When gender assignment is delayed

Children born with intersex conditions are given gender assignments as boys or girls shortly after birth. Gender assignment is accomplished the same way for all children, whether they have an intersex condition or not: by figuring out which gender identity the child is most likely to feel as she or he grows up, and assigning that gender.

Sometimes it can take a few days or even a few weeks for the doctors to figure out which gender assignment (boy or girl) to recommend. There’s also a small but real possibility that the doctors will recommend a gender assignment different than the one the child will later express. This means that it is possible that the doctors will recommend your baby be assigned as a girl, but as your child grows up, it will be clear that he really feels and acts like a boy, or vice versa. (Doctors are not infallible fortune tellers of gender.) What, then, should the parents tell friends and family when they ask “Did you have a boy or a girl?” and a gender assignment hasn’t yet been made?

Though it can be awkward to talk with families and friends about intersex, we’ve learned from talking with parents and care providers that honesty is the best policy for you and your child. Being honest signals to others (and to you and your child!) that you are not ashamed—because you have nothing to be ashamed of—and it also allows others to provide you with the love and support you may need. Isolating yourself at this time will probably make you feel unnecessarily stressed out and lonely. Talking about it will help you feel connected with others.

So here is a suggestion of what you can tell people:

Our baby was born with a kind of variation in sex development that happens more often than you hear about. Our doctors aren’t quite sure yet in which gender we should raise the baby. They’re doing a series of tests to figure this out. We expect to have a recommendation from them within a few days, and then we’ll send out the birth announcement with the baby’s gender and the name we’ve chosen. Of course, as is true with any child, the various tests the doctors are doing are not going to tell us for sure who she or he will turn out to be. We’re going to discover that together. We appreciate your love and support and we’re looking forward to introducing you to our little one in person soon.

It also helps to let your friends and family know whether your baby is healthy (as is true in the majority of children born with intersex conditions) or whether there are some health concerns.

Finally, take some pictures of your baby’s face and share those pictures with others!