The house was filled with balloons and confetti, the chips and artichoke spinach dip were ready, and the guests, about 25 of them, were decked out in team colors, ready to cheer. Minutes before the party kicked off, they eagerly cast votes on the outcome.
But this festive gathering, held recently at the Miami home of Carolina and Carl Marrelli, was not a Super Bowl celebration. The decorations were all in very un-NFL pinks and powder blues, and the sides involved were “Team Boy” and “Team Girl.”
This was a gender-reveal party, during which expectant parents share the moment they discover their baby’s sex, unveiling results of the ultrasound test among loved ones (often replaying the moment later on Facebook or other social media). It’s the rare surprise party that people can give for themselves.
Until recently a little-known practice, the concept is quickly becoming a pre-parenting custom, a dress rehearsal of sorts – or sometimes a replacement – for the baby shower. In a culture where many expectant parents feel obligated to tweet their pregnancy announcement, live-post their ride to the hospital via Instagram, and Skype the baby’s first smile, it’s the latest example of one of parenthood’s formerly private moments becoming a matter of public consumption.
In the last year alone, the number of gender-reveal party discussion threads on BabyCenter – one of the most popular websites for new parents, with 11 million visitors a month – has rocketed to 282, from 28, a spokeswoman for the site said.
On YouTube, the first video of such an event dates from 2008. It shows the expecting parents simply opening a sealed envelope containing the ultrasound results before friends and family.
A handful followed in 2009 and 2010. But in the last six months, more than 1,800 gender-reveal videos were uploaded onto the site.
Parents typically arrange for the ultrasound technician to withhold the gender finding from them. The technician places the information Oscars-style in an envelope, which the couple might then deliver to a baker, who whips up a pink or blue cake, covering the telltale color with frosting. The couple discover the gender when they cut the cake amid shrieking in-laws and fluttering confetti.
“It gave us more time to cry, laugh, scream and just be free to celebrate with all of our hearts, rather than to be in some dark room with a total stranger,” said Carolina Marrelli, 34, who live-streamed her results (boy) and the cheering throng in her home to dozens of other friends and family members around the country.
“It was a way to get everyone involved, and you experience this huge payoff after all the building anticipation,” said Brett Grayson, 28, a high school social-studies teacher in Irving, Texas, who can be seen getting misty-eyed in the video of the celebration he posted on YouTube. “I’m normally not emotional, but when I saw the pink cake, it was like a flash of me teaching her to drive and marrying her off.”
For most of human history, parents discovered their child’s sex at birth, a moment rarely lacking in tension or drama. But nowadays, at least 50 percent of parents choose to find out the sex of their baby beforehand, usually with an ultrasound between 18 and 22 weeks, according to the American Pregnancy Association, a nonprofit educational group. A gender-reveal party is a modern way to savor the surprise, or perhaps just to enjoy it somewhere other than a doctor’s office.
Creative decorating tips for the parties have popped up on design blogs, and handmade knickknacks for gender-reveal parties are sold on Etsy shops (one seller offers pink and blue question-mark-shaped lollipops, 12 for $15).
Ashley Brickner, a fashion marketing teacher and expectant mother in Virginia Beach, Va., found out about the concept a few months ago, when she ran across ideas for festive decor on Pinterest.
So she and her husband, Joe, held their own party a few weeks ago. Since they each come from large families who live nearby, it just seemed natural, they said, to make this private moment public, particularly in an age when the family is likely to get updates on the baby’s development on Facebook.
“They’re going to be very much a big part of the baby’s life, so we thought it was just a cool way to incorporate them,” said Ashley Brickner, 28, whose cake was pink.
In rare cases, the gender-reveal party turns into a comic misfire, like the video of the Woodall party last year in Kentucky, at which it became clear the baker had given them the wrong cake: It was white inside. (“Epic fail!” a male voice booms in the background.)
Donna Vela, who owns Little Angel Announcements, an online stationery store, said she began getting requests for gender-reveal party invitations about a year ago and now gets several orders a day.
“I think it goes with today’s Facebook generation that shares everything with everybody,” Vela said.
Indeed, Brooke Flatt, 24, sent out invitations on Facebook to the gender-reveal party she gave in February at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Airman First Class Bryan Flatt, 26.
“It was an excuse to throw a party,” said Brooke Flatt, who streamed the event live on Ustream for relatives in Mississippi. “We had cocktail food and I gave out cards for people to guess the weight, hair color and eye color for me to put in a scrapbook.”
The cake, which turned out to have pink icing between the layers, was decorated on the outside with bumblebees and the message: “What will it bee?”
Buddy Valastro, the host of the “Cake Boss” television show on TLC and the owner of Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, N.J., says that he makes several gender-reveal cakes a month, which cost $100 to $1,000.
“Some people go crazy and want something totally elaborate,” he said, such as multitiered cakes with startlingly lifelike fondant babies on top. “I think it’s a cool way for people to find out what they’re having.”
But Greg Allen, 44, a filmmaker in New York who also writes a blog for new fathers called daddytypes.com, said he found the trend baffling.
“Creating drama around your baby’s gender seems so staged and fake,” said Allen, who found out the sexes of both his children the comparatively old-fashioned way: with his wife in a sonogram examination room. “The whole connection of cutting into the cake to find out, like it’s a stand-in for the uterus, is sort of sickening.”
Kimberly Wageman, 37, of Richland, Wash., avoided this association by having guests at her gender-reveal party bite into cupcakes, which had dollops of blue icing inside. Her baby boy, now 6 months, was her third child.
“The first one, we found out the sex when we had the ultrasound, the second we waited until she was born and the third we had a gender reveal,” said Wageman, a stay-at-home mom. “I couldn’t say which was best because they were all such unique experiences.”