Dilemmas: If you don't want to know, forget the scan

Carol is pregnant and preparing to go for her second scan. Her boyfriend wants to know the sex of the baby - he hates to think the hospital knows and he doesn't - but Carol wants it to be a surprise. What can they do?

THERE'S A politically correct answer here. Of course we don't want to know, not because we don't want to know but because we honestly don't care. No, honestly, we don't care. No, as long as it's healthy that's all we mind about.

So perhaps the first question after the birth should be is: is the baby healthy? And the second question: what sex is it? Or perhaps, to be entirely politically correct, the midwife should refuse to answer the question of whether it's a boy or a girl, and put the baby into your arms. It would be very un-pc to peer down between its legs and take a peek. You'd have to wait until you changed its nappy before you casually discovered what sex it was, and even then the coolest mum on the ward would be the one who would take the baby home, hand it to a nanny, and never discover what sex her child was until suddenly its voice broke or it started growing boobs at 12.

There's a historically correct answer here, too. For a million years, parents have never known what sex their child is going to be until it's born. Finding out in advance is interfering with nature. God didn't plan things that way. So stick to the old methods.

But the truth is that God didn't invent the telephone or the Internet, yet it would only be the most Luddite of people who refused to communicate in these ways on the grounds that it wasn't natural. And since scans are here, what do we do?

My sympathies, being a control freak, are with Carol's boyfriend. I would just hate a handful of white-coated strangers to know the sex of my child while I was kept in the dark. I would feel they had a closer relationship with the baby than I myself, its parent. And I would also like to know on the grounds that it would bring me closer to the baby before it was born. The more I could imagine it as a person rather than an "it", the fonder I would become of it. Knowing the sex of the child would make the choosing of names easier, too. What's the point of having two rows with one's partner over the choice of names when you need only have one?

I know the scan is not done purely to find out the sex of the child and is done for health reasons. But if the information is there, I would want to use it. Not so that I could design the nursery as pink instead of blue, but because it would feel cosier and closer to feel I had a little girl in my womb or a little boy. As for being politically correct, it's so much nonsense. You may not care a jot which sex you have, but once you know, your attitude to the child changes, inevitably. Mothers who have tried to bring up little boys with dolls and little girls with guns, have all failed dismally. Sex will out.

If you could take health tests that would predict exactly what diseases you would get during the following year, some of which would be unpreventable, would you want to know? If you did, you'd take the test. If you didn't, you wouldn't. What you wouldn't do is have the test and ask the hospital not to tell you the results.

My advice to Carol is simple. Contrary to popular belief, ante-natal scans are not compulsory. If she decides to have one, find out. But if she wants the sex of the baby to be a secret, don't have the scan. That way, both she and her boyfriend will be happy.

What readers say:

WHEN WE were expecting our third child, I remember this: if the hospital knew the baby's gender, my husband wanted to; and if he was going to, in the end so was I. We already had two daughters. Knowing that the new baby was a girl, too, enabled us to turn our minds in that direction. By the time she was born we'd become comfortable with the idea and we'd never be parents of a son. Perhaps Carol's husband badly wants a child of the other gender, a pigeon pair. Perhaps, consciously or subconsciously, he wants to have dealt with any disappointment in advance of the remaining period surrounding the birth. That would be the effect, anyway. It might be imaginative to concede, in the interests of a proper welcome for your newcomer.

ALISON CLAYBOURNE,

Keighley

CAROL'S HUSBAND should stop being so selfish and let his wife have her way on this. Knowing the sex of your child before birth will only create false expectations about how it should behave and what you will do. What's more, the hospital might be wrong - it has happened. Ultrasound technicians are perfectly schooled at not giving away the baby's sex. Why upset your wife to please yourself? Perhaps it's symptomatic of modern life to want to know everything immediately - will you want the hospital to ring you on your mobile phone and call you out of that planning meeting with the results? Be honest: you have a preference for the sex of the baby (a boy, I'll wager), and you hope this will confirm it. What if it's a girl? You'll mope throughout the pregnancy. A baby is not just its sex; there's a whole personality developing in there. Let it all remain a secret until the birth - because I can guarantee you that you'll be delighted with everything about your child then. And yes, I do speak from experience.

DAVID ROBERTS,

London N1

MANY COUPLES feel like Carol and prefer surprises, while others prefer to know, so that they are well prepared in advance, particularly if they are longing for a child of a particular sex and can prepare for one of the undesired sex at a time not coloured by the maternal `blues' which often follow childbirth. In this instance each party holds the opposite of these two opinions; I wonder if she might think again, if it were pointed out to her that having a scan is just as "unnatural" as knowing the baby's sex in advance!

DR A W F ERSKINE

London NW2

AT THE Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, around 60-70 per cent of women want to know the sex of their child. Obviously a scan is not primarily done to determine this - it is done for health reasons. If couples can't agree on whether they want to be told or not, we ask them to resolve the problem themselves and usually it is the woman who is the key person in decision making. In the vast majority of cases we would never tell on one and not the other.

DR ZOE DUNN

Consultant Obstetrician

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