Last Friday, I was chatting with my physical therapist about weekend plans while being treated for a hamstring strain. My plans consisted of the usual: Drive a child to an activity. Pick child up. Repeat. His plans were a little more interesting: He was heading out of town to attend a gender reveal party for his sister and brother-in-law. “A what?” I asked, unsure if I had heard correctly, since I was lying on my stomach with my head on a paper-covered pillow. “A gender reveal party,” he repeated. “You know, they’re having a baby, and this is when everyone finds out if it’s a boy or a girl.” “I’ve never heard of that,” I confessed. “Is this a thing now?” “Oh yeah, it’s a pretty big thing,” he confirmed. “I’m just a little worried about my brother-in-law, though. He REALLY wants a boy, and…wow, that split-second after the reveal? I can’t wait to see the expression on his face if it turns out to be a girl.”
What a minute – WHAT?!? I abruptly rolled over and sat up right in the middle of the treatment. “You mean the parents don’t know either? They’re finding out at the same time as everyone else?” “Yeah, that’s the whole point,” said my therapist, laughing. “It’s a surprise for everyone.” Oh dear. I rolled back over and spent the rest of the appointment trying to figure out why this felt so disturbing.
If you’re not already familiar with the gender reveal party, here’s how it works: Instead of finding out the sex of the baby during the ultrasound exam, the parents-to-be ask the technician to write “boy” or “girl” on a piece of paper and tuck it safely away in an envelope. Then they send out invitations and get ready to be surprised along with a houseful of family and friends. Decorations and refreshments tend overwhelmingly toward blue and pink (although I did come across a few black and yellow “What’s it Going to Bee?” themes on Pinterest.) Guests don’t typically bring gifts, but they may be asked to come to the party dressed in pink or blue, depending on which gender they think the baby will be.
The big reveal may come in various forms. For example, the local baker might be asked to peek at the slip of paper inside the envelope and make a cake with either pink or blue filling. Or the clerk at the party store might fill a large box with either pink or blue balloons. My physical therapist’s wife (also expecting, as it happens) is planning to go to Build-A-Bear and have someone make a bear, dress it as either a girl or a boy and then wrap it in a box. The possibilities are endless, but each one comes to a dramatic climax when the parents-to-be cut into the cake, release the balloons, unwrap the bear or whatever else they come up with to reveal the gender of the baby.
Now, I LOVE babies. I LOVE parties. I LOVE sharing good news with family and friends. So, why do I NOT love the idea of a gender reveal party? I guess the simple answer is that this is the kind of news I would rather get in private. To me, discovering the gender of a baby is a big milestone, not just in a pregnancy, but in a marriage and in the life of a family. So many expectations culminate in that moment, and for some parents, it can be a lot to absorb. The idea of processing all those feelings in front of a smartphone-wielding audience makes me cringe.
It’s not sharing the information that’s so uncomfortable. Thanks to social media, we’re all sharing and connecting like never before. But the gender reveal party takes it a step further. Instead of sharing news, we’re sharing our reactions to the news. It’s as though real life suddenly started imitating reality TV. Contrived situation? Check. Manufactured excitement? Check. Perfect set-up for a maximum response? Check. And just like that, our emotions cease to be our own and become a form of entertainment for others.
In fact, many people seem to thrive on putting it all out there. We see countless marriage proposals on the Jumbotron at sports events. Asking someone to the prom is no longer just a question – it’s a full-on publicity stunt. What’s next? Should I expect to receive invitations to First Response parties, where couples take a pregnancy test and announce the results right then and there? (Serve cookies decorated with one line (negative) or two lines (positive!) of colored frosting – they’ll satisfy your hunger AND your curiosity!) Will my neighbors invite me over to watch their high school senior open his college response letters? (Set the scene with university football pennants and downloadable alma mater tunes! Invite a military recruiter just in case.)
I’m getting a stomach ache just thinking about it. Or maybe that’s the frosting. In any case, I wouldn’t rush to RSVP to either of these scenarios, especially after this week’s physical therapy appointment. Are you ready for the rest of the story? My therapist said that both his sister and brother-in-law were decked out in blue for their gender reveal party, totally going for a boy. However, when they cut the cake, the filling was…PINK! They were both completely shocked. The brother-in-law was obviously disappointed and expressed an urgent need for a beer. The sister didn’t really care either way but felt sorry for her husband. The whole thing was documented by numerous photos. “They’re fine now,” said my physical therapist, “but the looks on their faces!” He shook his head. “It’s a terrible idea.”
Thank goodness I’m not the kind of person who says I told you so.