Jenny Metellus Pierre, 31, and her husband thought they had plenty of time to get pregnant. However, unforeseen medical problems made it more difficult than they anticipated. Two years of testing, surgery and fertility treatments led them to attempt in vitro fertilization, which ultimately led to a successful pregnancy.
When given the chance to learn the sex of her baby in April last year, Metellus Pierre said the answer was a “no-brainer.”
“For us, it just was another milestone; it was a reason to celebrate,” Metellus Pierre said. “I was looking for a way to bring our family and friends in and add an element of surprise.”
She decided to have what’s commonly known as a “gender-reveal party.” It’s an event where parents discover the sex of their baby. These parties take many different forms, but most include an element of surprise for the parents as well as close family and friends in attendance.
According to Stephanie Shih on the public affairs team at YouTube, the first gender-reveal videos were uploaded to the platform in 2009.
“The trend of gender reveal videos began to emerge on YouTube in mid-2011 and continued to grow in terms of uploads and views from then on,” Shih wrote in an email. “In 2017, YouTube saw a 60 percent increase in U.S. views for gender reveal videos compared to 2016.”
BabyCenter, a website that serves expecting parents in the U.S., has seen signs of the phenomenon growing.
Linda J. Murray, senior vice president of consumer experience and global editor in chief at BabyCenter, reflected on the rise of social media as a potential impetus.
“The early parties were very simple, cutting into a cake, opening a box and it’s blue or pink balloons. Today these are really choreographed events. Couples are trying to reflect something about themselves, their interests and their points of view,” Murray said.
Johnna and Cameron French arranged for the Ferris wheel at the National Harbor in Maryland to light up the color of their baby’s sex.
When asked before the reveal if they were rooting for a boy or girl, Cameron said, “I think healthy for sure. I mean, I know that’s the standard cliche answer, but it is so true because there are just so many things and complications that can happen. Overall I think we want someone that’s a little bit of the best of both worlds.”
The Frenches’ faces were splashed with pink light on Friday when they found out they are expecting a girl.
Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Scott Osmun hypothesized that gender-reveal parties have increased in popularity because of new medical technology.
“In the past several years, most patients are doing a first-trimester blood test that screens for things like Down syndrome, in which you can also find out the baby’s sex,” Osmun said. “The concept of finding out baby’s gender has moved up a lot earlier in pregnancy.”
Osmun said he often gives the parents a sealed envelope with the baby’s sex inside. The parents then hand over the results to the person planning the reveal. Additionally, Osmun has sent the baby’s sex directly to a bakery or friend organizing the party.
Event planners have noticed an uptick in gender-reveal parties as well.
“About two years ago is when I saw these events transforming themselves from little intimate gatherings to full-blown parties,” Nar Hovnanian, planning director at Taylor and Hov in D.C., recalled.
Hovnanian said the events they’ve helped organize have cost expecting parents from $7,000 to $25,000.
Not all reveals require an event planner. Common parties include a simple cake or balloon. Parents will cut into a cake that shows a color inside, often pink or blue, to identify the baby’s sex. Or couples will pop a balloon filled with colored confetti.
Buttercream Bake Shop owner and pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac said she’s had orders totaling up to $400 or $500. However, parents can also opt for more affordable options such as cookies or cupcakes for a total of $18.
Brittany Johnson, a D.C. balloon specialist and founder of BASHES D.C., said she receives at least 10 orders a week of balloons for gender-reveal parties. A standard oversized latex balloon that’s inflated costs $25.
Event planner Tracy Leaman, founder of Events to a T in D.C., encourages parents to proceed with caution when it comes to gender-reveal parties.
“When we attach a color code to a baby while it’s still being formed in the womb, I think we’re getting into dangerous territory,” Leaman said. “I think we should celebrate pregnancy and babies. And if you want to celebrate the sex of your baby, then by all means you should do that. I just think we should be careful about how we celebrate it.”
Kathleen Guidroz, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, pointed out that a child’s anatomical sex is different from a child’s gender identity. She questioned whether these parties represent a reassertion of stereotypical gender norms.
“There are increasing numbers of people who are not identifying as a gender or identifying with both genders. We have to wonder, ‘Why have [gender-reveal parties] became more popular in the past decade when so many people are not ascribing to the gender binary?’ Sociologists talk about gender socialization starting the moment the child is born, but this phenomenon actually starts the socialization before that,” Guidroz said.
Osmun explained that babies could be born as intersex or with disorders of sex development (DSD), a group of conditions where there is a discrepancy between the external genitals and the internal genitals.
“Gender is a complex subject!” Osmun wrote in an email. “Genetic gender doesn’t always match the physical manifestation of gender or preconceived notions of what a boy or girl should look like. And gender identity may change as we grow up and start to self identify as male or female.”
Northwestern University communications professor Kate Baldwin agreed with Guidroz that this trend could represent a backlash to a more recently recognized transgender community.
However, she added that parents might not realize or agree with the larger societal implications of a gender-reveal party. They may just be participating because it has become culturally popular.
“The reason that it is the most pernicious is that people while they’re consciously buying into it, they’re unconsciously buying into a system that upon further reflection, they might not support,” Baldwin said. “Maybe it helps to make things predictive in a way that people would like things to be predictable, but they never are,” Baldwin said.
Societal implications aside, some argue the gender-reveal parties are simply a way to celebrate.
Jessica Morlet, 31, took her sealed envelope to Build-a-Bear three years ago to buy a bear with pink or blue colors depending on the sex of her child. She said she was convinced she was having a boy so she was shocked when the bear’s clothes were pink.
“If my daughter said she wanted to become a man, I would say, ‘You can be whatever you want.’ I’d even change the color of the bear’s clothes,” Morlet said. “The gender reveal was just when she was in my stomach.”
Metellus Pierre agreed that it wasn’t about her baby’s sex. In fact, she chose to have gold and white confetti as colors in her balloon instead of pink and blue. “I’m known to do things outside of the norm,” she said.
“The joy in that moment, it surpassed any preference you had. It was just like, ‘Oh my God, we’re having a healthy baby boy.’ That moment, it’s indescribable really,” Metellus Pierre recalled.