Outside of the ultrasound room of the international hospital in Beijing hangs a sign with a message written in both Chinese characters and English, ‘It is illegal to ask the ultrasound technician the sex of the unborn fetus’. I must admit, this sign intimidated me. Despite the candid reassurances of my European doctors, there it was – a warning written on the wall. To know that information is a crime. However, as it is with most things in the world, if you have enough money the same rules don’t apply to you. Ergo, this fancy hospital would allow such a privilege especially to us, two foreigners, whom doctors believed were less likely to use this information as the grounds for terminating a pregnancy.
I had my doubts on whether or not to ask. However, my husband who was much braver than me pushed on anyway. By my side and with a cellphone camera in hand to document every little in utero formation, we asked. As is tradition in China, when someone doesn’t want to answer something, the question is ignored. Therefore one must persist, asking several times. The golden rule is to ask three times if the request is important. “Can you tell us the sex?” “Boy or girl” “So…can you tell us if it is a boy or girl?”. I could tell that the technician was treading lightly about this, afraid of what would happen. She looked a little nervous when she said, ‘Uh…girl….BUT I can’t be certain….she is moving around’. As if movement could hide a penis. Still, we knew what ‘can’t be certain’ meant. It meant covering your ass and in her consideration, it was a smart move.
That was our gender reveal. No party, no colored cake, no special sealed envelope or social media unveiling. Our gender reveal was done in a dark room with a hesitant technician fearful of reprisal. Nevertheless, we were grateful to have the information. For me, the news meant another girl added to the mix. My older brother already had 2 daughters and my younger sister has a girl of her own. Now, it was my turn to bring another woman to the family. For my husband, it was completely the opposite. He was an only child. His father was the youngest of three boys, his step-mother who had no children of her own doted on her nephews given to her by her brother. His mother only had her brother and no nieces or nephews. Needless to say, the arrival of the girl livened up the British sausage party that was my husband’s side of the family. For us all it was a blessing and to this day, we still consider her a blessing.
Other people did not see it as such. In a culture with a man-made gender disparity in favor of boys, to be happy for the birth of a girl seemed almost revolutionary in China. ‘Well, maybe next time you can have a boy!’ people said and still say. ‘You are American so you can have as many as you like-many sons!.’ What’s wrong with having a daughter?
Once I discovered I was having a girl, I started to look around and finally notice how little girls were being outnumbered by boys: loud, active, yelling, pushing, running around boys. You had to look hard for the girls who usually sat quietly nearby, adorned in a Disney Princess dress and short bob haircut. In a country where the general mindset regarding family is ‘No offense against girls, but MY family wants a son. Why would I choose to have a girl that won’t carry on the family name? Why have a girl who will take care of her husband’s family and not you?’ These daughters were more decorative than anything else and usually accompanied by a brother. They almost seemed like a new luxury item amongst the elite, where one showed off ones wealth by investing in a daughter, an investment with likely little returns as they would most likely be married off to another family. On the auspicious days in Beijing when the sky was blue and the air pollution wasn’t hazardous, I hastily escaped for a walk outside with my baby. ‘AH! Xiao di di! Xiao di di!‘ I would hear from people passing by. ‘Little brother!‘ In China, it was just assumed that the baby was a boy even if she was wearing a dress or a pink hat. It was always ‘Xiao di di‘ because why wouldn’t you have a son? Why would you chose that? Why waste the money and energy on the inferior sex? It’s not that people don’t love their daughters. After all, what monster doesn’t love their child? Daughters are loved in their family just not considered as important as a son.
Back in my old school in China, where I used to teach, I had a student who was the youngest of three girls. Three girls! In a country where the majority of couples have only 1 child and that one child is typically a boy, the very notion of having 3 children and all of them female is almost unheard of. Even more exceptional, these parents were proud of their daughters. They gave them the very best education, were active members in school activities, were always there with a camera, a huge cake and beaming smiles when it was one of their child’s birthdays. They were a close knit family and it showed especially when all the girls were together. The youngest two looked out for one another and you would often find them holding hands while walking around the playground instead of playing. When their big sister was there, they’d run into her arms and give her a hug all while the parents looked on, smiling with a heart melted from all the sweetness.
Every time I saw a moment like, I couldn’t help but to think that this have been why he and his wife had three daughters. These children were seen not just for what they could accomplish one day but also for the people they could become: hardworking, smart, caring and thoughtful individuals who improved the world just by being in it. They might not have been born male but they could achieve just as much if educated, cared for and loved just as much as any other. Revolutions only succeed if they are first won in the hearts and minds of the masses with the law following suit thereafter. These families who praise the value of girls are at the front line of the battle.
As for me and my little family, my daughter was born healthy and screaming 5 minutes after midnight on a Thanksgiving Thursday in Beijing, China via an emergency section performed by two female surgeons. She was named after her great-grandmother whose capable talent and personality was a source of inspiration and admiration for my husband. Like her great-grandmother she loves dogs and all things canine and refuses to be told what to do. She takes after her father not only in her bright blue eyes and curly hair but also in her affection for books, her willfulness and independent spirit. She is a blessing and a great joy in the lives of our family. Whenever anyone says in a disappointed tone, ‘Oh, a girl…well, that’s ok…maybe next time a boy!’ my husband always responds, ‘Maybe but to be honest I wouldn’t mind another one of her’.
This, of course, remains my husband’s favorite way of saying to anyone that implies that our family is incomplete without a son or that my daughter is lacking by the sheer justification that she was born a girl, that you need to reconsider your prejudice. The world is changing and you’re in danger of being left behind when the future turns female.