It’s a…

All the women at Mike’s office want it to be a girl.

Our landlady wants it to be a girl.

Mike’s mother, after having two boys of her own, wants it to be a girl.

My sister wants it to be a girl.

The woman who sells us our favorite nutella crepes off the street stall wants it to be a girl.

Mike and I mostly wanted to hear that Mango McWolfe (the baby’s name of the week) looked healthy. But apart from that, I wanted it to be a girl. Mike initially wanted it to be a boy, but yesterday he told me that in recent months he’d begun to change his mind and decided that he, too, wanted a girl.

So I had two consults about two babies yesterday.

In the morning I chatted to an editor about the draft of my next book – the book I have been stalling on going back to for the last four months. I finally decided that what was needed was an impartial opinion from a trained professional as to its strengths and weaknesses and any potentially fatal flaws. This, I figured, might help me get some focus back and renew my willpower to push through to the next (and hopefully final) draft.

Her diagnosis? Thankfully it was, “healthy, sound, beautiful raw material that needs a bit more thought and work in parts before being ready to face the world.” Another couple of months (if I get my act in gear) should see the job done.

In the afternoon Mike and I flew to Thailand for the second consult of the day. I’m about 19 weeks pregnant now, and general consensus is that it’s a good idea to get an impartial opinion from a trained professional as to the baby’s strengths and weaknesses and any potentially fatal flaws right around this time.

So off to the hospital in Chiang Mai we went, stopping at a coffee shop along the way to dose the little Mango with caffeine so that it would dance around for the ultrasound and we’d have a higher likelihood of finding out whether it was a boy mango or a girl mango. (This was my sister’s idea, by the way. If any of you want to take it up with her, write to me and I’ll pass along her email address.)

The doctor’s diagnosis? Thankfully it was, “unremarkable” – which (contrary to what you want an editor to say when discussing your writing) is exactly what you want to hear when you’re lying on a hospital bed staring at your unborn child sucking its thumb in your womb. The doctor reassured us that everything seems to check out healthy, sound and… male.

Yes, it’s a boy. A boy that needs a couple more months before he’s ready to face the world.

If I had everything in life the way exactly the way I wanted it, this book would have been done two years ago and the baby would be a girl. (Also the temperature of anywhere I was living would be permanently set at 22 degrees Celsius and ice cream and fried spring rolls would live right down there alongside vegetables on the healthy end of the food pyramid.)


However pretty much every acquaintance who’s had a child, and my recent studies in positive psychology assure me that, at least with regards to the baby’s gender, any disappointment is likely to be temporary.

It seems that there are two kinds of happiness in life. One kind is the happiness of getting what you want (researchers call this natural happiness), and a second kind is the happiness that we manufacture when we don’t get exactly what we want (also known as synthetic happiness).

In situations when you have no choice in the matter (such as, just to pick a hypothetical example, you find out your baby is a little boy when you were sort of hoping for a little girl), just give it a bit of time and your psychological immune system will generally kick in and synthesize happiness. And here’s the real kicker… research shows that synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as natural happiness. Synthetic happiness can literally help change our preferences so that we want what we ended up with.

Mike, who often processes with the speed of a supercomputer, is probably already there. Forty eight hours later, however, I am still staring into the distance and repeating “it’s a boy, it’s a boy,” to myself multiple times a day – trying to hang onto this realization and extract some sense of what it might mean, and failing on both accounts. Knowing me, though, I’d probably be doing exactly the same thing if we’d found out Mango McWolfe were a girl.

Luckily, Mike and I are spending this week in Southern Thailand on the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Samui, so I can hang out in an infinity pool and stare out to sea through palm fronds and frangipani flowers while I talk to myself about little boys. And sitting here this afternoon in our room, looking out at the ocean past the end of our canopied bed and feeling little baby boy Mango tumbling inside me, synthesizing happiness doesn’t seem all that challenging.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about synthetic happiness, start by watching this TED talk by Daniel Gilbert.

P.P.S. Thank you for all the comments and stories left on my last blog: life lessons in pregnancy and breastfeeding from cows. They’ve made me laugh, and think. Keep sharing your stories!

