First comes love, then comes marriage.
Then comes a wildly festive gathering featuring the grand unveiling of the baby's gender.
And then comes baby in a baby carriage.
Or at least, that's how some of Pittsburgh's prospective parents are doing it.
One Friday night in late December, about 60 of Adam Bush's closest friends and family packed into the party room of the Hyland Hills apartment complex in Green Tree.
A special cake -- adorned with question marks, baby bottles and the phrase "It's a ..." -- was laid out on a half blue, half pink tablecloth. Mr. Bush, dressed "blued out" because he just knew his baby was going to be a boy, cut a corner of the cake to reveal pink icing inside.
His mother, Stephanie Bush, who organized the party, raised her pink-clad arms triumphantly as the cake was cut, amid a chorus of "It's a Girl!"
"I'm so tired of regular baby showers and baby parties," said Ms. Bush, who organized the event and asked guests to just bring diapers and wipes as gifts. "This is a party just to see what the sex of the baby is and to get both families together. It's a cool way to find out."
Popularized by reality television shows (Ms. Bush got the idea from watching "Cake Boss"), gender cake reveal parties are becoming increasingly popular; Bethel Bakery in Bethel Park estimates that it makes several such cakes every week and even featured them in an in-store flier and on its Facebook page.
The parties generally work as follows: At the ultrasound appointment where the parents can find out the baby's gender, they have the ultrasound technician put the gender in a sealed envelope. They then bring the envelope to a bakery, which tints the inner batter or icing pink or blue. Often, everyone at the party finds out the gender for the first time when the cake is cut.
Some, like Ms. Bush, have parties just to unveil the gender. Others, like Jen Carioli of Bethel Park, incorporate cakes as part of their shower.
For months, she and her husband, Paco, kept the envelope from their ultrasound on a table in their living room, with both of them managing not to peek until just before the shower.
At her shower, at Atria's in Mt. Lebanon, guests played gender-related games, such as voting based on old wives tales whether she was carrying a boy or a girl. When they cut the tiered, yellow cake, decorated like a wrapped present, they found blue icing inside.
Her son, Luca, was born Dec. 6.
"I wanted to wait the entire time and my husband wanted to know earlier," she said. "This was kind of our nice compromise."
The phenomenon of color-coded cakes to reveal a baby's gender seems to have started about four years ago.
In 2009, the "Today" show sponsored a gender reveal cake for the first grandchild of reality TV stars Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar (of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting"), made by the bakers from "Cake Boss," which they cut on air. The Internet abounds with other variations, such as cupcakes and cookies baked with colored M&Ms inside and batter-dyed cake pops.
But it's not just parties, say ultrasound technicians. The unveiling of baby genders is becoming a bona fide to-do, if even just between the parents.
In the run-up to Christmas, in particular, ultrasound techs had all sorts of strange requests, said Anita Nowak, manager of imaging at Magee-Womens Hospital.
One patient came in with a pink onesie and a blue onesie and asked the tech to put the correct one in a box so that they could open it Christmas morning. Another patient wanted the tech to fill a box with the pink or blue balloons so that they could open the box and let the balloons out.
Others will tell the techs that they are planning to give the sealed envelope to a friend who is planning the shower. When the parents walk in to the shower, they'll find out the gender from the color of the decorations.
Inventive gender reveals seem particularly popular in the North Hills and South Hills, said Ms. Nowak, with individual ultrasound techs in UPMC's Bethel Park location each getting about three requests per week for gender results in sealed envelopes.
While the trend is mostly fun, she worries sometimes that science may disappoint. Depending on the position of the baby, ultrasound technicians can't always determine the gender. And even when they do, there's always the possibility that they've gotten it wrong.
"It's not 100 percent accurate," said Ms. Nowak. "The ultrasound determining the gender is our best guess. You think 'Gee, I hope we're not wrong, and they're doing showers and cakes.' "
Even a decade ago, it wasn't unheard of for people to request ultrasound results in sealed envelopes. But the reason was almost always because their significant other couldn't be at the ultrasound and they wanted to find out together, or because they couldn't decide whether they wanted to find out but didn't know whether they'd have another chance at an ultrasound.
The festive unveilings are something new, said Ms. Nowak.
Her favorite story that she's heard is of a patient who asked the tech to put the gender results in an envelope that she and her husband would open on Christmas morning. She had bought two sets of Christmas ornaments -- acorns and berries -- and she would give one set to her family later Christmas Day.
"If they saw nuts, it was a boy -- if not, it was a girl," said Ms. Nowak.
"People are really, really funny," she added.
And when technology and creativity combine, gender cakes might be only the beginning.
Mei Sedlack of Munhall had a "Guess Who?" party in October, with a cake from Pastries A-La-Carte in Pleasant Hills iced with the phrase "Am I a Hero in Blue or a Princess in Pink?" Mrs. Sedlack and her fiance, who both already have girls from previous relationships, were thrilled to see blue batter inside their cake.
But that wasn't the first artistic surprise of Ms. Sedlack's pregnancy (her son, Aaron Michael, was born Jan. 10): When she and her fiance announced the pregnancy to his parents, they wrapped up a package for them to open at the dinner table.
Inside was a sonogram picture -- a Terrible Towel photoshopped into the baby's tiny hand.
Anya Sostek: email@example.com or 412-263-1308. First Published February 1, 2012 5:00 AM