The big reveal: More and more expectant parents are throwing themed parties to announce their baby's gender.

Posted: February 28, 2013

A bored pronouncement from an ultrasound technician, or a sealed envelope anxiously torn open back at home - these did not, to Tanisha Pollard, seem like adequate ways to deliver such momentous news as the gender of her first child.

Instead, the 26-year-old Lawnside resident and her boyfriend, Da'Rius Lemon, invited their families to join them for a "gender-reveal party," an increasingly popular way to inject a little ballyhoo into the prenatal condition.

"This is my first child, so I just wanted to find a fun way for us to find out what we were having, and to share that - rather than a text message or an e-mail. It's just a fun, different way to do it," Pollard said.

These parties tend to be small, casual gatherings held in addition to a baby shower. But over the last year or so, they've turned from novelty to full-blown fad as expectant parents try to dream up fresh ways of unveiling the baby's gender: like opening a box to set free a cloud of either blue or pink helium-filled balloons, or serving each guest a cake pop, one of which conceals a pink or blue interior.

A popular choice is a gender-reveal cake, in which a thick layer of icing conceals a layer of frosting or cake colored accordingly.

Zoe Lukas, who owns Whipped Bakeshop in Fishtown, says she began fielding requests for such cakes last year; now it's a regular part of her business.

"It seems like a trend among a lot of younger parents that want to have a party with friends and family - first-time parents," she said. Sometimes, the parents know the baby's gender in advance; more often they give Lukas a sealed envelope with the information inside.

As for Pollard, she wanted her gender-reveal stunt to be unique, so she rejected the idea of the cake or balloons. Instead, her plan featured a baby doll, which her cousin would deliver to the party swaddled tightly in a blanket, concealing either boys' or girls' clothing underneath.

Planning all this meant exercising a great deal of forbearance for Pollard. When she got the gender information from the ultrasound technician, rather than test her willpower, she took the envelope to her cousin's house that same day.

"I knew I would open it otherwise," said Pollard, whose baby is due in May. Fortunately, "the [technician] sealed it very well. She put paper inside so I couldn't hold it up to the light. She stapled it."

Pollard and Lemon invited about 30 members of their extended family, encouraging them to dress in pink or blue, according to what they expected Pollard was expecting.

Lemon's father, Provey Powell Jr., hedged his bets, offsetting a blue sweater with a pink handkerchief. He appreciated the "innovative" party idea.

"That's got to be tough for her not to know. So for them to hold out and release this news only with friends and family is a wonderful, beautiful thing."

His wife, Joyce, admitted the party was a sign of changing times. "These newfangled things these babies are doing now - when I was coming up, it was just a baby shower and what came out was a surprise. Now they have parties just to get [everyone] together, and parties now are productions."

Pollard admitted that her boyfriend was a little skeptical of the event at first. "As a male, he thinks that it's a bit extra. He doesn't understand."

Her younger brother, Steve, agreed. "I thought it was a little over the top. But it's her first."

The men in Pollard's life aren't alone in their reservations: The notion of gender-reveal parties tends to elicit strong reactions, ranging from avid enthusiasm to untempered disgust (see a 2012 NewYorker.com article, "Narcissism in Pink and Blue," cursing the get-togethers as somewhere between the ultimate in oversharing and a "symptom of cultural despair.")

But Kelly Psiuk, co-owner of InnerView Ultrasound in Frazer, says it's not surprising that parents-to-be want to create a more celebratory vibe around an experience that can feel rather clinical. Psiuk and her husband offer nondiagnostic 2-D, 3-D, and 4-D (real-time 3-D) ultrasounds, including gender-determination packages, complete with gender-reveal scratch tickets for parents to take home.

Psiuk says more clients are coming to her because time-pressed medical sonographers won't take the time to determine the gender if it's not readily apparent, or they sometimes are prohibited from revealing gender by liability-shy health-care providers. And, some expectant parents are finding that "recreational" ultrasounds are their only way to get an advance peek as insurance providers cut coverage of routine sonograms.

Many more parents are now turning the ultrasound experience into a party for friends and family. "When we first opened our office, we had no idea what we were getting into, as far as the large parties we would get," Psiuk said.

InnerView expanded its reception area so that, in addition to the eight to 10 people who can watch the ultrasound in the exam room, about two dozen more friends and family can view a broadcast of the ultrasound image on a large screen in the waiting room. Psiuk says the ultrasounds are sometimes done in conjunction with baby showers, but she's drawn the line at catering showers in the office.

For $80 to $300, parents can also load up on photo and video souvenirs to take home - think glamour shots for the fetus. (However, ultrasound parties aren't without risk: Psiuk and her husband sometimes observe more than parents bargain for, including birth defects and, in a few cases, the absence of a heartbeat. Because they're not doctors, all they can do is provide the services purchased, and then report the information to the clients' physicians.)

Back at Lemon and Pollard's party, things remained refreshingly low-tech, but with plenty of conjecture to go around.

Lemon, who had been lobbying to keep the gender a surprise, said he thought he knew what they'd be having: "My gut feeling is it's going to be a boy."

Then came the moment of truth.

Together, amid raucous applause, the couple unswaddled the baby doll - to reveal a pink dress and long curly hair. Grandmothers cheered; Pollard cried; her kid brother, Steve, who'd been hoping for a boy, tried not to look too crestfallen.

Pollard's aunt, Elizabeth Welch, said she'd never heard of a gender-reveal party before she was invited to one, but she was pleased with the result.

She added, "It will probably be a family tradition."

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