Should Catholics find out the sex of their children before birth?

Since finding out that my wife and I are expecting our first child, I have been debating whether or not we should determine the sex of our child using ultrasound or if we should wait. I have asked quite a few people why they decided to wait, and received one of three responses. I would like to share with you, my own thoughts, their responses, and my own critiques of their responses. Most of what is written here is taken from an email exchange between me and a friend. Yesterday, my wife and I found out the sex of the baby. This is meant to be fun; so, enjoy!

A distinction between sex and gender.

Sex is a the difference between man and woman. Gender is a linguistic term extended metaphorically to imply a that the difference between man and woman is a social construct. Sex is natural and gender is sociological. In Bl. John Paul II's Theology of the Body he uses sex solely to refer to the difference between man and woman.

First ultrasound of my child.
Here are some words from the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, from his most recent State of the Church and the World address:
The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being - of what being human really means - is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: "one is not born a woman, one becomes so" (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term "gender" as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. 
The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature.

My own perspective:

Since I try to weigh things according to their goodness as ordered towards some end or as an end in itself, as regards determining the sex of the baby, I have found this to be the case: Love is predicated on knowledge. The greater the knowledge of the thing, the greater the possibility for a fuller and deeper love.

Knowing the sex of the child as early as possible changes how we perceive the relation of the child to us. As a man my relation to the child is as father but the child's relation to me is either as son or as daughter.

The change in relation effects a change in identity. In the procreation of a child, a person ceases to be simply husband or wife. Now, with the addition of a third person, a new relation is formed. The relation is as either father or mother of either a son or a daughter.

A further change takes place in each of us as we love. Now, maybe it seems like a stretch to say that by knowing the sex of the child we love it more, and maybe my explanation of that point is long-winded and over-thought. I, however, feel that it is true, and allows us other goods that pertain to our relationship.

Namely, knowing the sex of the child allows us to name it, even if provisionally, since ultrasound technology is rarely 100% accurate. Naming the child further changes the relationship that we have with the child, since names change our identity and purpose. To that end I would cite the importance of names in the bible, e.g. Abram/Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, John, Simon/Peter, and so forth.

Furthermore, as Christians we view names as important with regard to patronage. Dedicating a child to a particular patronage and under the protection of a saint has its graces. We should never knowingly forego the opportunity for grace.

The reasons for waiting:

On the other hand, the reasons I have garnered for waiting are threefold; I will call them: 1) the surprise factor, 2) the distraction factor, and 3) the historical argument.

¡The surprise factor!

According to this argument, one figures that either there is an appropriate time for the surprise and any sooner spoils it or there is a certain emotional climax in the midst of labor that culminates in finding out the sex.

The distraction factor

The distraction factor argues that it is easier to handle some of the pain of pregnancy when there is something to look forward to that distracts from the pain. The sex is that which distracts from pain according to this argument.

The historical argument

The historical argument is simply, "our forefathers did not find out until the birth and it was good enough for them, so it should be good enough for us."

Applying my own perspective:

First, the delay of a surprise adds to the expectation of the surprise but not to the surprise itself. There is a relief of the expectation that is derived from finding out after such a delay, and this experience though enjoyable is, to me, outweighed by the joy derived from a longer period of 'knowledge of the child' as I described above.

Secondly, if the anticipation of meeting your child and looking in its eyes is not enough to distract from the pain, I doubt that the sex of the child is enough to distract from the pain. I dismiss this argument altogether.

Thirdly, there is a difference between good enough and better. For example, bread and water is good enough, steak is better. What was good enough for those who came before us is not necessarily better. Some argument must be made for the superiority of not knowing. The arguments that have been made for not knowing are either surprise or distraction. As I have already refuted these arguments no further argument must be made as regards the third point.

I have heard arguments and listened carefully giving each the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, I find that the deeper knowledge is more valuable. Further, naming the child applies to a 'deeper knowledge' argument as well as practicability. It is also more practical in order of preparation with regards to clothes and blankets and such to know the sex of the child, for certain colors whether we like it or not are not sociologically gender neutral.

By the way, we're pretty sure that it's a GIRL!

Obviously this is a very personal choice, and it boils down to a matter of preference. I would love to hear your stories about waiting or not, or just let me know why you chose to wait or not in the comments below.


  1. We didn't want to know, as we figured it was the first joke your kids got to play on you and we wanted to let them have it.

  2. With our first, we chose not to find out. We wanted to not have any preconceived ideas of this child, but to meet it for the first time at birth. For our second, we chose to find out for all the practical reasons you mentioned. We had just started giving away some of the baby things and wanted to know if we should stop and hold onto them, or if we would indeed need new ones. Fingers crossed that the ultrasound is right. Your family could stand a good dose of women.

  3. Congrats! Many blessings on the wee Norbertina!

    Also, I liked the article.