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Boy or a girl? It's a secret -- and an international controversy

By Paula Newton, CNN
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Couple raising 'gender-free' child
  • Couple decides to hide baby's gender from the world
  • It says it is "a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation"
  • The Toronto Star article on the couple's decision has become its most popular online story ever
  • The couple has decided not to grant any more media interviews

Ottawa, Canada (CNN) -- The name 'Storm' may be gender-neutral, but it is also listed as a synonym for controversy.

And at just 4 months old, blond-haired, blue-eyed Storm and his Canadian family have stirred a parenting debate still brewing across continents.

Kathy Witterick, 38, and David Stocker, 39 are parents raising three children in Toronto. They feel children are pressured at far too tender an age by strict social norms of gender.

And so, as a remedy, they felt it was better to keep the youngest child's gender a secret -- even from the grandparents.

According to a front-page article in the Toronto Star last week, the only ones who know the baby's gender are the couple's sons -- Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2 -- a close family friend and two midwives present at delivery.

Instead of the usual birth announcement of 'It's a Boy!' or 'It's a Girl!', Stocker and Witterick sent out an e-mail announcement that said, "We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now -- a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...)."

Not yet, apparently.

Comments about the article were so sharp and so divided that for now, the family has decided to decline any further media interviews. Calls to their home by CNN were not returned.

A message on the family voicemail says, "Thanks for your interest in this important discussion, but at the moment, we're really swamped and our first priority is the needs of our family and especially our kids. So, leave a message if you'd like and we'll respond to it whenever we're able."

Witterick and Stocker may not be talking, but it seems everybody else is.

From radio call-in shows all over the continent, to a "hot topic" discussion on ABC's "The View," few lacked an opinion. Most said they were either appalled by the couple or applauded them for their courage.

"They are shell-shocked by the reaction of people that have been quite vehement. They didn't really understand what would happen," said Joe Hall, managing editor of the Toronto Star.

Hall said it was obvious from the very beginning -- even during meetings with his editorial staff -- that people could not help but express very divided opinions about the choice these parents are making.

The article has become the newspaper's most popular online story ever.

One reader wrote: "Wow, a good way to ruin your kid's life. Gender has nothing to do with sexuality. I think the parents are going to the extreme here. And what did someone do? Call all media and say, 'Hey all, these people are keeping their poor child's gender a secret'?? What's the hidden agenda here? A reality show? A book? Movie?"

But others countered that the couple's decision was inspiring.

"Bravo to these parents for bravely taking on the gender-biased world that labels children with stereotypes and gendered assumptions before they are even born!" one post read. "All parenting is an experiment -- but most people are happy to let Disney or Mattel run the lab. I hope your beautiful little family will stay strong against the conservative attack."

In a follow-up article written by the Toronto Star's Jayme Poisson -- the only journalist so far to visit with the family -- the couple expressed dismay with all the reaction but says it is hopeful the debate can still be constructive.

In the Toronto Star article, Witterick writes that, "Isn't defensiveness sometimes a first sign of learning or changing behaviour, so even the 'rabid' responses may have a place in making the world a more thoughtful place."