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Wednesday January 9, 2013

The art and science of predicting a baby’s gender

MY wife’s pregnancy gave us a chance to test out the truth and falsehood of many traditional Chinese methods of telling the gender of an unborn baby. The myths and old wives’ tales were almost as fascinating as a Harry Porter movie.

If we were not in China, it would not have been a problem. A health check will satisfy our curiosity.

But the Chinese mainland has long banned gender tests in hospitals, for fear that couples might choose abortion if they find out the baby is going to be a girl.

My wife tried to ask her B-scan ultrasonic doctor about the gender of our baby. The doctor smiled and only said the baby was fine.

We reckon that if the doctor had revealed the gender, she and the hospital might get into trouble. The doctor can be fined, and the hospital disqualified.

A friend offered to use his guanxi or connection with the hospital to find out. But in the end, we decided to keep the suspense until the last minute. My wife and I were fine with either a boy or a girl, although we both hoped it would be a son.

Traditionally, Chinese people have preferred having sons, especially during the agricultural era because sons can do the work. But with urbanisation, that has changed dramatically.

Women are now economically independent, and can support their parents as much as men. Chinese parents can easily marry off their daughters without as much dowry as before, while many parents need to finance their sons to buy an apartment as a wedding gift so that they can settle down in a big city.

Thus originates the term “merchant’s bank” for a newborn girl, because she will bring in a husband’s help; and “construction bank” for a boy because parents will need to save up to buy him a house.

Back to the skill and calculation involved in predicting the sex of a baby, which both surprised and amazed us.

In the very first month of pregnancy, my mother, who gave birth to five children said, those who suffer from severe morning sickness give birth to daughters. My wife did not have much of a pregnancy sickness. So, it’s a son? But very soon, we found an exception in a friend, who had severe morning sickness but gave birth to a son.

There is a Chinese idiom that goes “sour boy and spicy girl”, which means pregnant women who like sourish food give birth to boys, while those who prefer spicy cuisines will have girls. My wife did not have any particular preferences.

My mother-in-law came up with a set of calculation methods, called qinggongbiao, which is very popular on the Internet. It judges based on two sets of statistics: the lunar month of pregnancy, and the nominal age of the mother.

If both are odd or even numbers, then it is a girl; if one is an odd number, and another is an even number, then it is a boy. Based on the calculations, our baby is a boy. But we found a lot of people who said the method did not work for them.

As the pregnancy progressed, almost everyone we met had theories to determine the unborn baby’s gender – the grandmother next door, woman friends with children, acquaintances and even complete strangers on the streets.

It is an old Chinese belief that young children can predict the gender of an unborn baby by looking at a pregnant woman’s belly. Many of our friends brought their children to see my wife. We became even more confused.

We also had people trying to tell by the shape of the belly and back. It is said that those pregnant with a son don’t show as much as those with a girl.

A traditional Chinese doctor friend took my wife’s pulse, and initially said it was a boy, but on second try said he was unsure.

Some say you can tell a baby’s gender by your dreams. My wife and I had conflicting dreams.

One of the last people to predict our baby’s gender was an old Beijing woman, who collects parking fees. After looking at my pregnant wife for just one or two second, she said: “It’s a boy, 3.25kg.” I laughed and thanked her. And she replied: “A girl is better.”

She was right. It is a boy. And she was close – our baby was 3.54kg at birth. – China Daily/Asia News Network

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