“What would you do if you had an intersex child?”
The question raised in class stayed with me for the rest of the day, as I grappled with the idea. In truth what is a parent to do?!
This inquiry along with the Zeiler & Wickstrom article took me 3 years back when I was pregnant with my now vivacious toddler. Even prior to being told, I’d done my research and knew that during my 15th week exam, I would have an ultrasound to determine the sex of the baby. This date, even more than my expected due date and all of the other countless important milestones of pregnancy, was the most momentous of them all.
When D day arrived, as I laid on the examination table waiting nervously for the verdict and searching for clues on the technician face, I thought of how having a girl or a boy would change the direction of our lives in very different ways. In retrospect, I question why I believed this to be so true at the time. But still I waited anxiously, and felt my heart sink to my swollen feet when the nurse announced that she could not get a clear view of the baby’s sexual organs. Even while I sobbed, she assured me not to worry and that we would try again next month. From her reaction, I quickly surmised that I was certainly not the first expectant mom who became completely undone at the thought of not knowing the sex of her baby.
But for me, the next month came, and the next, and the next, and the revelation, or lack thereof, remained the same: “Awww… I am so sorry, but he or she just does not want us to know… The legs are crossed and I just can’t see anything.”
So… we did not find out the sex until I gave birth. After each appointment, I was in tears, I felt like an abnormality and in addition I was letting all of the family and friends eagerly waiting to find out down.
My story does not even begin to describe the angst parents must bear, faced with the realization that even when clearly visible, nothing can determine the sex of the child they have carried and awaited for close to 10 months. Yet this story does allow me to sympathize with Phoebe Hart’s mother and with all of the parents who are eager to immediately “gender” their child one way or the other. As Zeiler and Wickstrom point out, when children do not fit the narrow standards put forth by society, parents worry about how the world will treat them, and perhaps how it also will view them as parents. As Phoebe’s mother so heart-wrenchingly expressed, parents internalize everything that their child is, and feeling guilt and responsible for it all, is what we do best.
So I wish I could honestly say that if I ever had an intersex child, I would take Zeiler and Wickstrom’s suggestion to wait to determine surgery plans until the child became a more informed participant. But I am doubtful that I could be so courageous. Hence, even though I am conscious that childhood trauma, secrecy and shame shape us as adults, I am also aware that adults who escaped early genital surgery experienced their own trauma of growing up different and unique.
What is a parent to do?! In my mind, the only true triumphant answer to that question will require a reshaping of logic that would acknowledge intersex children as an acceptable sex variation. But this would entail the even more strenuous task of reshaping our society to embrace intersex as a norm. I am not very optimistic…maybe in my daughter’s lifetime. Oh yes! She was a she.