Historically, men have tended to want their baby to be a boy. So have most women. A boy keeps the family name alive; he is capable of manual labor; he earns the income necessary to take care of his parents in their old age. This kind of thinking is obviously outdated, and has led to abandoned children, sex-selective infanticide, and other joys.
And yet, most men still want their baby to be a boy. Maybe the idea of being tender and nurturing a little girl scares us; maybe we'd feel dirty bathing and changing them. Or maybe we know in our heart of hearts that all men are dogs, and someday a dog is going to give our little girl a bone. Not a father's favorite image.
A few years back, my friend Jeremy got his wife pregnant. He was a man's man; at the time, his biggest claim to fame was his arm-wrestling prowess and his ability to do the fastest beer bong in Kansas. He was about to be my first friend to become a father, and I was curious, but I didn't even know what questions to ask. At the time, I only thought of babies as the people you didn't want to sit behind on airplanes, and all I could think to ask was: "Would you rather have a boy or a girl?"
I'll never forget Jeremy's response: "I'm supposed to say I don't care one way or the other, so long as it's got ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, two ears, and all that," he said.
"Yeah. But between you and me . . . OH GOD PLEASE LET IT BE A BOY! Look at me. Do I look like I'd know what to do with a girl? PLEASE, GOD." Six months later, Jeremy's prayers were answered. His wife gave birth to Keaton, an exuberant 8-pound, 3-ounce owner of a male genitalia that would one day be on the giving end of the aforementioned boning. And I don't think Jeremy was particularly religious.
For Sarah's second OBGYN appointment, I gave her my tape recorder and she promised to record Babu's heartbeat so she could play it back for me afterward. The sound she played for me over the phone was a fast whooshing tone that sounded like the alien transmission that Jodie Foster hears in Contact.
"Wow. Her heart beats so fast," I said.
"Yeah, 160 beats a minute," Sarah said. "Wait. What did you say?"
"I said her heart beats so fast."
There was silence on the other end of the phone, and I began to wonder if we'd gotten cut off.
"Hello? You there?"
"What do you mean, her?"
"You said her."
Wow. My brain had already assigned a gender to this mass of cells without bothering to alert my mouth. That didn't necessarily make it true, but it certainly meant something, didn't it?
"I know," Sarah sighed. "It's totally going to be a girl. I hate girls."
Biologically speaking, whatever sex it was, it already was. Just like Jeremy's baby was always a boy from the beginning -- though I always considered his gender the result of nine months of bludgeoning God with prayers. I may start going to synagogue just to be safe.