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Is it a boy? Is it a girl? VIHA’s Ultrasound Policy

This month, VIHA (The Vancouver Island Health Authority) announced that ultrasound technologists doing prenatal ultrasounds will no longer reveal baby’s sex to the parents.  In fact the official policy is that the technologist is not to discuss any aspect of the ultrasound with the parents while it is going on:

ultrasound

“The Ultrasound Technologist (Sonographer) will not be able to provide you any results of your scan, whether that concerns the gender of your baby, or any other matter.  After your examination is performed, it will be read by a qualified Diagnostic Radiologist, who will give the results to your doctor or midwife.  Under no circumstances are technologists permitted to give results to patients – please do not ask them to do so.  Parents who want to know their baby’s sex are invited to go to private ultrasound facilities and pay for an ultrasound for the purpose of identifying the baby’s sex.  You can click here to read VIHA’s ultrasound fact sheet (PDF)

I know some parents who are quite upset about this.  They feel that the tech will know something about their baby which they will not be allowed to know.  I sympathize.  Knowledge is power and a woman should be able to know everything that can be known about her baby and her pregnancy.  Or should she?  There may be things she doesn’t want to know – ask any woman who has had a false positive on a screening test – sometimes too much knowledge is a very uncomfortable thing.

Some people, who don’t want to find out the baby’s sex (or couldn’t find it out when they had their babies 30 years ago) says things like: “It spoils the surprise!” or “It shouldn’t matter – as long as it’s healthy!”  When I was pregnant with my first child, I said: “I don’t care – as long as it has red hair.”  He turned out to be a boy – with brown hair.

On the other hand, what would make us need to know our baby’s sex?  If there is a real risk of a genetic or sex-linked disorder, the parents will be counselled about having amniocentesis which will find out the baby’s sex along with any other chromosomal information.  Some have been saying that the reason for VIHA’s policy is due to the fear that parents will terminate pregnancies when the baby is not of the desired sex.  But I have not been able to find any statistical evidence that this is actually happening.  I think the real reason behind this change in policy is that it takes a lot of time to identify EVERY baby’s sex and then many parents are bound to be disappointed, or even upset, when it turns out that appendage was the umbilical cord.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I wanted SO much to have a girl, that I decided to find out so that if it was a boy I could get used to the idea before the baby was born.  It WAS a boy – with red hair!

At first, many parents will say that they want to know if the baby is a boy or a girl because they want to know what colours to buy.  And when I suggest that they can still go shopping after the baby comes – in fact shopping is a great activity to do with a small baby sleeping in a carrier – the parents will tell me they want to know so they can bond better with the baby.

It’s true that we are hungry for anything we can find out about our baby which will help us imagine what life might be like after the birth.  We need to be able to imagine ourselves as a parent for this baby and imagine what the baby might be like. 

But I need to ask, is the baby’s sex the MOST important thing about that baby?  Is it more important than whether the baby is calm or tense, quiet or noisy, cheerful or grumpy?  Will it affect our parenting style more than whether the baby is sensitive, relaxed, lively, or sleepy?

I wonder if NOT knowing the sex of the baby could be a good thing.  For a few months we are not assuming anything about the baby based on its chromosomes.  We are getting to know our baby, his/her favourite times of night for dancing, propensity for hiccups, tastes in music.  We are daydreaming about the baby without swathing it in pink or blue.  Maybe that’s good practice for later in the baby’s life when we have to learn to parent THIS baby, not the one we thought we would have, or the one we wish s/he could be.

I am not sure what the best way to deal with this is.  I just know that there are WAY more than two ways to think about it.