During my eight months of pregnancy, I never got around to writing about it. I received bad medical news constantly and I felt like I would jinx the health of my babies by imagining a world with them in it. It also helped that I was occupied: I finished my Master’s and wrote/released From Demonized to Organized: Building the New Union Movement. With the constant barrage of right-wing idiocy coming from all levels of government, I wasn’t short of things to write about.
I did, however, read about pregnancy. I read as many pregnancy blogs as I could. I researched every medical diagnosis that we were given. I trawled Kijiji for other peoples’ crap imagining that crap in my own living room. I read peoples’ birth stories. I read about all the brilliant and harebrained ways that people try to progressively parent.
My partner and I walked into our first children’s store when I was 32 weeks pregnant. Neither of us could know that less than a week later I’d be cut open and both babies would be torn out and placed into intensive care. All we wanted was a stroller and some preemie-sized clothes.
“Where’s the standard-issue Soviet clothing section?” he asked me.
Indeed, the room was an overwhelming array of pinks and blues, diligently separated so as to assure no mixing of the genders occurred. As we must have known the sexes of our babies, this arrangement should have been the most efficient.
Gendered clothing is a cash grab. It pushes people into buying one item over another just because of the colour. Need a preemie A size onesie with snaps down the front that isn’t pink or blue? You’ll have to pay. Throw twins into the mix and all of a sudden you have a series of matching items due to the limited options. Matching outfits rather than gendered clothes: a greater crime, in my opinion.
For those of us who didn’t ask to know the sexes of the babies, the guessing game becomes even harder. Finally, I saw a useful reason to know the sex, pre-birth of our twins: to shop.
Knowing the sex of a fetus gives parents the false illusion that we have any level of control over how pregnancies work out. We can pick names easier (a plus for twins!) We can tell people what the sex is when they ask. We can feel good about imagining our little girl or boy in our arms when they’re kicking our ribs.
But the reality is that, the most part, we have no control. Of course, you only realize this when the news is bad, emergencies happen and the notion of a birth plan is as hilarious as the notion that I could give birth to a baby pig. When things are good, we can pretend that we’re in control of what’s happening to our fetus. When things hit the rails we remember that humans, despite our overwhelming urge to pretend we have control over nature, are shockingly un-powerful.
Naming our babies’ sexes pre-birth or gendering them post birth has more to do with our own anxieties about gender than the genders of the baby. This should be obvious: with the capacities of a puppy, babies don’t care if they’re wearing pink or a fluffy nice rabbit. They want to be warm.
When we project our gender norms upon preborns and newborns, it’s another effort to define who they are, just to make us adults feel better. At some point “baby” wasn’t enough: it had to be more than that, something we understand.
And, for many people who try to fight against this gendering, it’s the opposite approach: no gender; do everything possible to shield the baby from overwhelming gender norms. Let the child discover their gender on their own.
Babies are expensive. To fight back against the gendering onslaught takes having the resources to avoid the pinks and the blues of gifts, donations or department store clothes. But to buy into this gendering, especially with those cringeworthy statements like “daddy’s girl”, “little ballerina”, “born to shop” etc. is to support a system that exploits our social norms and anxieties.
Parents are caught in a trap: how do we navigate this?
Because of certain medical issues, we couldn’t avoid finding out the sex of Baby B. We told people who asked that our babies were un p’tit gars et un on ne sait pas. We made it clear that we didn’t want to know their sexes and that knowing was tied to an extremely difficult experience.
Now that they’re born, we have a little Riel and a little Della: and we sometimes call Della our little girl and Riel, our little boy.
We’ve again lost control over our kids: they’re staying in the neonatal intensive care unit at the CHUL - Centre hospitalier de l'Université Laval. They spend more time with nurses than with their parents. Sometimes, Riel’s clothes have trains on them and Della’s clothes are pink.
And I couldn’t care less. They’re safe and growing. They’ll be home soon.
I have clothes that have been graciously given to us, many gendered for girls and boys but given to us before we knew the sexes of either baby. I have no idea how I’ll approach gender once they come home and we’re the sole decision-makers over their care.
But I do know that what they wear doesn’t matter, at least not yet. We all only have a few years in our lives where our development is the most important thing in the world and where just existing is good enough for society. In these few precious years, Della and Riel will retain no memories, yet the memories of the people around them will be recounted for the rest of their lives. Their very existence brings joy to the people around them. They’re happiest when they’re fed, when they shit, when they’re cleaned and when they’re put to bed.
In fact, they’re full of teachings for the people around them to learn.
For everyone who’s past this phase, we need to stop projecting our own anxieties upon babies and just let them be. They’ll find their gender expression without the help of a frilly-bottomed onesie, but they won’t be damaged forever for wearing one, either. And they’ll be just as cute wearing a diaper, wearing nothing, wearing a hand-me-down or wearing a patterned shirt.
They’ll be fine and cute because they’re babies: that’s their only job: to remind us of what matters, remind us how to live simply and that everything that capitalism has brought to us doesn’t matter. Relinquish control, learn from a baby.
Image is stock graphic from www.picturesofbabies.net, where cartoons are given pink details so that we know that the non-human in this drawing is supposed to be a baby girl.
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