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Guest Post: Surprises Are for Other Mothers

February 25, 2011

As part of the Won’t You Be My Neighbor? series, I’ve invited Melissa Sher from Mammalingo to guest post today. Melissa’s a big deal, people. She’s written for Babble and been featured on the Motherlode blog for the New York Times for creating new words to define the experience of motherhood. I am so happy to have her here.

Surprises Are for Other Mothers

by Melissa Sher

The first thing I should “spill” is that about a year ago, right around the time I launched my own blog, I wrote Jana a fan letter. I mean, it wasn’t an actual letter. It was an email. I last used a stamp in the early ‘90s. But, you get the point. It said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, you’re awesome.” So, obviously, I’m flattered that Jana asked me to write a guest post. (Cue Kathie Lee Gifford singing “If My Friends Could See Me Now” aboard a Carnival Cruise line.)

But, that’s not all I’m going to spill – in part because I assume Jana wanted me to write more than 80 words. There’s more to divulge. I hate surprises. I always have. Surprises are supposed to be fun? Nah. I don’t like the feeling of being caught off guard. So, if you’re going to surprise me, please have the decency to warn me. My family knows that they are never supposed to throw me a surprise birthday party. I would not enjoy it. I would be too busy recovering from shock the whole evening. Even when I was young, I used to flip to the backs of Sweet Valley High books because I didn’t want to wait 60 pages to find out was going to happen between Bruce Patman and Jessica Wakefield. And I was, obviously, not a fan of the television show, “Lost.”

So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that I wanted to find out the gender for each of my three children as early on in my pregnancies as I could. And while I know you won’t believe me, I would have been happy – every time – with either a boy or a girl. (For the record, it was a boy each time.)

It’s just that since the information was available to me, I wanted it. If the doctor had told me that I could also find out how much my baby was going to weigh or how long labor would last or what the hospital would be serving for dinner that evening, I’d want to find those things out too.

I’m in the minority among my friends. Most of them waited until the actual birth day to hear, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” And, I’m always impressed when I hear that a parent-to-be wants to “be surprised.” What willpower! What strength! This person would obviously do much better than me if we were taking part in a psychology study at some university somewhere.

There is, however, a little hope for me. Having kids, as you know, is just full of surprises. Sometimes surprises can happen in the time it takes to answer the phone. “Hey, I can’t talk. My toddler just scribbled all over the tan couch with a red pen.” But most of the time, the surprises aren’t shocking. They’re just unexpected. And many are absolutely wonderful. Like the first time I saw one of my sons smile. Or laugh. Or say, “Mama.” On second thought, maybe motherhood has changed me. Maybe I like surprises after all.

What about you? Do you like surprises? And did you – or did you not — wait to find out about the sex of your baby?


Image: “Brand new” by Beautiful beginnings to tragic Endings via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsey February 25, 2011 at 8:18 am

I love surprises, but I did find out the sex of both of my babies. The first time around, it was because I thought it was what I was “supposed” to do. I didn’t put much thought into it. But, the second time I would have like to have been surprised. However, given that there was so much time in between (7 years), I figured I needed to know because we were going to have to buy all new baby stuff anyway and I definitely wanted pink if we were having a girl (we did). If we were to ever have a third baby, I would wait for the moment in the delivery room. Unless it was twins, I would want to know. I don’t think I could stand THAT big of a surprise.


Amy @ Never-True Tales February 25, 2011 at 8:56 am

Nice to meet you! I was firmly in the camp of finding out the gender of my kids, but I think that had more to do with my inherent impatience than with a dislike of surprises!


Melissa Sher February 25, 2011 at 9:36 am

Well, I’ll certainly be checking back throughout the day! I would have set up a poll if I had any technological savvy whatsoever. Amy, thanks for creating “Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day?”! And Lindsey, I agree that I think finding out if you’re having twins is an excellent idea. : )


Kameron February 25, 2011 at 10:36 am

I love surprises, but not the waiting till birth to find out what I’m having kind! The suspense of the 19 or 20 weeks before I could find out almost killed me both times. I am always amazed (and a little irritated) to find out someone I know is waiting. What about me?? I want to know what you’re having! I don’t want to buy you gender neutral stuff for your shower! Well, it’s not about me, but if I ever had another one, I’d like to think I’d wait because I have one boy and one girl already, but honestly I don’t think I could stand it!


