Would YOU want to learn your unborn baby's sex by slicing into a cake It's blue sponge for a boy, pink for a girl — and all your friends will be watching
22:48 GMT, 16 May 2012
As the knife sliced through the cake, a hush descended and ten pairs of eyes searched for a first glimpse of colour. Then someone let out a shriek: ‘It’s pink. It’s a girl!’ The room erupted into cheers and 27-year-old Sarah Bailey beamed with delight.
A day earlier, Sarah, who was 27 weeks pregnant, had paid for a private 4D scan — but had asked the sonographer not to tell her the baby’s sex, and instead to write it on a piece of paper, seal it in an envelope and give it to Cheshire baker Lisa Finnegan.
That night, Lisa got to work, mixing the ingredients for a ‘gender reveal cake’ which would tell the mum-to-be and her assembled friends and family what sex the baby would be by the colour of the sponge: pink for a girl, blue for a boy.
It's a girl! Sarah Bailey, right, cuts into her cake in front of her family to discover the sex of her baby
The cake, iced in a neutral white and decorated with pink and blue booties and the words, ‘It’s a…’, formed the centrepiece of celebrations the next day, when Sarah, her partner Mike and their immediate family gathered round to discover the baby’s sex.
It may seem unconventional, but gender reveal parties are increasingly popular among British mums-to-be. The craze has swept in from the U.S., via thousands of internet videos of pregnant women discovering their baby’s sex at lavish parties.
Featuring shrieking guests, colour-coded decorations and even invitees turning up in ‘team colours’ displaying which sex they’re rooting for, the events seem decidely un-British. But their popularity may show how much our attitude to privacy and public displays of emotion is changing.
‘We’re losing our stiff upper lip and becoming like the Americans with their cheesy, weird celebrations, eroding the boundary between what’s private and what’s public,’ explains Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent.
Indeed, gender reveal parties follow hot on the heels of that other brash American import — the baby shower, where mothers-to-be are lavished with baby gifts.
Many believe pregnancy is in danger of going down the same road as weddings — and that, rather than being seen as an emotional, life-changing experience, it will become ever more commercialised, revolving around swanky parties and great expense.
Big reveal: Sarah's partner Mike wasn't keen to know the sex of their baby but was eventually persuaded. Sixty per cent of mothers in the UK now find out what they're expecting
‘It’s a little bit sad,’ says Professor Furedi. ‘Like weddings in bizarre places, there’s a growing tendency for people to create their identity through different ceremonies. Rather than just saying: “I’m pregnant and isn’t it brilliant” it turns into being more about you than the baby.’
Whatever the critics say, the craze is certainly taking off. Katie Ellison, owner of the Hello Baby boutique in St Helens, Merseyside, which hosted Sarah’s party, has started offering a full gender reveal package. For 150, the mother-to-be gets a 4D scan, a CD of the pictures, a reveal cake, plus canapes, balloons and drinks. And business is booming.
‘I took ten phone calls in two hours the other day, all of them wanting a reveal party,’ says Katie, who sees large groups of family and friends accompanying parents-to-be for their baby scans. ‘My scan rooms are like a family cinema with a 40in TV screen and plenty of space. People want to get their family involved and reveal parties are just another fun way of doing that.’
Sixty per cent of mothers-to be in the UK now choose to know their baby’s sex before birth. But while mums-to-be might be keen to gather friends and family for a big ‘reveal’ party, expectant fathers are often more reluctant.
When customer services operator Sarah Bailey began planning her party, she was desperate to discover the sex of her second baby, but her partner Mike was less keen.
‘We’d found out the sex of our first child at the 20-week NHS scan and Mike wanted this one to be a surprise,’ she says. ‘But I like to be organised and really wanted to know, so I kept nagging him.
‘I thought this was a brilliant way of doing it, sharing the news with close family and letting them feel a part of our pregnancy,’ says Sarah, from Widnes, Cheshire.
Slice of the market: Stacey Butcher, left, runs a bakery and sales of gender reveal cakes have taken off thanks to mums like Sarah
Eventually, Mike buckled under the pressure and the couple’s excited mums bought them the reveal package as a present.
‘I couldn’t sleep the night before because I was so curious about the sex,’ says Sarah. ‘When I sliced the cake to reveal pink sponge, there were tears from my nan, screams from my two sisters. It was a wonderful moment. I’ve already told a couple of friends and they’re thinking of having a party, too.’
Not everyone feels so positive, though. The message boards of popular parenting websites such as Mumsnet.com, Babycentre.co.uk and Netmums.com are filled with comments from women who think the parties are everything from tacky to tempting fate.
One anonymous mother who suffered a stillbirth talks poignantly about how gender reveal parties might be great ways for businesses to make money, but that celebrating before the baby arrives safe and sound makes potential heartache much more public.
‘Finding out the gender of your child so publicly can put a lot of pressure on parents,’ says Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard. ‘It’s a very emotional moment and some might not be prepared for their own reaction.
‘Many parents say discovering the sex is the time their baby really comes into being, so perhaps that should be an intimate moment. Telling friends is lovely, but I’d be cautious about finding out at a gender reveal party.’
Michelle Whitney had no such misgivings. The 27-year-old, from Ormskirk in Lancashire, was barely pregnant when she stumbled across the party videos on YouTube and knew she had to have one.
‘I like a party and wanted to do something special to celebrate my pregnancy, but didn’t like the idea of a baby shower and getting presents for a baby that wasn’t born yet,’ says Michelle.
‘I thought the cake idea was amazing. My husband Andrew found it hilarious, but he was up for it, too.’
Sweet success: Like baby showers, gender reveal cakes are a trend from the U.S. that's catching on in the UK
That Michelle’s cousin Hollie was leaving for New Zealand cemented her decision. ‘She was a bridesmaid at my wedding and godmother to my six year-old son and I wanted her to be involved and know what I was having before she went,’ says Michelle.
‘I was so glad I could share my excitement with all the people I loved and cared about, especially Hollie,’ adds Michelle, who is now mum to ten-week-old Betsie-Mae.
But in all the emotion of the day, it’s easy to forget these parties are essentially big money-spinners. With her eye on American trends, Ally Atkins’s British company, The Ultimate Baby Shower, has already done half-a-dozen gender reveal parties with prices starting at 15 per person, and says the bill often runs into the hundreds of pounds.
The cakes themselves start at 45 and Ally has also added reveal cupcakes, where you whip off the wrapper to find a pink or blue sponge, at 2.95 each.
‘The concept is new to the UK but it’s definitely catching on,’ says Ally. ‘It’s amazing how excited guests are at the big moment. You almost need a drum roll.’
Stacey Butcher, the 29 year-old baker who creates Ally’s cakes, threw a gender reveal party for her best friend Carly. Stacey invited 20 girlfriends and arranged a buffet, party games, tablewear and, of course, made the all-important gender-reveal cake.
Carly, who is already mother to a 20-month-old boy, says: ‘I was a bit nervous just in case the hospital had got the sex wrong, but seeing the surprise on everyone’s faces was brilliant.’
But not everyone feels so comfortable. As a guest who attended one of these parties admits: ‘It just felt wrong, watching the parents-to-be hugging and crying, and all of us standing around, when really we had nothing to do with it.
‘I found myself feeling incredibly awkward.’
And then there’s the question of where it will all lead. Will we soon be forced to watch live births beamed onto flat-screen TVs, while eating sausage rolls and cream cheese sandwiches I do hope not.