Yesterday I did an hour long Q&A session where I was grilled on a number of theological topics. It was good fun, though challenging! In the midst of it, (a pleasant relief from suffering and predestination) I was asked an interesting question, and one I’d never really considered before: ‘Is it Biblical to discover the sex of your child before it’s born?’ Here’s the essence of the answer I gave… I’m sure if I thought about it more, I might nuance it differently, but hey: What do you think?
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 is a matter of personal choice, and it is 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:
Children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3). I would say that each couple should take the course of action that helps them to enjoy and prize that gift the most, and that will be different from person to person based on a number of factors, including personality type, hopes for the future and preconceptions.
An example: A little while ago I had arranged to take my wife to a top-end restaurant – one in which we had always wanted to eat, but never thought we’d manage to! I had been planning (and saving!) for this 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 couldn’t quite believe it was true! Over the next week, she enjoyed thinking about what she would wear, what it would be like, reading through the chef’s cookbook and dreaming about how the food would taste. It turned it from a meal into an experience.
Some people respond well to surprises and others don’t. 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 God to determine their gender. In some cultures, baby girls are valued less than boys, and female infanticide is still practised! In less extreme situations, 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 say 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, and to prepare to love the child. 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 discipline themselves to see their child as a gift and a privilege, whatever the gender.
It comes down to knowing yourself, and 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, buy football kits and deck out the bedroom with pictures of wrestlers, 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. And following the trajectory through, 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 uneasy.
So those were the thoughts I shared in the moment, on the spot. I don’t yet have children, and I’ve never had this conversation with my wife (Though she was in the room when the question was asked! A slightly awkward setting to open a discussion on this!) So on the one hand I feel thoroughly unqualified to offer any thoughts on the subject, yet on the other, I enjoyed being made to think about it.