Gender disappointment is one of the many apparently ‘controversial’ parenting topics, which is often treated similarly to Post Natal Depression. It’s rarely talked about, is discussed in a ‘cone of silence’ (if at all) and those who have feelings of gender disappointment are usually desperate to find people whom they can trust, to talk about the strong, real emotions they experience.
Gender disappointment is fairly common and is nothing to feel ashamed about. Below are four reasons women may feel disappointed in the gender of their unborn baby:
- They were abused as a child
- They feel they’ll be unable to connect to a particular gender
- They have several children of the same gender already
- Pressure from family to fulfil the need for a specific gender
Women may find this a difficult topic to talk about because:
- They are worried they will upset those who are having trouble conceiving
“I have a member of my family who is desperately trying to fall pregnant, now with fertility treatment and all she wants is a baby. I feel I have no right to be disappointed with the fact that I have 2 of the same sex when all she wants is one.”
- They don’t want to be looked at as being selfish or insensitive because their child is healthy
“I feel ashamed because I have 2 beautiful healthy robust little boys who are the light of my life – but I want more.”
- They are worried people will think that means that they will not love their child or be a bad mother
“Imagine if I had said, ‘Well I really was hoping for a girl and I am disappointed that it’s not, but I guess I will learn to deal with it.’ What sort of a mother thinks like this?”
Dianne McGreal is a Clinical Psychologist experienced in grief counselling. She advises that no matter what your situation might be, it is perfectly okay to experience gender disappointment and it’s okay to acknowlege this.
Gender Disappointment and Sexual Abuse
Some mothers who were abused as a child experience gender disappointment and anxiety as a result of feeling unable to cope with having a boy – especially if their abuser was a male. On the other hand, they may feel anxious that they wont be able to protect a daughter from a potential abuser.
Dianne McGreal says that often in the case of disappointment for having a boy, these feelings only last for the duration of the pregnancy – they are usually gone once baby is born and in mum’s arms.
In the case of having a girl (and sometimes with a boy too), during pregnancy mum-to-be might feel okay, as baby is safely protected inside her. But once baby is born, this is when she may feel anxious that she can no longer protect her child. “This is a result of unresolved issues surrounding mum’s abuse,” Dianne says. “After the baby is born, often this can be misdiagnosed as PND, so it’s up to mum to decide if she wants to accept that diagnosis or seek further help to resolve the issues of their trauma.”
Dianne advises for mums in this situation to remember that that it’s impossible to be with your child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. BUT we can do the very best we can while we are with our child. “When a child is abused, it’s not the result of your bad parenting skills or failure on your part – it’s due to inappropriate behaviour of another person altogether.”
For further help if you have been sexually abused, visit the SECASA (South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault) website.
Gender Disappointment and Maternal Instinct
Sometimes mothers don’t see themselves as being able to mother or connect to a particular gender. Author and gentle parenting advocate Pinky McKay writes about how she felt petrified of having a girl:
“Personally I was petrified of having a girl baby as I thought I would be unable to relate to a ‘real’ girly girl. I had always been a tomboy which greatly upset my mum who always seemed in despair about my daring behaviour. She would say, “Pinky you cuss and swear like a man!,” (with such disappointment). I was the only girl my age in a country neighbourhood so played with the boys – having “rodeos” (locking Dad’s sheep in Mrs Hutas house/outdoor laundry – then releasing sheep and riders onto the lawn – should have seen the sheep poo in that laundry!), stealing the railway ‘jigger’ on a Sunday (when the Dad who owned the keys would be drunk and ‘out to it’) and riding with the boys down the railway track (no trains on Sundays) to catch eels at the river, making billy carts to ride down the steepest hills and digging underground cubbies (filled in by fathers who found them in back paddocks on their farms).
I simply didn’t feel I would be able to raise and relate to a ‘girly girl’ and was quite scared I would also have a daughter who was disappointed in me for not being ‘girly’ enough. My third child was a girl, a fabulous birth and I was utterly in awe of her from the moment she waved her delicate hands around (the boys had big square hands). Funnily enough, I instinctively followed my baby’s lead as an individual and had no problems relating.
