Ask A Doula: Sex Assigned at Birth Feels

by Emma Devin


I just left my 20-week ultrasound and I learned my baby’s assigned sex — I have feelings, help! – BabyFeels

Hello BabyFeels! 

First thing’s first. Baby making, pregnancy, birth, parenting — these are major life milestones.  As we move through many of these quickly, many feelings arise, especially when we tack on expectations, political and social ideas, how you want to parent, how you hope you’ll parent, and how your pregnancy has been going. There is a debate between some parents who “find out” and those who want to be “surprised” with their babies assigned sex at birth. When folks find out their baby’s assigned sex — at whatever moment in their journey — it can be a highly complex, emotional pressure cooker. 

You’ve had your 20-week ultrasound (a milestone in itself, congrats!). To bring our friends along with us, let’s dive into the pregnancy stages and approaches for those who choose to know their baby’s genitals (also known as assigned sex). 

Panorama Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) at 9 weeks onwards. 

This test analyses the DNA in your blood and fetal DNA to screen the pregnancy for the chromosome differences, including markers for downs syndrome and many others, as well as the fetal sex result.  NIPT requires a requisition from your care provider and is not covered by MSP (except for a few rare cases). For some, it could cost between $550 to $795.  You may be able to access through programs for pregnant folks 35 and up, or special studies supported by your care providers, such as midwives or OBs. Best place to start is in discussion with your care provider. 

Anatomy scan (Ultrasound at 18 – 22 weeks gestation)

The ultrasound technician will carefully take measurements to make sure your baby’s growth is on track, which includes noting the baby’s genitals. This scan may be called a  second trimester ultrasound or 20-week anatomy scan. In B.C., this is covered by MSP. The best place to start is in discussion with your care provider and local ultrasound clinic. There are private providers offering 3D non-medical scans earlier (16 weeks), which can provide information on the baby’s genitals (this can cost between $80 – $200+). 


You can wait to find out at birth, if you do not choose to get a NIPT (blood test) and your ultrasound tech is unable to find/see your baby’s genitals. If the latter is the case, you may have to wait until birth.

BabyFeels, you shared this experience left you emotional, so let’s start by moving through it. I recommend starting with whatever feels supportive for personal reflection—go for a stroll around the park, reach out to a trusted friend, or light a candle, make yourself a nice drink, and journal. As you do so, try your best not to shame yourself with the feelings you’re having because they’re all extremely normal. Your inner dialogue might look like a treadmill of questions, like: “Am I prepared enough? Have I bought all the right things? Am I eating and sleeping well enough while the baby grows? Have I considered all the childcare options? And now ALSO am I okay with my baby’s sex?”

Like I said, we’re in a pressure cooker here: juggling personal, political, and cultural baggage around expectations of creating a human, as well as those around sex and gender. So, just let off steam and try to give yourself as much grace as possible. 

Now, let’s move deeper into sex and gender and all of the in-betweens. This is so complex, and so much about being on a path to parenthood is about learning how to live in the questions. And although this is an advice column, I’m just here to help you get comfortable with that. 

Lizzy, another one of Brood’s co-founders, talks often about her experience of finding out that her unborn kid had a penis — and the unexpected wave of grief (and gender disappointment) that came with that. 

“After a few weeks of long, teary dog walks confronting my own bias and expectations, I used my gender grief to unpack what I was putting on my unborn baby, and how I might better understand myself through the experience. Of course, I can’t imagine Hank not being Hank, however he grows and expands through his life,” she says.

Gender disappointment, confusion, or grief can also morph through your parenting journey and a kid’s life beyond the moment when you find out their assigned sex. Your kid will help you navigate this, but it’s not necessarily something that’s going to end once you find out what genitals are on a scan. This is a journey that you will have with your kid through their entire life, and being open to navigate that can be helpful. 

We are a part of a generation of parents who will be moving through questions, conversations, adjustments, and expressions of who our kids are more than any other previous generation. 

This is a really exciting time for you to educate yourself on what this will mean for you and your family, for the rest of your days. Good luck! 

Some Brood reading that will support you in this includes a deep dive into understanding the power of language and pregnancy, and the myths about queer inclusive language and pregnancy, a personal account of swimming through the emotions of each trimester, and supportive ways to care for yourself. 

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