Melissa Sher February 25, 2011 at 10:46 am

Thanks Kameron. So, what I’m learning thus far is that I’m in the minority when it comes to not liking surprises. (Is anyone out there with me?) But, I have sisters online in NEEDING to know the gender.


Jana February 25, 2011 at 11:35 am

I like surprises, too, but like you, I wanted to know the sex of my babies. If I had a third (NOT going to happen), I think I’d try to wait, just because I found out both times and have one of each sex. It might be fun to wait. But I’m not going to, because I’m NOT having any more kids.

I do think some people hope for one sex over the other, and by waiting, they’re delaying that knowledge. I wouldn’t want to wait 9 months hoping for one sex only to get the other, because the last thing I’d want to feel when my baby is born is disappointment. Which is why knowledge is good. Preparation, planning, the whole bit.

Oh, how I wonder what Liz and Jess Wakefield (Sweet Valley High) are doing now. Have they had children? Twins? Francine Pascal or the woman who really wrote her books ought to come up with some sequels about when the girls grow up. Maybe Jess has become a stripper and Elizabeth is wearing a fashionable new apron. You think?


Melissa Sher February 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Maybe we could read one (or the whole series) for the next Maladjusted Book Club? I was finally going to try to read Freedom but this is probably more up my alley right now with the new baby.


Leslie February 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I guest posted a year or so ago here at Jana’s about how I love surprises – specifically, the “it’s a … !” kind. Or, how I think I do. Because the story there is that I haven’t made it there yet.
Anyway – I’m okay with surprises in general, unless we’re talking about presents, in which case I am way more than okay with them. But I’m excited about the baby gender surprise, which I hope I enjoy next time around. But I feel like I’m in the minority! Nearly all of my friends think it’s crazy to wait and see.
Maybe we need to trade places for a limited time? You know, like a trick the Sweet Valley twins might pull.


Melissa Sher February 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Thank you for pointing the essay out. I just read it and it was wonderful — and so fun to read about someone from “the other side.” And, I should say, I’m fine with presents! In fact, I should probably email this comment to my husband. I’m crafting our Sweet Valley High plot now… I’ll get back to you. : )


Mrs.Mayhem February 25, 2011 at 3:32 pm

It’s not that I don’t like surprises; it’s more that I enjoy the feeling of anticipation.

I found out they sex with three of my kids so I could daydream more accurately. With the fourth, the doctor was unsure of the sex. He suspected it was a girl (and it was), but he wouldn’t say for sure.


Melissa Sher February 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Thank you for writing. I just read your post on your blog, “Motherhood Is Full of Hard Choices” and was very moved.


Kelly February 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I hate surprises of any kind. I’d rather just know. Why not tell me? What’s the point in waiting? Will I like it better or appreciate it more tomorrow?

When it comes to motherhood, I’m lucky to not have had any surprises. For each potentially surprising thing, there was a nagging gut-level suspicion first. The milestones, though not really surprising, were definitely crazy-awesome (which, I admit, did surprise me. Who knew a person could care so much about baby’s first fart joke?).


Melissa Sher February 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Kelly, I’m so glad to see this. I was starting to think maybe it was just me on the hating- surprises thing!


Cathy February 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I’m not a fan of surprises – I’m a control freak! I need to know what to expect and when to expect it. I did find out the sex of baby 1 and 3, but skipped #2 because I “knew” it was going to be a boy (and it was!)


Melissa Sher February 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I never considered myself a control freak but maybe this is a symptom of being one?! Hmmm… I might need to see someone about this.


Stacia February 26, 2011 at 12:14 am

My first (a girl) was a surprise. I didn’t want to find out because (as all non-mothers do), I knew everything about everything, including gender expectations and avoiding all-things-pink and all-things-blue.

For the two children who followed (both boys), my husband the engineer put his foot down. All data is good data. Knowledge reigns supreme. Not finding out the gender does not compute. Good thing he waited to tell me that until after I’d gotten the surprise I wanted.


Melissa Sher February 26, 2011 at 9:55 am

All data is good data…. my new mantra.


TheKitchenWitch February 26, 2011 at 9:47 am

Oh my gosh, we must be sisters in an alternate universe (okay, I watch too much Fringe). I cannot stand surprises! Everyone thinks I am so odd, but really, do NOT surprise me.