52 responses to “It’s a…

  1. I went through exactly the same thing when I was pregnant with our first child. I desperately, I thought, wanted our baby to be a girl. I was pretty disappointed when the ultrasound revealed we were having a boy. It took me quite a few days and weeks, maybe months to get over that disappointed feeling in my stomach. But then Oliver came and what a gift! Three years later when my husband urged me to return for IVF treatment to try for a sibling I didn’t know how I could love another being as much as I loved Oliver. He was not just a boy, but my boy. The most stunning, funny, glorious creature. By that time I knew all about boy’s toys and boy’s clothes and boy world. And I was happy. When we went for the ultrasound during my second pregnancy and found out we were having a girl, I was sort of thrilled but also a little anxious. I knew about boy world; how would I negotiate girl world? Well, the girl has come in the form of my darling Louisa and I could not love her any more than I do. Because she’s my girl. Not some standard girl. But this goddess girl! So Mungo McWolfe will not just be a boy, he’ll be your boy and that will make all the difference.

    • Awwww…. Amanda, thanks! That made me smile, sitting up here in the lobby of our resort on Thailand (the only place here where I can access the net). What a cool story. And I’ve loved getting glimpses of you guys via facebook (and the attending ups and downs) as the little ones have grown.

  2. PS Congratulation!!!

  3. Ah, I have a little nephew (five months old, now) and he’s the most adorable, energetic thing ever. Babies are fun. (Then again, I’m not the one who has to wake up in the middle of the night for him or change his diapers all the time.)

    And on a completely unrelated note, it makes me smile when I see March 14 on the time stamp on this post and it’s still March 13 where I live. Like I’m commenting into the future. 😀

    • Thanks, Heidi. Commenting into the future, awesome. Even better (though perhaps less productive) than if we could comment into the past?? I don’t know, trying to untangle that one is making my on-vacation brain spin).

  4. Hey! I was in Chiang Mai on business this week with my plum-sized baby! Cool. I’m jealous, you lucky duck, because I’m hoping ours is a boy!! Congrats!!

    • Ha! WordPress initially thought you were spam… I wonder if they manufactured something naught out of plum sized baby? Anyway, wow, we were like ships passing in the night. I hope you’re feeling well, and you guys look like you have been eating a great deal or darn fine food lately. I get hungry every time I look at your blog.

  5. As a woman I think we all secretly want little girls, but a baby is such an awesome gift I have no doubt that once it sinks in you will be just as excited about your little man coming into the world as you would have been if mango had indeed been proclaimed female. Children are precious and you can’t imagine loving anything or anyone quite as much as this helpless little being the moment you hold them in your arms.

    And on a side note – my U/S technician told me to drink 2 cans of full sugar full caffeine Coke before each scan to make sure bubs moved around enough so they could do their thing. I don’t know now what Claire was doing but conserving her energy at that stage – perhaps she was storing it up for the 18 month + phase 🙂

    • Yeah, maybe it is that you start out by wanting what instinctively feels more similar to you (well, most of the time). And some of my reasons for wanting a girl are frankly ridiculous (like the fact that girl clothes are cuter than boy clothes). That reason is especially ridiculous given I don’t spend a great deal of time coordinating her own clothes and probably won’t be able to sustain great interest in baby clothes anyway. As for the cola, good to know I potentially wasn’t commiting a grave U/S sin with a bit of coffee then :).

      • I agree – girls clothes are a lot cuter! 🙂

        But yes I think you have hit the nail on the head – in general term, women wnat little girls and men want little boys. I know Jeff would love a boy but I just want more girls – perhaps fear of unknown (boyworld) is worrying me! 🙂

        • Point of order Mr Chairman 🙂

          Boys dont much care, or at least some don’t, and anyway the world could do with a few more McKay boys, we aer being overrun by the wimminfolks 🙂

          Glad its all goign well Lis.

          • Thanks Jeff… Yeah, I’m coming around. The more I think about it the more I’m liking the “less fuss and bother and drama” angle. Glad you guys are going well too. I love being in touch via facebook and blog. It makes me feel not so far away from Oz.

  6. I get hungry every time I look at anything. Even baby websites. Whose brilliant idea was it to compare baby sizes to delicious-sounding food?? Mmmmm…mangos….

