By Matthew Harrington
“Are you having a boy or a girl?” or in german “Junge oder Mädchen?” This was inevitably the first question everyone asked when they saw my wife’s swelling belly, and we must have been asked it about four thousand times. We would answer with a smile the same way every time. “We’re waiting to find out.” Some found it interesting that we were waiting, but most just contorted their face into a quizzical frown as they struggled to grasp with the concept that we could find out, but for some mysterious reason were refusing.
I knew as soon as we found out my wife was pregnant that I wanted to wait. As a kid, I loved surprises, but as an adult, the good surprises are few and far between. Of course there are still surprises when you grow up, but they are more along the lines of: “Surprise! Your engine is broken, and it will cost more than the value of your car to fix” or “Surprise! You don’t have a job anymore. Clean out your desk and security will show you out of the building.” In my opinion, waiting to find out the gender of your child is one of the last good surprises as an adult, and nobody, especially not the ultrasound technician, was going to take that away from me.
So we waited. It wasn’t always easy. There were times where the urge to just find out was so strong that we almost caved in, but for me the anticipation made waiting that much more worth it. We had heard the old wive’s tales about changes in the pregnant woman that could signal the gender. My wife had no morning sickness, did not swell up like a water balloon, and she carried the baby out front like a basketball. According to folklore, these were clear signs it would be a boy. We were tired of referring constantly to the growing fetus as “baby,” so we decided to provide a temporary name. Seeing as we were living in Germany and seeing as all the signs pointed to a boy, we chose Klaus. (On a side note, it was really funny and slightly insulting how many people thought we actually planned on naming the baby Klaus. Slightly more awkward was when German colleagues would reveal that Klaus was their father’s name, as we joked about what a terrible name it would actually be for our baby. But I digress.)
Soon it became “Klaus is kicking me” or “What do you think he will be like?” Whether conscious or not, we were starting to believe it would be a boy. Our first convincing piece of evidence came at the 3-D ultrasound. If you haven’t seen one of these, they are incredible. If you have a technician that knows what they are doing, you can actually see your baby’s face at twenty weeks. Their face?! Really? This can be a somewhat unsettling, but incredible experience for first-time parents. Several of the pictures resembled me quite a bit, and the features appeared slightly masculine. Well, as masculine as a fetus can appear in ultrasound. We started to become more convinced that it was a boy.
I started to envision all the typical clichés; little league games, building and fixing stuff in the garage, throwing back a few beers with my son when he got a little older. I could now picture Klaus as a small boy climbing trees, and all consideration of a little girl vanished. During an ultrasound at 30 weeks, the doctor needed to measure the length of the legs, and as he moved around through the baby’s nether regions, I saw it: Klaus’s junk. As we left the doctor that day, neither of us said anything for a minute or so. “Did you see anything interesting today?” my wife asked with a little grin on her face. That was it. We were 99.9% convinced that Klaus was in fact a Klaus. Immediately after that, we settled on a boy’s name, but even to the day of the birth we had no girl’s name. That didn’t really matter though. We were having a boy.
The next three months dragged by, and as it got harder for my wife to move around, it got even harder to wait for the little one to arrive. The anticipation was excruciating, but finally on a cold night in October the first contractions set in. I’m not going to take the time here to describe the birth. Just to say that it is easily the most amazing and terrifying experience of my life, and I was only a spectator. After 16 hours of effort, our baby was pushed out into the world. The last 30 minutes of the birth were very stressful for the baby (and mother), and the doctors with a vague explanation in broken English took our new baby away with them to another room for a checkup. I ensured that my wife was okay, and I sprinted down the hall after the doctors just in time to see them closing the door. I barged in, and in my first flash of panic as a new parent, asked, “Is he okay? Is he alright?” The doctors looked up at me, and could see that I was obviously distressed. “He’s fine. Don’t worry.”
Then I realized it. In all the excitement of the birth, I hadn’t looked to see if Klaus was a boy. “It’s a boy?!” I asked with excitement as this dawned on me. I slowly walked over to the table where the new baby lay, and that is when it hit me… Klaus was not a Klaus. She was a Heidi (or maybe even a Hildegard). Words (or at least my words) can’t really do justice to the feelings that went through me at that point. It was easily the biggest surprise of my life. Way bigger than any Christmas gift opened as a child. I let a few joyful expletives fly. “I can’t believe it’s a girl!” I’m not ashamed to admit that there were some tears involved as well. The stern German doctors looked on with noticeable puzzlement, bordering on concern, at this effusive and boisterous American who was celebrating the birth of his daughter as if Germany had just won the world cup. I didn’t care. I was instantly in love with this little squirming baby girl.
I snatched her up and brought her down the hall where my wife was still in a state of endorphin-induced shock in the delivery room. “You’ll never believe this!” I said as I barged through the door. “What???” Her pupils were the size of cloudy black marbles. “Klaus is a girl!” We were ecstatic, even as we left the hospital later that day and realized that as a result of our confidence that Klaus was a boy, we had not decided on a girl’s name. Leila probably has the unique distinction among her peers of having had her name chosen by a very friendly cab driver during the 45-minute ride home from the hospital. As I carried our tiny new daughter up the stairs to our apartment, those distant visions of playing catch with my boy in the backyard faded away as quickly as they had come. They were easily replaced with the wonderful reality of this perfect little face staring up at me and all the potential contained in her dark grey eyes. Some things are just worth the wait.