Three years later I had another baby girl – again no worries. I think I have achieved a balance of acceptance for who my daughters are in their own right – both feisty females not restricted by gender expectations and roles, yet able to embrace their femininity comfortably. They both loved pretty things and still do – both are very creative; one is sporty and passionate about snowboarding, skiing and surfing while the other prefers more gentle pursuits like yoga and reading. Both loved belly dancing when they were younger (I was a hopeless ballet mum), especially making fabulous costumes.
I think having daughters has helped me redefine my own femininity – we all have a great time doing ‘girly’ stuff together now they are young women. Just for an extra twist, I have a gay son who was the absolute best at making Barbie outfits when he was little!”
Gender Disappointment – One Gender Families
Some mothers who have had several children already of the same gender, may grieve the loss of the baby they wished they had. One mum confided, ‘I desperately want another baby but I am terrified it is going to be another boy. Terrified. I love my boys so much that it hurts. If I did have another boy, I am sure I would love him just as much, in fact, I know that I would love him just as much… eventually.’
Mothers in this situation may feel:
- Frightened of their reaction on finding out the sex or when baby is born
- Depressed or in fear of depression
- Anger towards themselves for feeling this way
- ‘Robbed’ from having the gender they wanted
A mum says that she even felt, “… like less of a woman because I can’t produce a girl. I know that is so wrong, but that is how I feel.”
Some mums also feel terrible having to ‘pretend’ to be happy all the time. One mum recalls her ultrasound where she found out she was having another boy: “I felt disappointed immediately. It was like someone had punched me in the gut. After the sonographer told me, I then was more concerned about pretending to be happy about it than listening to the rest of the ultrasound.”
She continues, “When I found out Joshua was a boy at the ultrasound I was disappointed – disappointed and he was healthy and growing beautifully! How could I even think it?? I have hated myself for that. I look at him now and I just love him so much, how could I ever have been disappointed? I would lie to people, pretending to be so excited that I was going to have two little boys when in fact I had hope that the ultrasound was wrong. I would put on my happy face and say, “I always wanted two little boys!” or “As long as it is healthy we don’t care what it is.” Imagine if I had said, “Well I really was hoping for a girl and I am disappointed that it’s not, but I guess I will learn to deal with it.’ What sort of a mother thinks like this?”
I asked the mother (who is now pregnant with her third and final child) what she felt she would be missing out on, not having a girl. She replied, “Where do I start… pink, dolls, doing her hair, pretty dresses, ballet classes, the closeness of a mother-daughter relationship. When a man gets married he (usually) leaves his mother to be with his wife, a daughter usually stays close. Doing make-up together, planning her wedding, being a mother of the bride, watching my daughter become a mother… I feel that all my life I built myself up to the day I had a daughter, from the time I was a little girl, I have to grieve the loss of a broken dream. I also feel that my husband is missing the chance to have a daddy’s girl.”
How Do You Deal With The Grief Of Gender Disappointment?
Dianne says that the first step is to acknowledge your grief and feel that your emotions are validated. It’s okay to feel disappointment and/or loss for the baby you wanted – say it or express it in a way you feel safe to do so. She suggests sitting down and writing an honest and open letter, as detailed as you like, explaining all your thoughts and feelings of your loss, written to the child that you grieve. For example it might include something like, ‘To my daughter who’s time it hasn’t been to come … I had many hopes and dreams for us and I really wanted you to come … I have lots of love to give, but right now, I need to give it to my son.’
Alternately, you might like to write to your baby that you are having or have had. In this letter, it’s okay to tell your baby that you do yearn for the opposite gender and what you feel you will miss.
After you have written your letter, create your own special ritual. Perhaps burning it and taking it to the beach, letting it’s ashes scatter into the ocean or perhaps burying it in the sand.
Gender Disappointment After Your Baby Is Born
You may find that your disappointment totally disappears upon the birth of your baby, which was the case with my second child. When we started trying for number two, we were having some ‘testing times’ in our relationship. I didn’t embrace the idea of having another boy around me at all and was in a very ‘anti-male’ frame of mind. I began to picture my daughter with a little sister.
After my 20 week ultrasound, I walked out of the ultrasound room feeling a little shattered and teary, having clearly seen for myself that I was indeed having a boy! But something that helped me get past these feelings at the time was my mum. She told me, ‘Just because you are having a boy, it doesn’t mean he will be like any other man out there, not like your husband or the man next door. The way he will turn out is based on your parenting and upbringing – he won’t be born exactly like anyone else – he’ll be his own unique beautiful boy.”
