Not knowing our babies’ genders right up ’til birth

By Renate Engelbrecht

Wednesday, Aug 19

Many people are surprised when I tell them that we did not know either of our babies’ genders right up until the moment they were born. Today, I would still not have done it any other way.

When I first fell pregnant with our eldest, I told Wikus that I did not want to know if it’s a boy or a girl. Life is so predictable these days and he agreed that he also did not want to know until the day of birth.

The biggest challenge was probably for our gynae who had to keep the secret and who had to remember to ask us to look away if she suspected that we might see what we should not.

Friends, family and even strangers kept asking: Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? It became frustrating to explain our reasoning behind it over and over, but in the end it was worth it. We continued to explain to them that we felt life didn’t have much surprises anymore and that this would be the ultimate surprise. Imagine hearing “It’s a girl! Surprise!” echo through the room.

With Catha’s birth, Wikus was the first to say: It’s a girl! He was so excited and seeing his face light up the way it did that day, made me love him even more. Hence, when I fell pregnant with Elian the decision was mutual: We would wait until birth – once again – to know the gender of our second-born. This time was easier. Our gynae knew the drill and our family and friends knew the reason behind our decision. When Elian was born, the doctor exclaimed: “It’s a boy! Now you have a pigeon pair!” Once again, Wikus’ face was priceless. I wish I could capture the emotions, the pure joy and excitement that came with both our children’s births.

We often wonder if it was not selfish of us to bring children into a broken world. Should that not be the reason why we bring children into the world, though? That they can become God’s light carriers in a world filled with darkness? And, oh, how they light up our world!

Here is how we managed to keep the secret without even knowing our babies’ genders ourselves:


For both our kids, we had to choose two names. One name for if it’s a girl and one for if it’s a boy. This was probably the hardest part.

With our firstborn, we knew that if it was to be a girl we’d call her Catha as that is a name I’ve always loved. My mother wanted to name me Catha (from her names: Catharina Margaretha) but my father convinced her that I would be teased in school and kids would call me “katjie”. For me, Catha has always been a beautiful name. If it was to be a boy, we would call him Finn. In the end, it was a beautiful baby girl and we named her Catha, which means pure heart; pearl.

With our second-born we struggled much longer to find suitable names for both a girl and a boy that we both liked. We are rather sentimental (not so much that we’d give our kids four heavy family names) but we do like to bring some sentiment into a name and tie it to our families. So, if our second-born was to be a girl, we eventually decided on Judike – a name derived from Judith, which is Wikus’ mother’s second name. It was only in the last week of my pregnancy that Wikus came up to me and said: What about Elian for a boy’s name. I instantly loved it and asked him how he came up with it. He said that it just came up in his head and we were convinced that God had spoken. We still wanted to keep with the tradition of giving our son family names, though, so eventually we decided that if it was to be a boy, he would be called Elian Matthys Johannes (after Wikus’ father). And so it was. Elian was born and God named him. His name means God is King.


For the stork teas and family events that followed the announcements of my pregnancies, we humbly asked for gifts that were neutral in colour. Some friends and family were frustrated, because they wanted to buy pink or blue. I am not the type of mom who paints walls purple or blue and drapes the bed in Barbie- or Cars-themed bedding. In three years’ time the kids would want their rooms themed differently and we’d have to do it all over again. We’re also in a phase in our life and in our home where we want to be able to move rooms easily, so it’s easier to have the walls painted in a neutral colour that most furniture and linen would work in the room without much hassle.
I was happy that we chose not to know as now we have lots of neutral baby things rather than unicorn dresses, Frozen-themed bedding and Cars-themed carpets. We were also able to use much more of Catha’s things for Elian now, as many of her things were quite neutral in colour and in style. The older she gets, though, the less things come without a glittery bow or a dash of pink.


We did not necessarily choose her because we knew that she would be able to keep the secret, but when we got to that point, we knew she fitted the bill perfectly. She was gracious, kind and unbiased and she went out of her way to make the journey as comfortable as possible. She was also almost as excited as Wikus with both our babies’ births, which was profound. Finding the right gynae is so important and we were so lucky to have found ours at the right time.

A secret’s a secret

I still believe that one thing that kept us from finding out the gender by mistake, was the fact that only our gynae knew. Many parents say that the grandparents may know even when they, the parents, don’t. I say, the more people there are that know, the bigger the possibility of someone spilling the beans. But, that’s something only you can decide on.

Not knowing our babies’ genders beforehand made the pregnancy journey so much more special and exciting. We dreamed about them, wondered about them, talked about them. I believe it deepened Wikus and my relationship in a way we probably did not even realise at that time.

Not knowing and keeping it as a surprise was the best decision we ever made.



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