Surprise!

The unexpected moments of parenting often start in the delivery room.

Childbirth instructors suggest you write a birth plan. They should call it a birth best guess.

About a month before I was due, I wrote down my wishes— from what type of music I wanted playing during labor to what type of snacks I wanted afterward. At the top of the page I put a small note: “All subject to Mark’s approval, of course.”

Inspired by my brother, Mark was the name I had chosen when my 20-week ultrasound showed I was having a boy. Though it would have been fun to keep the sex of my baby a surprise, as a journalist who is curious by nature and a person who likes to plan ahead, I couldn’t resist finding out. The day I was told I was carrying a boy will always be one of my most memorable. After all, it’s not often that you get news of that magnitude.

I remember Eve, the ultrasound technician, moving the ultrasound wand across my swollen belly and narrating what she was seeing. I let out a small sigh of relief with each of the baby’s organs that she pointed out and declared healthy. When she pointed out the organ that made the baby a he, I took in a small gasp.

“There,” she said, pointing to a small protrusion between the baby’s legs. She circled it, wrote “BOY” alongside it and sent me on my way.

A boy… Really? My birth coach Tony asked me if I was disappointed that I was having a boy. I wasn’t. After three years of infertility treatments, I truly meant it when I said I just wanted a healthy baby. Still, something didn’t seem right. For months I had been dreaming about a girl with long brown ponytails.

Just a few nights before my ultrasound, I had a particularly realistic dream in which we were on a bus and it was time for my little girl to get off at school. She was reluctant to go and held onto me. I reassured her that I’d return for her, and gave her a nudge toward the open door— even though I wanted to hold onto her tightly.

Now, because of my ultrasound, the vividness of that dream seemed misleading. Rather than provide insight into the gender of my little one, maybe the dream revealed I had to let go of the idea of having a girl.

As the news started to register, I began to panic. An innate girly-girl, I can tell the difference between a Blahnik and a Choo, recite sections of Steel Magnolias and polish my nails just about anywhere, including in a moving vehicle. However, I’m not nearly as well versed on typically male pastimes. For me, watching Sports Center is like watching one of those Spanish soap operas— I see that people are getting emotional, but I have no idea why.

In becoming a single Mom, I worried about male role models for my child. Now that I was having a boy, they would be crucial. I started lining up male friends to be there for the little guy.

I occupied myself by painting an African animal mural in the nursery. When I finished, I signed a corner of the wall “For Mark, with love.” I also went out and bought my first article of clothing for the baby— a pair of powder blue snow pants. While in the children’s clothing stores, I couldn’t help but look longingly at all the frilly pink clothes that dominated the majority of the floor space. My friends threw me a shower with a little blue baby on the cake, and gave me pint-sized footballs and fishing poles.

I packed my bag a week before my July 31st due date. I had trouble picking out a coming home outfit for the baby. Finally, I picked out a cute onesie I had stamped. It had a herd of rhinos charging across it and “Mark” written around the neck.

Eight days past my due date, my “unproductive contractions” became so strong that Tony and I headed to the hospital around midnight. As is standard procedure, the hospital staff hooked me up to a fetal monitor to check the baby’s heart rate. I ended up strapped to the monitor all night. Despite every effort to stimulate the baby, he was unresponsive. The line on the heart monitor remained flat. My midwife looked worried. At about 6am, nurses called in the doctor. At about 7:30am, we headed for the operating room.

With what the midwife called my “roomy hips and stretchy skin,” I never for a second thought I would have a C-section. I hadn’t even paid attention to that part of the birthing class. What I didn’t take into consideration is that the baby might not be able to endure a vaginal birth.

I knew nothing about having a C-section. When my midwife suggested the procedure would be the best route, I asked her when she wanted to schedule it. Then, I looked over and saw Tony putting on scrubs and I realized it was a right-now thing.

Turns out, that would be my first surprise that day.

The baby didn’t cry when the doctor pulled him out; he only let out a gentle whimper. I kept trying to sit up to see him, but that wasn’t a wise idea. After what seemed like an eternity, the hospital staff told Tony he could go over to the corner. There, the baby had been cleaned and was ready for Tony to take his picture.

From the corner: “Chryss, it’s a girl.”

Although I heard what Tony said, I didn’t believe him. This is science we’re talking about! A professional had told me months ago that the baby was a boy. Tony must be mistaken. I told him to look again.

“I may not know much about babies,” he said, “but I do know that that’s not a boy.”

I asked the midwife for a second opinion.

Sure enough, Mark was a girl.

When you’ve been thinking of something one way for five months, it takes a while to bend your mind in a totally different direction. For days following the birth, I called her a him— even after I named her Chloe Ann. This resulted in some very confusing statements on my part such as: “This is Chloe. Isn’t he the cutest thing ever?”

When my friend Sharlene had her 20-week ultrasound, the ultrasound technician Eve told Sharlene she was having a girl. Sharlene couldn’t help but ask, “Are you sure?” When Sharlene mentioned my story, Eve said that she’s right 95 percent of the time and when she is wrong it’s usually thinking that a boy is a girl. Her explanation? Eve said the baby’s genitals were “engorged” due to hormones.

I guess I’ll buy that. At nine pounds and 22 inches, everything about Chloe was somewhat engorged at birth. When they finally handed her to me, Chloe was so big I wondered if the doctors had gotten a child from the pediatric ward down the hall. Yet, there’s an instant connection when you look into your child’s face that leaves no question who she belongs to. I had oxygen on, but I think I stopped breathing. When you see your child is healthy, with all ten fingers and toes, and that she is breathtakingly beautiful, it truly doesn’t matter whether he is a he or a she.

As it turns out, my he was a she. And not only is she a girl— Chloe has a full head of brown hair that will soon be long enough for ponytails.