Sources close to a north London labour ward reliably inform me that the proud parents of Beatrice Milly McCartney, the new baby Beatle, specifically asked the doctors not to tell them what sex their child was going to be. I'm glad there are still a few people around, besides me, who like surprises. "But it's so handy to know if you're going to have a girl or a boy," my sex-obsessed friends used to whine, "because then you can buy baby clothes and paint the nursery the right colour instead of always having to play safe with yellow."
Is it written somewhere in stone - in small print, maybe, at the bottom of that commandment about not coveting your neighbour's ass - that boys have to wear blue and girls pink? I seem to remember a small, shapeless garment as wide as it was long with green and orange stripes and lots of fringing like an Aztec overall that all my children wore as babies regardless of sex or size or season. I have pictures of the girls wearing it in prams with snow-laden trees in the background and pictures of the boys wearing it in prams axle deep in buttercups.
Let us be realistic. Clothes and colours are irrelevant; it's getting the right gender that counts with people and the right gender is male. Everyone wants boys. Now I can see why this preference is crucial if you are Chinese and only officially allowed one child. Or the direct heir to a 900-year-old dynasty whose elders have decreed that male children get dukedoms whereas girl children get drowned but most of us aren't. And yet, would-be parents, especially men, continue to hanker for boys. How do I know this? Because, having written more columns than most of you have had hot dinners, I can honestly say that the article that elicited the biggest response - more than 700 letters - was the one in which I wrote about a doctor in Manchester who guaranteed he could determine the sex of your baby.
It was many years ago and I forget the details but they were definitely medical rather than mythical. Pills were involved that's for sure, possibly pink and blue pills, and douches impregnated with either acid or alkali solutions. I vaguely recall a calendar on which you were advised to highlight certain dates more favourable to the conception of boys than girls. What I do vividly remember were the bucket-loads of letters from people, namely women, all over the world begging me to tell them where they could get hold of the blue pills soonest. "Dear Sue Arnold, I have ... number of daughters (the figure varied from 0 to 11) and my husband says that unless I provide him with a son he will ... me." The punishment varied from divorce to death by a thousand cuts.
Don't worry, I am not personally responsible for the fact that the male population worldwide has doubled over the past 20 years because it hasn't. I took the precaution of having that Manchester doctor's pills and douches analysed by a reputable laboratory which said the pills had as much chance of determining an unborn child's sex as pink and blue liquorice allsorts. In other words, 50 per cent.
Here's another thing. Almost as much as I like having surprises, I like having daughters. I shall not go as far as to say I prefer daughters because if my sons read this they would be hurt. Boys are so damned sensitive and take everything so personally.
This is a direct result of the lop-sided nature of our family, three daughters, followed by three sons. The daughters have left home; the sons are still sitting tenants which, including my husband, in football terms (and believe me everything in this house is measured in football terms) makes the score: Sports-Obsessed Males United 4 vs Nostalgic Females 1.
My life changed when daughter number three left home taking with her all those little accessories that every civilised household needs - things like pink slippers, colour swatches, opinions about handbags, heart-to-heart chats. I sit here effectively alone, surrounded by mud-caked football boots, unidentified malodorous items of clothing, invariably hooded, and the TV permanently turned to Sky Sports. I longed for my sixth child to be a girl. It even crossed my mind to tell my husband who wasn't at the birth to pretend that Finlay, named after a Scottish rugby international, was a girl and bring him up as such. I once read a book about a girl being reared as a boy to inherit the family title. Why not a boy being brought up as a girl to talk to his mother about recipes? Lucky old Heather McCartney.Reuse content