Boy or Girl: To Know Or Not To Know

It’s the big question on many prospective parents’ lips… do you find out at your 20 week scan whether you’re having an XX or an XY? Becky Dickinson speaks to couples keeping it a surprise and to those who’d rather be in the know.


There’s nothing quite like pregnancy to prompt a barrage of uninvited questions from strangers.

You spend most of your life avoiding eye contact with strangers. But pull on a pair of maternity jeans and suddenly everyone wants to know what’s going on inside your body. A trip to the supermarket can become a game of 20 questions, when all you wanted was a pint of milk, or jar of Marmite, depending on your cravings.

Top of the list is “when are you due?” (which is just a polite way of asking when you had sex) closely followed by “do you know what you’re having?”

The correct, if somewhat facetious, answer is of course, “a baby”. But the questioner already knows that. What they really want to know is what’s between its legs. Poor thing hasn’t even taken its first breath yet, and its genitals are already up for discussion.

Even if you don’t know what you’re having (or just claim not to) the interrogator rarely stops there, swiftly moving on to quiz you about whether you would prefer a pink or a blue one. Naturally, the correct answer is “oh, I don’t mind just so long as it’s healthy,” and of course that is what every parent hopes for. Yet the desire for a healthy baby doesn’t erase the overwhelming longing many parents have for a son or daughter (delete as appropriate). Though if you’ve taken years to conceive, or been through the heartache of miscarriage or IVF, the answer probably really is just “a baby”.

Being able to find out the sex of that baby while it’s still in the womb is one of the benefits of giving birth in the 21st century – along with epidurals and disposable nappies. But just as not everyone would argue in favour of anaesthesia and modern, throwaway parenting aids, not everyone wants to know what they’re having while it’s still a foetus.

Cassie Schfano, from Woking, Surrey, is one of them. She has three girls: Kiki, 4, Isadora, 2, and Arrietty, 9 months and says, “We love surprises and didn’t feel like we needed to know. We bought a few neutral clothes and painted the nursery in bright colours, suitable for either a boy or a girl.”

The 20-week scan is actually an “anomaly scan”, designed to pick up serious abnormalities – a fact that is easily lost in the excitement of discovering whether it’s an XX or an XY.

Mandy McDade is a Surrey based sonographer. She says that around 80 per cent of NHS parents opt to find out the sex. While among those going for private scans, it’s around 98 percent. Mandy has witnessed both joy and disappointment. She says, “I remember one woman who already had three girls and was desperate for a boy. When I told her it was another girl, she burst into tears. I felt sad for her. But the baby was fine. I knew she’d come to terms with it.”

For Jo Brown from Richmond, it was the other way around. With one son already, she had her heart set on a daughter, but at 20 weeks discovered she was having another boy.

She says, “I cried all the way home. I’d always dreamt of having a girl to go shopping with and put her hair in bunches. It was like grieving for the daughter I’d never have.” Fortunately, by the time of the birth, Jo had come to terms with the idea of having two boys and says she wouldn’t change them for the world. “I’m glad I got the initial disappointment over with before James was born, so I could just enjoy my new baby.”

Others say finding out is like opening your Christmas presents before Christmas and that it spoils the moment when the midwife holds up the efforts of your labour and proclaims those hallowed words, “it’s a…”

Mum of two, Fiona Caple, from Guildford, agrees.

She says, “I decided not to find out the sex with either of my pregnancies and am really pleased that I stuck with my decision despite the temptation on the day of the scan. I wanted to experience the complete package of the pregnancy, enjoying the guessing and the surprise at the end. Choosing names was tricky, as I never really did settle on a boy’s name. But to me that was half the fun and luckily I ended up with two girls, Jasmine and Freya.”

While some say finding out means there is less to look forward to, others argue that nothing can detract from the elation of seeing and holding your new baby for the first time. They believe there are valid practical and emotional reasons, like bonding with the baby and deciding on names and how to decorate the nursery.

Mum of three, Charlotte Alexander says, “We named our son before he was born and I felt like I really bonded with him as I was able to imagine him more than if I hadn’t known the sex.”

Yet the second time Charlotte fell pregnant, she and husband, Simon, decided not to find out.

The 40-year-old dentist says, “I convinced myself it was a girl as the pregnancy had been so different. During labour I remember thinking, “am I really excited about the surprise?” And the answer was “no, I just want to get it out!” As the baby was born my husband said “it’s another boy!” and maybe there was a pang of disappointment but only for a second until I looked at my gorgeous son who I wouldn’t change for the world.”

With her third pregnancy, Charlotte went back to finding out at the scan and was delighted to be told it was another boy. She says, “I was just pleased he was okay. I think if you’re a finder-outer, you’ll always be a finder-outer. I like to be organised and if I think about it, I don’t really like surprises!”

In some hospitals however, parents are unable to find out the sex even if they want to, due to fears that female children could be selectively aborted, among cultures that value boys more highly. It’s an issue which continues to make the news.

Mandy McDade has been scanning unborn babies since 2005. She believes, “It’s the last surprise you get in life. In this world of multimedia and instant everything, I can understand why people find out. But I think it’s good to wait if you possibly can. Most sonographers don’t find out themselves.”

Hannah Douglass and her husband Tom, from Battersea, London, are expecting their first child this year. They’ve decided not to find out so that Tom can announce the sex as soon as it’s born.

Hannah says, “Tom loves the idea of being able to tell me himself and it’s great for him to have a role at the birth.”

But the-mum-to-be has one other reason for not finding out. She says, “a few of our friends have found out and been told the wrong thing. I’d hate that to happen to us!”

With that in mind, perhaps neutral really is the best policy. ✿