    • Yeah, no kidding. At least I’m somewhere where I can get a mango shake whenever the mood takes me. I think we’ll stick with the name Mango for a while, Papaya isn’t nearly as appealing. And I was simultaneously ravenous and nauseous most of the first 14 weeks. I’m actually finding myself less hungry now than I was then – except for when I was in the pool yesterday and suddenly thought about all those naughty and delicious pringles in the minibar in our room…

  7. Hey, I’m leaving a comment on your blog! 😀

    Congratulations! I do love little boys – three nephews have educated me on the joys of little boys, but I understand wanting a little girl.

    I already have a little girl and I want another one, if I’m honest. I know little girls. I can do little girls. I get little girls. Add to that the fact that this baby is due 11 days after S’s 2nd birthday – having babies the same gender in the same season would just be so convenient, right? I also have enormous trouble choosing names for a boy. Girls are easy – my only problem is culling the list down to my favourites 🙂

    I don’t know what I’m having, but I know that when it’s born it won’t matter! All those reasons for wanting a girl will fade into nothing if a little boy does pop out 🙂

    Stay well. I wish I was in an infinity pool in Koh Samui. Sigh.

    • Yay! Welcome to the ranks of blog commentators. Yeah, I think that was a large part of me wanting a little girl – that feeling that I’d have an easier time understanding little girls than little boys. It’s silly, in a way, at least initially. Because when they come out I’m sure baby boys are just as helpless and needy as little girls and you start from the ground up with either. When are you due by the way?

      • Due 7th July. S was 3 days late but I want this one to come on its due date just because a birthdate of 7/7 is cool.

        One of my friends recently had a baby boy after her first being a girl and she has commented that she feels her little boy is even more helpless than her girl was – and her girl was 9 weeks early too! Hehe

        • I think that was true of our puppy. Mike caught him eating cat poo inside the other day and I heard him scolding him sternly, saying, “you know, we wanted your sister.” I can’t imagine his sister would have been as needy as that little fellow can be!

  8. Aww, congratulations! I grew up with three younger sisters and all I knew was girls. The idea of having a boy was so foreign to me! However, in the weeks before we found out the gender I began to have a feeling I was having a boy… and I was right. And just like others mentioned, I am so attached to him just as he is, that I can’t possibly imagine having a girl. I’m pregnant again and I’m kind of hoping for a girl, but at the same time it seems so foreign that I’d be perfectly happy with another boy. 🙂

    • Anna, wow! I can’t believe you are pregnant for the second time, amazing! I would have sworn it was just six months ago I was looking at your wedding pictures and video on facebook. Time flies huh? Glad you’re feeling better this time around.

  9. This is exactly what happened to me with our second child, except add to it several people who were Sure it was a girl! Dreamed a girl! But … No. I was the first person in two generations of either side of my family to produce children of both genders, and that second baby was a William and not a Charlotte. I had to grieve the loss of my imaginary Charlotte for quite a while, and even with a three year old William without whom I could no longer live I still occasionally wonder about her. But … No. God knew I needed that little boy sleeping in the next room. He breaks my heart with loving him so.

    Now if I could only join him in sleep. Stupid day light savings time.

    • Yeah, our landlady was sure it was a girl. Every time I saw her she’d put her hand on my stomach and confidently proclaim that it was a girl. I was trying to stay neutral with regards to what I thought it was (if not what I wanted it to be) – logically I knew that there was no way anyone could know, but I think all those verbal proclamations impacted me more than I thought they did. Funny that. Hope you get some sleep soon.

  10. Congratulations – and I’m loving hearing all about the pregnancy!

    I have often wondered if some of the disappointment comes with knowing either way. I’ve got 2 girls. With the first we tried to find out what we were having but she kept her legs closed and wouldn’t show (to this day she is determined only to do exactly what she wants to do). I was so convinced I was having a boy (and really wanted a boy) that we didn’t even discuss girls names. Then, of course, I had a girl and I sat up gazing at her all night the first night after she was born on such an amazing high at having a baby….and one that was a girl. She remained nameless for 4 days. The second time around I wanted a girl so Sadie would have a sister and we found out that’s what we were having at the 20 week scan. For some reason I was really deflated by the news. The only thing I could put my finger on was that the mystery and excited anticipation of finding out were gone. But, you know what, that amazing flood of love I had for her as soon as she was in my arms was just as strong as the first time.

