When you have a concrete idea of how something’s going to pan out, it can be hard to then come to terms with a very different reality.
One mum has opened up about feeling upset after finding out the sex of her second child – and it’s opened up a huge discussion around the issue, sometimes known as ‘gender disappointment’.
“I feel awful about feeling this way but I am really upset,” the parent wrote on Mumsnet’s Am I Being Unreasonable? forum.
She said she knows she’s being unreasonable, but added she doesn’t know “how to stop feeling this way” as she’s only ever wanted to have a girl – and her second pregnancy wasn’t planned.
“I know that logically I am very lucky. But I don’t feel this way,” she added.
“I also feel embarrassed because I made no secret of how happy I was to have a girl and that I didn’t want boys. So now I look a fool.”
What is gender disappointment?
First of all, it’s important to note that ‘sex disappointment’ would be a more suitable description – as it’s about the disappointment a parent might feel when they find out the sex of their baby and they’d hoped for something different.
The terminology is important because sex refers to “the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females”, while gender refers to “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men”.
This disappointment often comes hand-in-hand with feelings of guilt, according to Babycenter, especially when there’s an expectation that you should be grateful for being able to conceive a child in the first place, or for having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
While experts say it’s a common issue, there’s a stigma associated with it, so it’s not really spoken about in parenting circles.
Parents were largely supportive
In response to the post, one parent said they had felt like this for a while after the birth of their child, and added “honestly I’m glad I did because it meant so many things caught me by delightful surprise”.
“Parenting a boy is wonderful in as many ways as parenting a girl must be, it was just that I hadn’t imagined them in advance,” said the parent.
“It’s true that some people seem to think a boy is some kind of booby prize but from the moment I laid eyes on mine I wouldn’t swap him for a million girls.”
Another mum said they felt the same way when they were pregnant with their son, after already having a daughter, “but couldn’t love him more now he’s here and would go as far as to say I would choose a boy over a girl if I ever had the choice”.
Another person said: “It’s okay to feel disappointed that things aren’t the way you wanted. But it sounds like you feel quite down in general. Could it be prenatal depression? Talk to your midwife because there are things that can help.
They added: “I love having my two little boys even though they fight like cats and dogs and only ever want to play Superheroes or do wrestling. Don’t forgot that the little boy you’re carrying isn’t just any boy, he’s your baby boy. And to him you’ll be everything. Hope things get better soon.”
But others weren’t as sympathetic
There were some people who were unimpressed by the post, however, especially those who had struggled to conceive or had lost babies.
“Wow! Some people can’t even have one and you’re complaining about having a boy. Be grateful and thankful for what you have,” said one commenter. “If it makes any difference my sister and I don’t get along, never did growing up.”
Another said: “From someone who has lost 4 babies this year, you are being massively unreasonable.
“I have to remind myself of all the ways that I’m incredibly lucky even after the year I’ve had. My suggestion would be to write down all the things that you fortunate enough to have in your life and get over this ridiculous thought.”
What causes gender disappointment?
There are many reasons why a person might experience this disappointment.
According to the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) in Australia, this could range from longing to have a boy or a girl (some people grow up picturing the child they will have, so it can be a shock to discover this won’t be the case), or having other children of the same sex.
It can also be linked to worrying you won’t be able to relate to a particular sex, or can stem from pressures within the family or your culture to have a baby of a particular sex.
How to deal with these feelings
If you’re in the throes of gender disappointment, here’s what might help:
Allow yourself to experience a sense of loss of a particular expectation, suggests Dr Shara Brofman, a clinical psychologist specialising in perinatal mental health. Dr Brofman told Happiest Baby it’s normal to imagine your role as a parent and the baby you’ll be parenting, so when your dreams don’t align with reality, it’s a loss.
Speak to someone you trust about it, suggests Healthline, whether that’s your partner, a friend or even a parent support group.
Explore your feelings. Dr Brofman recommended for parents to ask themselves: what does it mean to be a parent to a girl or a boy? What experiences did you hope to have with a boy or a girl? Digging deeper can help you understand where your feelings come from and you can then use that information to learn what’s important to you as a parent, said the expert.
If you find the feelings are getting in the way of day-to-day life, it might be helpful to work through your feelings with a therapist or counsellor.