They've gotten a bad rap lately for good reason, but the basic idea behind them is worth praising.
I went to a party once where the hosts were an expectant father and mother. The father-to-be tossed a baseball to his pregnant wife and she hit it with a bat, exploding pink powder everywhere. We all cheered. That’s how we learned the baby was a girl. I have to admit, I was delighted with the whole production.
But some people think that gender reveal parties have gotten out of control. Certainly, a few of them have gone very, very wrong, and perhaps there’s an undercurrent of one-ups-manship in the way some of the exploits have become outright dangerous, complicated, and/or expensive. Mark that trend up to the constant human temptation to envy and our need to prove our worth by outdoing each other in impressive displays. The arrival of an infant is hardly the time to give in to this, one of our worst impulses. After all, an infant is not an object to be possessed and shown off like a diamond ring. An infant is not the opportunity to make the childless neighbors green with envy. A family is not a status symbol.
In my experience, however, most gender reveal parties haven’t been like that at all. They’ve been joyous and encouraging – a chance to celebrate and create a fun memory.
Babies are, if anything, unpredictable. They’ll be born whenever they please with no warning — anytime, anyplace — and then they’ll spend the rest of their lives keeping their parents on their toes. It seems appropriate to announce their arrival with a madcap party in which pink or blue powders, confetti, or the like appear in an unnecessarily quirky fashion, immediately to bring authentic tears of joy to the eyes of the parents.
So much of pregnancy these days is circumscribed by the desire to control the process from start to finish. Couples attempt to plan exactly how many children they’ll have. They time the pregnancies for opportune periods of life, perhaps thinking to delay until they finally have the right house, enough money, enough adult experience. And then, once they’re ready, the plan is put into motion and a pregnancy is allowable.
If everything goes well, a new addition to the family is soon on the way. The planning continues. Preschools are researched. Sleep plans are drawn up and made ready to be implemented. Feeding schedules are diagrammed. Sometimes, C-sections are even planned in advance so the due date won’t arrive on the wrong day. A whole future is drawn out and expectations are formed. Of course, some planning is necessary and no one should scoff at it, but in its extreme versions these plans are a bit much. They’re emblematic of a particular kind of desire to seize the American dream, to have the perfect family but also have everything else at the same time.
I remember that anxious period in the months before we had our first child. At that time, gender reveal parties hadn’t been invented, but like all new parents-to-be, we were full of anticipation. We had our illusions of what life would be like with our little one. The nursery was all set up – the crib, the changing table, the music box to put her to sleep. Then she arrived one snowy morning before the sun had even started to rise and laid all our plans to ruins. She refused to sleep in the crib. She destroyed all diapers before we could get anywhere near the changing table (It wouldn’t do to describe this in more detail on the internet). She cried incessantly until I put her in the car for a midnight drive. The baby, it became abundantly clear, was in charge.
Perhaps my personal experience as a father is why I love gender reveal parties so much. These parties are an acknowledgment that, before all else, the child is a surprise to be greeted with awe and wonder. A birth is a miracle to be applauded.
Later this week, we celebrate the Annunciation, the ancient Christian celebration of the announcement made to Mary that she would give birth to a boy. I wonder if the angels were throwing blue confetti.
Mary quietly accepted the surprise timing of the pregnancy. She accepted that her life was to be drastically rearranged, and she celebrated it. She celebrated not only the mystery of the something happeningin her womb, but she celebrated someone.
This is the true genius of the gender reveal party, the chance to impart identity and purpose to the child, that little boy or girl, a little person to be known and loved.