Baby Wears Blue: Coworkers Edition

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

The TARDIS is blue!

One Monday morning, I drove Tim into work, so that I could pick him up after work and we would go somewhere together as a family. (To play Bridge like little old people, but that’s besides the point.) He asked me if I wanted to bring Sylvie in to be shown off to his coworkers. Since I have a couple of friends among them, I said sure.

Sylvie was wearing her blue footie outfit, and I did not bring the sling for this supposed-to-be-quick errand.

First, I visit my friend Matt. (Hi, Matt!) He knows that Baby Rocketship turned out to be female, and I jokingly point out that Sylvie is wearing blue. “Oh noes!” he said sarcastically. “She’ll grow up and be… butch or something, I don’t know.” He rolled his eyes and made it clear that he thought that the color my daughter wore had very little bearing on much of anything. When another acquaintance of mine walked up and we began talking Doctor Who spoilers, Matt stuck his fingers in his ears and ran away saying “La la la!”

Then, another coworker walked by. He was carrying two dinners to the kitchen, one of which was intended for us, and the other for the other new baby in the office. We chatted for a while and he asked the typical polite new parent questions (how are you sleeping? etc.), and then asked, “What’s his name again?”

“Her, actually,” I said, flustered. “We got tired of all the pink, so my friend sent us this blue outfit. I rather like it. Sylvia, by the way, is her name. I mean, it shouldn’t matter.  I mean, I wear blue all the time.”

“Yeah, but you have long hair,” said this coworker. “She doesn’t have long hair yet, that’s why I got confused!”

That’s a simplified version of the conversation. In reality, we talked over each other a bit as each of us navigated our own defensiveness and tried to justify our positions. But that’s what it came down to —  he wanted symbols to tell him how to identify the gender of our daughter, we resisted the ultimate arbitrariness of those symbols, and he was mistaken. He was defensive as a result.

I wish I had handled this situation differently. I wish I had had something to say that taught a lesson about identity politics, how it’s important not to label people, how it is important to let people self identify. But it’s hard, at least in part, because I don’t have much of a stake in this. It isn’t personal — it’s a thought experiment.

But in other ways, this is practice for letting Sylvie make her own decisions. I’m the one making the decisions that take her against the norm, but I’m navigating them for her — and I’ll be sheltering her in the future from some (though not all) of the consequences of her decisions. I want to let her express herself and her identity however she would like, and to grow confident in it, before others tell her that she’s ruining their categories. If she chooses to wear plaid and polka dots together, I’ll be the one that cheers her on and then tells anyone who gives her the stink eye that she’s a visionary.

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Baby Wears Blue: Medical Edition

medela lactina select breast pump single breas...

The medical-grade breast pump we rented was like this, only in a box instead of on wheels.

Sylvie was five weeks old when I needed to return the breast pump we had rented to the hospital. I put her in her sling, and carried the hulking package into the hospital. Every time people were able to catch my eye, and even some times when they were not, they exclaimed over the little baby in my arms. They generally fell into two categories.

“How precious/sweet/beautiful! How old?” — Notice that they avoided any pronouns at all in this exclamation. They waited until I started talking, and then adopted the pronoun that I used.

“It’s so tiny!” — That’s right, people who did use pronouns went so far to use “it” to avoid being wrong, even though using “it” for a person is generally considered insulting and inappropriate. People are not objects, after all. “They are,” similarly avoiding being wrong.

There was one person who made the assumption: When I sat down to rest in the lobby, before trekking out to the car (I was still recovering from my c-section at this point), one woman brazenly came over to me and looked into the sling. Seeing the blue she said, “So precious! It’s a boy, right?” I half nodded, surprised and caught off guard despite the experiment, but in the course of the conversation I used “she” or “her” and the woman corrected to match my pronoun use.

The attention for my baby surprised me. (In fact, my mother-in-law asked me what the most surprising part of parenthood has been, and I said, “The attention we get everywhere we go.” She chalked it up to babies being a symbol of hope. I’m not sure that’s it, but I don’t have a better explanation.) But the lack of real discomfort also surprised me — that, I suppose, was because it was actually pretty hard to see what Sylvie was wearing, considering she was only five pounds and was being engulfed by the sling.

The next day, the onsie wasn’t dirty, so she wore it again.

