Gender disappointment is one of the many controversial parenting topics.
Gender disappointment is rarely talked about openly and honestly. The times you see such discussions online, parents admitting they feel gender disappointment often get attacked and belittled, for not being grateful for having a healthy baby.
Those who have feelings of gender disappointment are usually desperate to connect with people they can trust, to talk about the strong, real emotions they experience.
The only way to move past any strong feelings we’re going through is to find compassionate help with processing them. Else these strong feelings have a way of sitting dormant and festering, and at worst, exploding.
No matter if you wanted a boy or wanted a girl, gender disappointment is very real, as are the reasons why you might feel this way. Gender disappointment is fairly common and is nothing to feel ashamed about.
Below are four main reasons parents may feel gender disappointment during pregnancy or after the birth of their baby:
- A parent was abused as a child by a particular gender
- A parent feels 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
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 in single-gender families
Some parents who have several children of the same gender, may grieve the loss of the experience of the other gender.
One mum confided, “I desperately want another baby, but I’m terrified it’s going to be another boy. Terrified. I love my boys so much it hurts. If I did have another boy, I’m sure I’d love him just as much. In fact, I know 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 mother said 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.”
Having trouble speaking up about gender disappointment
Some parents may find gender disappointment a difficult topic to talk about, because they’re worried they’ll 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.”
Many parents also 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.”
And some parents are worried people will think their gender disappointment means that they will not love their child, or be a bad parent.
“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, “No matter what your situation might be, it’s perfectly okay to experience gender disappointment, and it’s okay to acknowledge it.”
Pretending to be happy
Some parents can feel terrible pretending to be happy all the time, even though they’re not.
One mother recalls the 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 yet he was healthy and growing beautifully! How could I even think it? I 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?”, she shared.
I asked the mother (who is now pregnant with her third and final child) what she felt she would be missing out on by 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 like 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 like my husband is missing the chance to have a daddy’s girl.”
So, how do you deal with gender disappointment?
Dianne McGreal says the first step to dealing with gender disappointment is to acknowledge your grief and feel that your emotions are validated. It’s okay to feel disappointment or loss for the baby you wanted. Try saying it or expressing it in a way you feel safe to do so.
She suggests sitting down and writing an honest and open letter. Be as long and detailed as you like, explaining all of your thoughts and feelings about your loss, written to the child 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 into out lives… 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 you’re having (or have had). In this letter, it’s okay to tell your baby that you do yearn for the opposite gender, and outline what you feel you will miss.
After you’ve written your letter, create your own special ritual. Perhaps burning it and taking it to the beach, letting the ashes scatter into the ocean, or perhaps burying it in the sand.
Gender disappointment after your baby is born
In some cases, you may find gender disappointment totally disappears after the birth of your baby.
This was the case with my second child. When I was much younger and trying for baby number two, my ex husband and I were having some really testing times in our relationship. I had the idea in my head that I’d be really unhappy having another boy around me, and I hoped for a girl. I felt ashamed to be in this gender disappointment space during pregnancy, but I couldn’t shake the feelings.
After my 20 week ultrasound, I walked out of the ultrasound room feeling shattered and teary, having clearly seen for myself that I was indeed having a boy! But something that helped me move past these feelings of gender disappointment were some wise words from my mother.
She told me, “Just because you’re having a boy, it doesn’t mean he’ll be like any other man out there. He won’t be exactly like your husband, nor or the man next door. The way he will turn out will be 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, any gender disappointment melted away, and that strong motherly instinct kicked in immediately. I would have killed for this little gorgeous baby boy! My son is an absolute delight. As a baby, he had nothing but smiles for me – he adored me to bits. Now as a teenager (who towers over me in height!), he’s still such an amazing kid. I couldn’t imagine life without him. For me, things truly do happen for a reason.
Gender disappointment doesn’t always turn out as we expect
It’s possible to feel gender 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. Every child comes into our life for a reason, and gives us valuable lessons and experiences we wouldn’t have otherwise had.
However, I know it doesn’t always feel this way. If you’re not coping with gender disappointment during pregnancy or after the birth of your baby, it’s really important to seek out the help of a psychologist.
Gender disappointment has been linked to depression, so don’t feel silly or embarrassed seeking help, or your feelings may escalate.
Ideally, find a psychologist who specialises in pregnancy and postnatal issues, or grief and loss. Ask questions and see if they have any experience with gender disappointment.
In Australia, you can go to https://www.psychology.org.au which has a psychologist referral service available.
BellyBelly fans share their experiences of gender disappointment
“I always wanted a little girl, and have always been around little girls as a dancing teacher. When the ultrasound revealed I was having my first son, I was disappointed he was not a girl, but happy to be having a child. I figured it was okay, because I’d eventually have a girl.
When I had my ultrasound for my second child and discovered he too was a boy, I was upset for days. I got over it before the birth – however I was still secretly hoping that they had got it all wrong, until I physically saw his boy bits after he was born.
For my third ultrasound, I was told I was having another boy and was upset for about a day. Surprisingly, I wasn’t upset at the birth.
My husband and I started doing the timing method to conceive a girl for over a year and a half, and I gave up. He doesn’t understand my desire for a girl, and is increasingly annoyed at timing when we have sex. I can’t help it. I still desperately want a girl. I’ve 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’s illegal in South Australia, and would cost us $30,000 (and travel to New South Wales or Queensland) because we’re a fertile couple! Not only that, but hubby thinks it’s unnatural and isn’t very willing to do it. I don’t know what to do. Nobody understands me and everyone just tells me 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 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 wouldn’t 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.”