    Oh, there is so much to look forward to!!

    • Renee! Hi! I’ve loved reconnecting via facebook and getting glimpses into your life. I love facebook – I often wondered about a whole bunch of people I met at New before a couple of years ago (including you) and I’ve so loved the vehicle facebook provides for that reconnection (as virtual and distant as it often is). That’s an interesting take on the deflation/disappointment that can come with finding out. I wanted to find out to have months to… just… I don’t know… mentally prepare. But I wonder if giving birth and finding out all in one fell swoop short circuits some of that potential for deflation because everything is just so immediate, and then the baby is so THERE and needing you and there’s not a lot of time (I would imagine) for sitting around contemplating alternate realities?

  11. As my mom likes to remind me (a little more frequently than is currently required at this stage of my life), you have to take home whatever they give you, whether you got what you wanted or not. I’m not sure if that fits under synthetic or natural happiness, or just my mom’s own brand of taking things as they come. My dad likes to follow up her comment by adding that after my brother was born, they thought he was a girl until he, er, dramatically proved otherwise.

    In any case, congratulations, and enjoy your beach in Thailand! I’m jealous, because I know how nice it is to get away at this time of year, especially to the beach. Hope Laos is a bit cooler than we are at the moment and that your air conditioner is in good working order when you get home.

    • Oooh, I bet your brother just LOVES that story when it comes out. Thanks, yeah, it is nice to get away, and it’s not quite as hot down here as I’d feared. I don’t know what Laos is doing this week but it’s sure been turning up the heat this last few weeks. Not quite as high as PP though, I’m also sure of that. Feel free to come up for a break with us anytime!!

  12. I am loving reliving the pregnancy through you. I am so glad everything is going well and I hope the biggest disappointment you have will be over the gender of your baby. I am always glad I found out. With my little girl I would have sworn she was a boy- so was glad to have had a shock before she arrived. Then after my surprise pregnancy, and the surprise of a twin pregnancy my capacity for sustaining any more shocks was somewhat diminished and I headed for as much information as possible! For me it helped me to connect with my babies more when I knew a gender as they suddenly became a real person to me- even if at 18 weeks some people called it a fetus, to me they were my babies! Goodluck with both your babies! I hope baby brain doesn’t hinder the production of book 2!

    • Yeah, me too! I don’t think baby brain is helping any I must say, though I did do some good work today (and have all of two paragraphs to show for it! Hope you guys are all well. I can’t imagine how shocked you must have been to learn you were unexpectedly going to have twins!

  13. Yeah! It’s a baby!!!! 😉 You have to get the book ‘Operating Instructions’, like, right now. Lots of love to you!!!! And, BTW, you are going to be great with a boy. Great Great Great. xxoo

    • I did :). I bought it on your strong rec just before we came to Thailand on my kindle and I read the whole thing yesterday. it was the perfect “day after ultrasound” and “I’m decompressing in Thailand reading”. Thanks!!!

  14. Congrats! Exciting about the BOY baby and the book!!

    • Thanks Alexis. Yeah, exciting. As for the book though… remember where you were about six weeks to two months ago – hating it? I’m not quite back there yet, but can see it coming. I’m definitely in the “this is more of a slog than a source of total joy” at present.

  15. I sometimes think God gives girls to fathers who desperately want to have sons, just to correct some latent misogyny in their character. (I must be off my game: I had to check the dictionary to make sure I had misogyny correct. Usually I know just by looking). Having 4 wonderful daughters can sure cure a man of thinking women are somehow less than men! I somehow “knew” I was having a boy first time – no scan. I must admit I was hoping for a girl second time but was never sure of it. We did have a boy’s name ready, so that was not a problem. I wish we’d tried one more time!

    • Yeah, that would cure someone of misogyny (you would hope, anyway) although history does seem to be littered with stories of men who managed to weather half a dozen daughters without much changing their views on that front, maybe it would be tougher to get away with that in today’s world. Luckily, Mike needs no life lessons on that front (a fact for which I am eternally grateful).