We had a well baby visit, two weeks after we came home from the hospital, for Sylvie to have her first Hep B shot (these are usually given in the hospital to newborns, but we deferred because we didn’t think she had enough muscle, being premature).  The pediatrician we go to is a single-doctor practice, and we’ve seen the same nurse each time we’ve gone. Now, the nurse knew that Sylvie is a girl, but I expected some feedback on the way she was dressed — after all, these doctors and nurses are supposed to be authorities in my parenting life.

Maybe it was because babies spend most of their time at a doctor’s office naked, but the nurse didn’t say anything. And the doctor didn’t even see what she was wearing.

I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly. Or maybe I do. I was expecting people to be uncomfortable — and there were some signs of that. Without seeing what she was wearing while Sylvie was in the sling (which is white, by the way), people didn’t want to make a mistake. I was expecting people in positions of authority to tell me what to do regarding the gender presentation of my infant; they didn’t — for which, ultimately, I am glad.

Blue PANIC! My baby girl wears blue.

My husband and I decided we were not going to find out the biological sex of our child before he or she was born, which resulted in very few gifts of clothing. My mom made an effort to buy things that were yellow and had ducks on them, my friends helped make awesome nerdy decorated onsies, but other than that, nothing.

It turns out, my baby’s biological sex is female. Cue all the pink clothes ever from well-meaning friends and family. Unless she informs us otherwise, we are raising her with the assumed gender. Cue debate and philosophizing about the signifiers of female-ness and the potential behaviors related.

For a while, all that fit was a purple sleep-n-play that had clouds and carriages and castles on it. (Message: dream of being a princess?) My friend Patti offered to buy her something that wasn’t pink or princessy, and sent a gift set with the following note:

Kate & Tim –
A list of things I learned at the baby store that you probably already know:
1. People really love dressing babies as animals.
2. If something is intended for a girl, the animal must have eyelashes – even if it is a butterfly.
3. It’s never too early to put your female child in a ruffle-y pink dress. (For a newborn? Really?)
4. Lacking an equivalent marker to eyelashes or ruffles, baby boy clothes, if not blue, must clearly and visible state “boy.”

So, obviously, as a result, I bought Sylvie a “boy” outfit in blue. Start the gender-bending early.  Besides, I think the characteristics of a bear (loud, strong, hungry for food that comes from picnic baskets) are much more interesting than those of a butterfly (fragile, pretty, short lived)!

Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS! You two will be awesome parents.

(heart), Patti

I was super excited about the outfit, but I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I showed it to my mom, and felt the need to justify it. “I think the paw prints all over the onsie is potentially feminine,” I said.

She looked at the sleep-n-play (i.e. the footed all-in-one outfit), and said, “These colors are preppy!” in an effort to appease me. Strangely, I didn’t want to disappoint her with the way that I dressed my daughter, even though my mom has been fabulous about supporting me in my own parenting decisions and not offering too much unsolicited advice.

And so, I was appeased. Then I put the outfit away because my baby did not fit into it yet.

When my baby did fit into the outfit, I was excited again, and washed the onsie first. When I put it on my little Sylvie, I began to be anxious. What if she was mistaken for a boy? And so what if she were? Why did we have to identify little beings with no secondary sexual characteristics as one gender or another? It was a blue onsie with a semi-accurate depiction of a bear on it — she had another onsie that was green with a teddy bear that I had no qualms about putting on her. What gives?

In fact, as I looked down at my own shirt standing at the changing table, frozen with indecision, I realized that I was wearing a solid blue shirt. And with the knowledge that blue used to be for little girls, and pink for little boys (Because pink is a very decided color?!), I decided to swallow my anxiety and have her wear the outfits.

Perhaps my discomfort isn’t as strong as I am describing here. Patti, as she read the draft for the blog entry apologized for her gift causing anxiety — but perhaps that anxiety is productive.

As a parent of a little girl, I am worried about her future. Her self-esteem, keeping her interested in math and science, helping her be the person she is meant to be and wants to be. Hell, I read Reviving Ophelia when I was ten-years-old, already a survivor of sexual harassment.

I love these outfits, and Sylvie has worn them many times. They have resulted in comments, which I will share another time. But I’ve written on this blog before about how culture is agreed meaning — and there is certain agreed meaning about pink and blue — it’s worth thinking about.

I listened to a Diane Rehm interview with the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein. She was arguing that pink was a gateway to poor self-image, among other maladies of young womanhood. I’ll read that book so you don’t have to, but in the mean time, I will keep observing people’s discomfort with me obscuring shared meaning.