d ask.
I’m pretty sure the baby was conceived the night Jen and I were alone in our newly renovated house on a mattress that had just been delivered and didn’t even have sheets. We had employed the pull-out method, and I thought our fertility had sufficiently waned to where a little pre-ejaculatory fluid wouldn’t cause a pregnancy. But this was the closest we were going to come to trying for a girl, and that it resulted in a pregnancy filled me with hope, like news of a Supreme Court vacancy in a friendly year.
“That’s the mouth,” the tech said.
I lost my mother to cancer when our eldest was 6 weeks old, and just the thought of having a girl who might be like my mother in some small way brought tears to my eyes. But a boy would be good too—after all, there were people who couldn’t have any kids at all, I reminded myself.
“Those are his fingers,” the tech said. “That’s his wrist.”
My heart dropped and I locked eyes with Jen on the exam table.
“That’s his elbow,” the tech said and then cupped her hand over her mouth and giggled like she’d just let a major cat out of a bag.
In the days following our visit with the sadistic ultrasound tech, Jen started acting like the pregnancy was something that I foisted on her. “I was just starting to feel human again,” she said. “Thanks a lot.”
It became obvious that we had been incredibly stupid getting pregnant again and, as a punishment, weren’t going to have free time until we were pushing 70. Jen kept grumbling about the prospect of a new baby, and I feared this would wreck our marriage.
And then Jen called me crying after her OB appointment. “I just needed to find out for certain,” she said, “so I asked the nurse to look at the amnio report, and we’re having a girl.”
“But the tech told us—”
“I had them look and then double check and then I had someone else check. It’s a girl. We’re having a girl.”
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Better,” she said.
“They really said it’s a girl?”
We had a girl this past March, and all my old tricks don’t work on her. When she cries, I rock her like I did my sons, and she keeps crying. When she’s sitting in her little sleeper chair, I kneel down and sing her goofy songs that used to always make my boys smile, and she is not amused.
I look at my baby girl and brace myself for a completely new experience.