  16. Michelle Williams

    Just to CLARIFY… FIRSTLY, I have NO recollection of recommending CAFFEINE to my pregnant sister!!! NONE!!! (mind you I have been a tad absentmindedly lately, but I REALLY don’t think I did that). SECONDLY, I never said I wanted it to be a girl. I wanted to have SOMEONE to give YEARS of cute baby clothes to, yes, but buying brand new baby boy clothes is FUN 🙂 (if not as productive with clearning up some storage space.) And as for our story, we were genetically supposed to have a boy – but WOW, God knew what he was doing – both Jed and I are SO much better off with our princess Tahlia. So much better 🙂 Love you, Lis!

    • Yeah, OK, maybe there was a bit of guestimating going on. I clearly remember you recommending big glasses of ice cold water or cans of coke. I couldn’t EXACTLY remember whether you’d said coffee, but figured coffee was close enough to coke :). They’re practically the same drink, aren’t they :). As for the girl thing… yeah. You never specifically said you wanted it to be a girl. But, I just knew you did, cuz I’m your sister and I know these things, and I needed someone from my family to stick in the post and Mum kept going on about how she picked the blue dummy out of the gift bag and Dad and Matt refused to comment either way because both of them are entirely too careful not to incriminate themselves. Besides, I was deadset sure Tahlia wanted it to be a girl. So you were it. Hee hee hee… (PS, I still want all those cute clothes, maybe next time, if I survive this time).

  17. Lisa–I would say that it definitely takes all kinds of people to make the world go round. We were surprised with both kids, waiting until they popped out to find the gender, and I must say there wasn’t even too much speculation, just lots of prayers for healthy. But, unlike every person above (so it seems) I am a girl and never, ever wanted a girl. Tumultuous relationship with my own mom, the very thoughts of too many female hormones in a house, painting nails, doing hair, tights, make-up, worry over their MS years, the mouth, oh, the mouth on girls, the incessant talking (on the phone or otherwise); the very thought of it made me even more nauseous. I have two boys–I love having boys!! Trucks, camping, Legos, simple dressing (shirt and pants, or shirt and pants) blocks, and the very straight-forward, easy to care for hair, yes means yes, no means no, and NO DRAMA! I have to say, if we had more kids, I would want more boys. A good friend who has an 18 mos old boy just found out about #2 (GIRL) and is heartbroken and even cried, because she is a no-frills girl like me and doesn’t want to ever go to Sweet and Sassy (google it) or have a Disney princess in her house. So, long story short, I think we get what will work out best for us, even if at the time it be a surprise or not a wish fulfilled. Maybe God knows better than we do? But, I can tell you now, there is nothing like being the mom to a little boy! Good luck and best wishes!

    • Awww… that’s a wonderful ode to little boys. Yeah, Mike has already mentioned the less drama thing and he (and you) do have a very good point on that front. I am not a fan of drama in the house (well, not that I don’t manufacture myself). I think I’m coming around to this little boy idea more and more every day 🙂

  18. Ah, as a good friend whispered to me when I found out I was having my second son… “boys are best!”

  19. He will be wonderful, exceptional and beloved …and a treasure beyond words or imagination Lisa! Congratulations to you both again.
    I do certainly recall waiting for my mother to have a girl…after three wonderful younger stepbrothers each arrived! (and a biological older sister)…but then with each one coming home, played Mom to them…lullabies the whole bit and they were “my/our babies” in every way. Then my older sister’s turn, their first born was a boy (I was still looking at the cute girl clothes in the hospital nursery as my mother instructed me, to shift my focus to the mostly (then) blue baby outfits! My oldest nephew now in his 30’s, is so special to me and cherished. My sister’s second child was a girl…however we were then living in different states and I didn’t get to participate in those early years in the same way, regrettably. Still, I adore her and only wish we were able to be even closer. My youngest nephews are all so sweet and thrill me on the phone with their “I love you’s”… FYI, the clothes choices have evened out some over the years with darling things for boys as well…and yes, there probably is less drama overall (having taught for years in the schools). Savor your time in Koh Samui (ah, I miss Thai resorts and those gorgeous beaches) and mango and pineapple smoothies..Take time to reflect , take in the news, dream and rest and relax as much as you can. Joy will flow in abundance at his birth and knowing the sex I think does help to connect in a deeper way with this little being growing inside. Love and hugs to you all.
    P.S. If any time, the huge shopping malls in Bgk are bound to have wonderful, sweet baby boy items to help with the visualization! 🙂