I have no idea how people can wait until birth to find out the sex! I always think, “But what about the nursery?” I definitely don’t have the mettle to wait things out.


Melissa Sher February 26, 2011 at 11:18 am

We are sisters on that front but I just checked out your awesome blog and you can cook. I mean, I can cook. I make dinner. I sometimes offer more than cereal for breakfast. But you can COOK. I’ll check back at the “Witch” for more recipes soon! Thanks.


coeliquore February 27, 2011 at 8:32 am

I love all kind of surprises. in presents, in children, any.
I have always thought that if I knew about their gender it could affect me, so better not knowing. Although when I was pregrant of the twins I had the hope of having a girl…
Anyway, I was told by the doctor .
So I am used to like surprises and not having any. Life!!!!


Christine February 27, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Lovely to meet you! Thanks Jana for the introduction. (P.S. I write Jana fan mail too, who wouldn’t!) I admit I love a surprise, though they don’t happen often. My husband just isn’t a planner. If he asks for gift ideas, he has trouble choosing so if I give him two, I usually end up with both. We chose to be surprised with the sex of our first son. He was a boy and it threw me for a loop. I expected a girl. So the second time we found out. Another boy. Only this time it’s what I wanted.


Melissa Sher February 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm

“Give him two… end up with both”? Not bad!! Lovely meeting you as well… virtually speaking.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri February 27, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I’m too much of a planner to like surprises. I enjoy knowing what to expect. And if I suspect a surprise, I won’t rest until I know what it is.


Melissa Sher February 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Yea! Team No Surprises!


Leslie S. February 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I don’t really like surprises. I hate the feeling that everyone in the room knows but me.

And while I love seeing the “firsts” of my little ones…I am such a worrier, that I want to know when they will do what they are “supposed” to do. I’m not good at being patient.

I guess I like unplanned “smaller” surprises – like when hubby brings flowers for no reason. He just could tell I’d had a bad day, etc.
But anything major? No.

And no one likes the red pen on the white sofa surprises…I’ve had quite a few of those!!

I totally wanted to know the sex of my kids. I, like you, was happy either way, but I needed to plan and shop…and pick out a name and start using it!


Christine Davenport November 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Dear Melissa,
I am quite pleasantly surprised to discover this blog–it came across my browser while searching for memoir writing tips–and your essay. In trying to sculpt my time into a writer’s life around the never ending busy-ness of family, pets, a retired husband, yoga, etc, I just stumbled in here and I like it. Here’s an abridged version of the best surprise I never wanted to have but wouldn’t give back for anything saga. It’s part of a memoir piece, I’m working on.
In July of 2001, at 40 years old, I deduced that despite the tubal ligation I had undergone one month earlier, I had to be pregnant–I had experience. Ugh, was all I could mumble in response to this knowledge and in the time it took to pee on an EPT, my whole future changed for the better in every way. Of course, this realization didn’t take immediate hold in me , but as soon as I was sure that my husband was happy for the last of our band to arrive, scheduled or not, and the rest of the family could imagine sharing the bathroom with another sister or brother, I let myself ease into baby-land one more time.
Having already given birth to two lovely daughters, I was certain that this one would be a boy. Not one for needles and tests, I passed up the opportunity to have an amnio. Not wanting to peek, I closed my eyes when the ultra sound went near my baby’s private parts.
We were not even interested in testing to diagnose Down’s Syndrome; Jim was 63 and I was 40, high risk, sure, but not unheard of. We took our chances.
When Laura was born, ten toes, ten fingers, a perfect specimen of a baby girl, I was overjoyed to meet our new daughter. Looking into her black/brown newborn eyes I saw that adventure lay before us; friends, places, experiences we must have together.
She is 11 years old now and my heart is pounding as I type this, the gratitude that I feel to the universe for surprising us with this gift, when we had chosen to close baby-land and move on to another phase our lives is profound, indeed. It rolls through our home on a snow day, when we can snuggle in bed or hop up and race to the ski slopes. It sneaks up on me as I enjoy friendships which are also a gift of Laura and her experiences. It bowls me over when I see my 76 year old husband being a daddy to our little girl, or her gentleness toward him when he wants to be a grandpa and act his age.
Surprise! Life is a perennial garden; providing everything we never knew we always wanted. It’s ours for the picking, if we keep our hearts and arms open.


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