Three for a Girl and Four for a Boy

A while back I was doing a Q&A session where people grilled me on a number of theological issues for an hour or so. It was good fun, though challenging, and in the midst of the classics (suffering, predestination, the trinity etc) came a rather unexpected question, ‘Is it Biblical to discover the gender of your baby before it’s born?’

I don’t yet have kids, so it’s not a question I’ve ever had cause to consider, but here’s the essence of the answer I gave. See what you think, and feel free to add your own thoughts:

Of course, in Biblical times the technology we have today was not available. There were no pre-natal scans. That said, angels did have a nasty habit of turning up and telling the likes of Mary and Elizabeth not only the gender of their child, but what to call them! (I picture Joseph with his fingers in his ears complaining that the angel had ‘ruined the surprise.’)

But angelic encounters aside, the Bible says nothing prescriptive about this issue. I think it’s a matter of personal choice, and it’s a decision that each couple must make for themselves. However, I think there are a few Biblical principles that I would want to throw into the discussion:

First, children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3) and there’s no returns policy! I would say that each couple should take the course of action that helps them to enjoy and prize that gift the most. That will be different from couple to couple based on a number of factors, including personality type, personal history and preconceived hopes and dreams.

An example: A little while ago I had arranged to take my wife to a restaurant we’d been wanting to visit for years. I had been planning (and saving!) secretly for quite some time, and deliberated over how I should tell her. Should we just turn up there on the day, a complete surprise? Or should I tell her in advance to give her time to get excited? Knowing my wife, and how she responds to things like this, I knew that she would value the treat more if I gave her a week’s notice. Sure enough, when I told her she was excited and immediately began planning what she would wear, thinking about what it would be like and imagining how the food would taste. It turned it from a meal into an experience… and we weren’t disappointed.

Some people respond well to surprises and others don’t. I’m definitely in the latter category! If knowing the gender of your child in advance will help you to enjoy and prize the gift God has given you, then go for it. But if you thrive on surprise, then don’t. Waiting to see as the child emerges could be one of the rare, unparalleled, real surprises of your life.

Since children are a gift, we need to trust that God knows what He’s doing. In some cultures, baby girls are valued less than boys, and female infanticide is still practised. In those settings, knowing the gender of your child in advance will likely cause resentment, or worse. Similarly, though less-extremely, some people spend all their lives longing for a girl and get disappointed when they find out they’re having a boy. If you have a strong preference either way and are likely to be disappointed, or not value/love the child if he/she turns out to be the opposite gender to what you had hoped for, then I would suggest you need to think really carefully about whether or not you find out in advance. For some people, knowing with a few months warning will give them time to get used to the idea. For others, knowing in advance may cause them to develop negative emotions towards the child, and they would be better off using the time in the run up to the birth to iron out their preconceived ideas and to teach themselves to see their child as a gift and a privilege, whatever it’s gender.

It comes down to knowing yourself, knowing your spouse, and discussing it openly and honestly together.

Also, it is worth remembering that technology is not infallible! Some couples think they’re getting a boy and prepare accordingly; only choose male names, paint the room blue and buy football kits aplenty, only to find out that little floating thing they could see so distinctly in the scan wasn’t quite what they thought it was!!

And finally, my main reason for nervousness is the trajectory it represents. In a relatively short period of time we have gone from not being at all able to know the gender of your child, to being able to scan for both gender and potential illnesses. Whilst there are arguably benefits to knowing ahead of time if your child may be born with a serious illness, I have little doubt that such technological ability has led to a significant rise in abortions, many for utterly indefensible reasons. Following the trajectory through, who knows where we will end up? We are already seeing the beginnings of the ability to create ‘designer babies.’ Whilst I am not uncomfortable with knowing the gender of your child before its birth, the thoughts of how that technology has advanced and will continue to advance does leave me feeling a little uneasy.

So, having no children of my own, I felt somewhat unqualified to offer an opinion on the subject… but those were the thoughts I shared in the moment, on the spot.

What would you have said?

Magpie by John Queen
Magpie by John Queen

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