Monday, April 20, 2009


Screening a Baby's Progress

In January, my wife’s doctor told us that we might be able to learn the gender of our baby, depending on what position it lay in.

When told as much, I suppose one has to decide if they really want to know. Some prefer not to see what’s on the computer monitor; they’d rather be surprised on the date of the birth. I don’t share this perspective, but I respect it, even if I think it dates back to a time before modern luxuries like sonograms, 3-D imaging and universal suffrage.

Personally, I couldn’t imagine passing up the chance to find out. It’s not that I had a particular preference, or that I would care any less for the baby either way; I just felt it best that I know in advance whether it would require pinkish clothing to soil up until age 4 or more bluish outfits that it would find creative ways of soiling well into its teens. Then, I could begin planning accordingly.

Sadly, January wasn’t the time for us to learn the truth; the baby didn’t cooperate by lying in a position that would make its truth self-evident. In this way it probably took after its mother’s modest, traditional Korea upbringing; seven months after our wedding she still needs me to wait in another room when she changes her socks.

So, we waited until a later date, when the baby would be bigger and running out of space to conceal itself. In February we looked again. What we saw wasn’t certain enough to prompt us into ordering blue baby clothes, but it did suggest that we had a lot of muddy floors and Playstation games in our future.

In March we returned to the doctor’s office, and this time the truth was undeniable: “It” was now “he” and had a name. Being the only one in our household with experience in bequeathing English names (mostly to Labrador retrievers and other quadrupeds), all authority was invested in me.

I chose “Daniel,” because it’s a Biblical name, because I have friends and an uncle with that name, and because any boy going through life with the name “York” deserves a first name that’s not easy to ridicule.

(Yes, I know “York” is a traditional English name, but this boy will eventually have to go to high school, where the fact that it rhymes with an insult beginning with the letter “D” won’t be lost on his less traditionally minded classmates.)

The act of giving the as-yet-unborn child a name is ripe with significance; it’s not that he suddenly becomes more than an object just because you’re not calling him “it” anymore, but referring to him by a name does lead one to realize all the more clearly that more has chanced that just the wife’s width and her now daily need for foot massages.

This is really a person, you may think, a person who’s going to want money soon.

Just kidding! That wasn’t my first thought. More like my third.

What is left to discover after that? Until the baby actually comes out, begins soiling things and asking for money (I forget which comes first), what more can you discover about him just by looking at a barely lit computer screen?

Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but in April, when my wife of average Korean height was examined, we found that my boy, 29 weeks after conception, had leg length more consistent with a 31-week male Korean fetus, and weight more typical of 30 weeks. Then, after looking at 3-D imaging, the nurse told us that his nose was considerably higher and bigger than that of most babies.

The fact that I’m taller than all Koreas save a few of the country’s most towering professional athletes, plus the number of people here who’ve said to me, “I like your face because nose is very big!” were not lost on me at this moment. This brought a sudden revelation: No matter what else I do with my life, I, with my wife’s help, have accomplished something that will survive after me.

I realized that, like me, my son would probably be able to get through his teens on a diet of sugar, salt and dairy without gaining weight. Thanks to his mother, though, he’ll be different from me in other ways; he’ll probably lack my ability to get sunburned on partly cloudy winter days, for instance.

Knowing that this object growing in your wife’s stomach is not only a person, but a part of you, will change your outlook. It’s something one’s childless friends and coworkers, even those of similar age and gender, won’t be able to understand. Their inability to get excited about a baby’s weight or limb length may be an obstacle toward your ability to relate to one another from then on.

Maybe that’s a reason not to look at the dimly lit computer screen. Not a particularly good one, but it is a reason.

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