Saturday, April 3, 2004

Not Knowing is Half the Battle

Not Knowing is Half the Battle
Andria Brown

When you're pregnant, people ask two questions:
1) When are you due?
2) Do you know what you're having?

My husband and I had differing views on this topic. Being that I was growing another living being inside my body, I was curious to find out as much as I could about it. Jeff, however, was mentally tied to the traditional delivery room announcement, and since this was about the only thing about birth that he felt some control over, I was fine with not finding out.

Fine with him not finding out, I mean. I was still set on knowing at least one characteristic of my child. People always say that it's a great surprise, but frankly, I already suspected that parenthood would have plenty of surprises. Besides, there was still lots of other stuff to discover: would the baby have Jeff's chin, would it be a lefty like me, would it inherit our Yankee stoicism or grow up to be a feisty Southerner?

We formulated what seemed like a simple plan. I had an ultrasound at about twenty weeks into my pregnancy and I asked the sonographer if she could tell the baby's sex. She said yes with a great deal of confidence, so we asked her to write it down and put it in an envelope. I stuck the envelope in our medical folder and that was the last Jeff saw of it.

Fast forward to, well, about twenty hours later. I swear that the envelope started talking, because it was sitting there on the dining room table calling my name. I picked it up, just to see if anything might accidentally fall out, but the fastidious ultrasound technician had actually taped the flap down. And she'd used a security envelope. And folded the paper into eighths. There was no way to find out what was in there without opening that sucker up.

I thought about how hard it would be to go another twenty weeks with such a huge secret. I thought about whether or not I really wanted to give up the surprise. I thought about how crushed Jeff would be if I accidentally revealed the news. I decided I should wait. It was just too soon to find out. Yes sir. Absolutely. And then I opened it.

Inside the envelope was a piece of my doctor's monogrammed notepaper with just one word on it. That word is imprinted so deeply into my memory that I could probably forge the sonographer's handwriting, right down to her the enthusiastic punctuation: Girl!

Thing is, almost as soon as I read the word, I wanted to unread it. I could never again not know what I was having. The burden of secrecy suddenly seemed unbearable. But I'd made my decision and, master of discretion that I am, was confident that I could keep quiet for five more months. I made it almost five hours.

See, I made the error of bragging about our simple plan. I thought we'd finally solved the problem of parents with conflicting curiosities. So when I went to pre-natal yoga and (our gracious Fertile Ground hostess) Stacey asked if I knew, I just gave a smug smile. That was my first mistake. Knowing is one thing. Letting other people know you know is another. You'd think I would have realized this, because I was already determined not to reveal to Jeff if I'd opened the envelope or not. As I explained to Stacey and (fellow FG contributor) Kristy after class, I didn't want him to be aware of my knowledge because then he'd start paying more attention to everything I did, like if I spent more time looking at the girl clothes in catalogs. Whoops. See what I did there?

So there it was, out there in the world. Okay, I thought, no problem. It's just two people. Besides, Stacey and Kristy are mama friends and I see them at mama places. It's not like Jeff will be hanging out with them.

Until we started taking childbirth education classes at, um, Kristy's store. For five weeks in a row, I pushed down a minor panic attack whenever we'd get within six feet of Kristy. Some weeks, Stacey would be hanging out at the store when class ended and I would prickle up with cold sweat until Jeff and I got safely out the door. It's not that I didn't trust them to keep a secret, but I already knew how easy it was to let it slip, and I didn't want to risk disappointing Jeff with an early announcement.

I learned from that experience and from then on I wouldn't even discuss the baby's gender. Not in public, anyway. Jeff and I still had to decide on names, and it was hard to show equal consideration. I tried to tell myself that it's just because I was happy with the boy's name we picked, but maybe I would have debated more if I hadn't known it was moot. I did keep up the circumcision debate, though, just to throw him off the track.

Finally, after twenty-one and a half weeks of deception, denial and downright lying, our baby was born. I was deeply afraid that I would blow the surprise during the intensity of labor, but I managed to avoid pronouns, even in transition. But when the time for the big news was upon us, my obstetrician didn't holler, "It's a girl!" Instead, because he's a considerate and sentimental person, he turned her toward us and laid her on my chest as quickly as possible, wanting our faces to be the first ones she saw. Jeff didn't have his big cinematic moment after all; rather, he got a very small, intimate moment with tears rushing to his eyes as he whispered, "We have a baby girl."

I remember the awe in his voice, the total amazement at her existence, and yes, the complete and utter surprise. He went into the hospital with only a vague awareness that something huge was happening, and within hours he was the father to a daughter. For me, the process of bonding with Meredith started much earlier and more subtly, and knowing her gender was part of that. I don't know exactly what that sudden, dramatic connection was like, and I guess I never will. That's something that the two of them will always share. Just like his chin.

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