THE NEWS that my partner and I are expecting a baby in January transformed us overnight from merry muddlers into obsessive planners. We both want to know absolutely everything about the impending birth.

I wanted to know the precise date of the baby's arrival, its expected size, the numbers of fingers, the colour of its eyes etc, etc. We have nearly all the answers: in the New Year, fairly fat and 10. But most of all we wanted to know what sex it was going to be.

Our quest for baby-gender certainty began at the first ultrasound scan. I had worked myself into a state of expectation and felt confident I would leave the hospital knowing whether it was going to be one of me or one of her.

As soon as the first image appeared on the screen I was asking the radiographer for confirmation of any tiny penis sightings. But she would do no more than acknowledge each observation by answering 'heart', 'head' or 'knee', depending on where my excited finger pointed.

I was getting nowhere, so in the end I asked outright: 'Is it a boy or a girl?'

'I'm afraid I can't tell you that,' came the reply.

'Why not?'

'There are certain ethnic groups that may abort the baby if they find out what sex it is before it's born. Accidents happen with female foetuses,' the radiographer said.

I told her I did not mind what sex it was (it could always play for the England women's football team), but she said she was sorry. We left the hospital confused.

A change of tack was needed, I thought. Perhaps a fatherly presence was obstructing the free transfer of information between mother and radiographer. We decided for the next scan that my partner would go on her own in the hope that a bit of female bonding would loosen the radiographer's tongue. But my partner encountered more stubborn resistance.

The most important piece of information for us appeared to be classified; known only to a tight-knit group of consultants and radiographers at the Homerton Hospital in east London. I phoned the Department of Health to check what the rules were. A spokesperson explained that it was left up to individual hospitals to make their own policy. So I tried the boss at Bart's, Homerton's parent hospital. Marcus Setchell, director of maternity, neonatology and gynaecology, told me that because a sex diagnosis using a scan is not 100 per cent accurate, the Homerton does not tell parents the sex of their foetuses. The radiographers are governed by regulations and could be struck off their professional register if they divulged the sex of the foetus to parents.

'The regulation is determined to some extent by the fact that telling parents the sex of their unborn child opens up a channel of abuse, not just to Asians, but to anyone who might choose to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of sex,' Mr Setchell said.

As modern medicine was unwilling to help, my partner and I turned to more traditional solutions. Late one evening, I found myself dangling a 50p on the end of a piece of string over my partner's uterus. If the coin moves in a clockwise direction, the baby is male; if it moves anti-clockwise, it's female, or so folklore would have it. Unfortunately there is no explanation for a non-turning coin.

Next, we struggled to remember exactly which day the baby was conceived. Narrowing it down to a three-day spell of abandon at a B&B in Devon, we consulted moon charts. Another piece of folklore says that the sex of the child is linked to ovulation and the phase of the moon. This was not only inconclusive, it taxed our maths skills to the limit.

We have finally found out what sex our child is going to be, but only because of complications that arose during the pregnancy. We are both overjoyed.

And the benefits are huge. The aggravation of arguing over a name is cut by half. You can also launch pre-emptive strikes against friends and relatives who feel that only they can predict your baby's sex.

Now I know whether I have wasted time day-dreaming of being ensconced, snug in the Arsenal directors' box, graciously accepting plaudits for my progeny's hat-trick against Spurs in the FA Cup.

I have concluded that those who genuinely look forward to being surprised on the day must be meticulous planners of every aspect of their life and are desperate for the excitement of a two-horse baby race. Either that, or they have no interest in football. Now when I imagine Kevin Keegan managing the England football team, I also dream about telling my son that Mr Keegan wants him to play in Gary Lineker's old position.

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