    • Yes, we’re having a good time in Thailand, it’s been a lovely way to spend some time after an intense weekend – and lots of fruit shakes have been had! I don’t know why I am so put out by the whole clothes thing, to be perfectly honest. I’ve long been an advocate of buying five sets of the same, comfortable, practical, clothes for kids of either sex and not bothering much about clothes until they’re old enough to care one way or another. Ah the things we think that then turn out to be different when the rubber meets the road. We did find the most adorable hand stitched baby blanket in the night market in Laos last week covered in animals that I think rocks. I mean, what baby, or either sex, doesn’t want a blanket covered with animals. Animals are so cool! Glad you’re well.

  20. Great post, Lisa. I can identify — I also hoped for a girl first, and got beloved and talented Kate (who, astonishingly, will be in high school next year). When Brendan arrived, I wondered if the “boy world” would be different. What I found was that there is no such simple thing as boy-world and girl-world — having children constantly challenges me to put aside my own vestiges of gender stereotypes and focus on their unique personalities. Kate loves shocking pink (yechch – I always avoided that!) and her favorite subjects are math, robotics and music, and she wants to be an engineer – hooray for limitless horizons! We have a lot in common and (nowadays) a lot of clashes. Brendan is proud of his long hair (past his shoulders), happily wears Kate’s hand-me-down pink boots (to Dan’s chagrin), and is not at all fazed by regularly being mistaken by a girl. Social expectations just don’t seem to matter to him, and I have to keep reminding myself that’s OK! He often comes out with surprising and perceptive statements which make me think, and at 11 he is still sensitive and affectionate. I had heard about the mother-son bond, but could never really imagine it until I had a son.

    Many years ago an early challenge to my gender stereotypes was a lovely short story, “The Story of X” (on line at I found some interesting recent commentary on it at .

    Provides food for thought about why these gender differences matter to us anyway!

    • Thanks Anne, I downloaded that PDF and will check out the link from our next place (we’re leaving Koh Tao today and heading for Koh Samui). Yeah, it’s funny what having kids (and this one is not even born yet) can teach us about ourselves and beliefs and hopes we didn’t even know we held I suspect. Glad to hear all is going well with the family, and laughed at the commentary on pink. Hope all is going well at ND too! I cannot believe it’s been eight years since my class passed through – time has flown!!

  21. I’m in Chiang Mai this week (during my spring break)! Unfortunately it is uncharacteristically rainy…not quite the adjustment that having a boy when you wanted a girl seems to be. I would’ve wanted a girl.

  22. I sort of wanted a girl too in the beginning, but God gave us the most beautiful boy. He’s so cute and has such a lovely personality. And as I can imagine you can imagine, once he arrives it won’t make a snit of difference what you thought you wanted… you’ll want the precious wiggler that you have. Congrats you guys.

  23. I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now. I was instantly hooked by your pregnancy stories because I am pregnant with no. 2 right now (week 20). We’ve been through the same thing with our first child. We wanted a girl and needed some time to process that it would be a boy. From the moment on I hold him in my arms for the first time I always wondered how I could have wished for anyone else but him! This time I would prefer a second boy (to not have our house cluttered with girls’ clothes and toys on top of what we already own :-)), but I already know this child will be most precious to me, girl or boy (it didn’t want to show on this week’s ultrasound).

    • Hi Corrie, welcome, and thanks for coming to visit and leaving a comment to say hello. We’re at almost exactly the same stage, I hit twenty weeks today. I hope all is going well with your pregnancy!

  24. Pingback: 10 great gifts for pregnant women | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

  25. Pingback: Ten good things about boys: Attaining synthetic happiness one gender stereotype at a time | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

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