What can I say – it was totally true. As soon as he was born, that strong motherly instinct kicked in straight away and I would have killed for this little gorgeous baby boy! My son is an absolute delight – he has nothing but smiles for me and adores me to bits. Such a mummy’s boy! I couldn’t imagine anything better and there is no way I could compare the love I have for the two.
The best thing for me is that now I know if I was to try for another, I would not care what I had, boy or girl – because they are both so very beautiful in their own little ways. I would even be happy enough not to find out his or her gender, because just knowing I have another little baby growing inside me, boy or girl, is enough for me.
So it is possible to feel such disappointment during pregnancy, only to have Mother Nature turn around and give you a great big surprise – something you never knew you were waiting for.
However it doesn’t always end out this way. If you feel that you are not coping with gender disappointment before or after the birth of your baby, it’s a good idea to to seek out the help of a psychologist, ideally one that specialises in pregnancy and postnatal issues. You can go to http://www.psychology.org.au which has a psychologist referral service available.
You might like to read the discussion on Gender Disappointment in our Forums where you can also vote in our Gender Disappointment poll.
Contributions from BellyBelly Readers
I have always wanted a little girl and have always been around little girls as a dancing teacher. When I learnt I was having my first son (at ultrasound) I was disappointed he was not a girl but happy to be having a child and figured that it was ok because I’d eventually have a girl.
When I had my ultrasound for my second child and discovered he was a boy I was upset for days but got over it before the delivery – however I was still secretly hoping that they had got it wrong until I physically saw his boy bits after he was born.
On my third ultrasound I was told it was another boy and was upset for about a day. Surprisingly I wasn’t upset at the delivery…
Hubby and I have now been doing the timing method for a girl for over a year and a half and I have given up. He doesn’t understand my desire for a girl and is increasingly annoyed at timing. I can’t help it. I still desperately want a girl. I have looked into adoption but hubby doesn’t want to for genetic reasons and also because it would cost $30,000.
I have looked into gender selection but it is illegal in South Australia and would cost us $30,000 (and travel to NSW or Qld) because we are a fertile couple! Not only that hubby thinks it is unnatural and is not really very willing to do it. We also have issues with left over fertilised eggs and we could not destroy them…
I don’t know what to do. Nobody understands me and everyone just tells me that I should be thankful that my kids are happy and healthy (especially because my sister has a disabled child) but I can’t help my desire for a girl.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my boys desperately but I don’t hide my feelings. They know that I love them. They also know that I would like a baby girl – in fact they all say that they want a sister (maybe because they know that I’d like a girl baby). I would not love my boys less if I had a girl but I want the pretty things, the pink things, the telling stories, the dancing classes, the mother-of-the-bride day, the day my daughter gives birth, etc… it isn’t the same with the boys as I’ve seen the difference with me and my brother for my mum. Why should I miss out??? This hurts soooo much!
I have a beautiful 16 month old baby boy, he is the love of my life and I know I would die for him in a heart beat.
I am now 21 weeks pregnant with my second child and my husband and I both desperately want a daughter. In our recent 20 week scan the sonographer told us we were expecting another boy. I couldn’t speak to anyone and cried my eyes out for 3 days straight. I am now in the pretending phase of being happy that my new baby is to be healthy as expected. The hardest thing is we did the timing method, we did the positions the monitoring body changes for ovulation – the works and still it didn’t work.
It has also proved to be difficult because my husband is also in denial. He keeps making phrases like – when we find out what sex the baby is we will make name decisions or buy baby clothes and various items. We are both struggling with what we did not want – are we both horrible parents for feeling this way? Or strong and loving for admitting it? In the recent ultrasound it was also made difficult as in the 9 minutes we were in the room for a consult and scan we did not actually see any genital shots. So we are still holding onto hope of, ‘what if he got it wrong?’ I guess we won’t know until the little one pops into the world in February. I suppose that will prove to us if we can love and cherish two boys the way that we are obviously intended to.
Would you like to share your experience with gender disappointment? You can do so anonymously if you wish. Email us your stories and we will include them on this page.