Wellness August 2011


By Diane E. Lykes, LCSW

Five fingers and five toes – is that enough?
Dealing with gender disappointment

Parents wait with baited breath to learn the gender of their unborn baby, but sometimes the answer isn’t what they hoped for. Gender disappointment is a real and often heartbreaking issue for mothers and fathers who had their heart set on a boy or a girl. 

Our society, as well as our family and friends, also have preferences for the gender of our babies. Do you remember telling those around you the sex of your baby and getting an unexpected or even unpleasant reaction? A close friend and mother of five boys recently discovered she is pregnant with baby number six. Although she is grounded and happy to have a big family (boys or girls), you can imagine the reaction of those around her. It appears that everyone is waiting for the 20-week ultrasound results to see if they finally “get their girl”. Another friend, upon discovering I was having a second boy stated, “Now you will have an almost perfect family.”

In some cultures, the gender of the baby takes on great significance. In China, for example, the government limits the number of children parents can have and boys are preferred because they carry on the family line. Sadly, the means used for having a boy versus a girl can be extreme.

Gender disappointment is one of the many controversial parenting topics, and unfortunately, is rarely talked about. Let’s take an open and honest look at this important issue, uncovering the myths and misperceptions. For those who fall into the 20 to 30 percent of people disappointed with their babies’ gender, you’ll learn helpful ways to manage these very real emotions. 

Controversial feelings
Why do some parents have such a difficult time discussing their disappointment over their baby’s gender?

The most obvious reason is the reaction they receive from others. Joyce Venis, president of Depression After Delivery, Inc. states, “If you in any way, shape or form have a preference for either sex, it is interpreted as you are not being a good person, that you are not a good mother.” 

Most parents understand that they should be happy with news of a healthy baby and wanting anything more is looked at as being unappreciative. If you Google “gender disappointment” you will find quite a few chat rooms focused on this issue. On “Ingender.com” a woman wrote: “Imagine if I said, “well, I was really 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 mother thinks this?” Others worry that if they tell their friends and family they are disappointed people will think they will not love their child or will become a bad parent. They also worry that they will upset those who are having trouble conceiving; that it’s selfish to feel disappointment when others are trying so hard just to have a baby. 

The reality is gender disappointment is quite common and nothing to feel ashamed about. It is not the actual baby you are disappointed in, it’s about letting go of your own dreams and fantasies about raising a certain gender.

Gender cravings
We all have fantasies about what kind of parent we will be and what kind of baby we are going to have. Some have a very specific image in their mind of teaching their son how to play ball or helping their daughter get ready on her wedding day. On Babyzone.com, another new mother reported, “When I found out Joshua was a boy at the ultrasound I was disappointed; disappointed that 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?”

Those disappointed about not having a girl wrote about missing out on “pink, dolls, doing her hair, pretty dresses, ballet classes, the closeness of a mother-daughter relationship, planning her wedding, being the mother of the bride, watching my daughter become a mother.” 

There were similar longings for those who desired boys. One blogger wrote: “I have two girls and am pregnant with my third child. I have to admit that I actually got pregnant again with the hopes of finally having a boy. It is very important to my husband to carry on his family name (all his siblings had girls) and I would be thrilled with the experience of raising a son. I have heard that boys love their Mommies like no others and I am praying every day that the ultrasound tech declares ‘it’s a boy!’ Of course, I keep these thoughts private as many would judge me for them and believe me, I judge myself too.”

The point is that we have specific images of what it will be like to raise a certain gender and we have carried this around for a lifetime. Being able to accept that this is a real loss when these fantasies don’t come to pass is a natural part of the journey into parenting.

Acceptance and contentment
Moving from disappointment to acceptance of your baby’s gender is obviously of great importance. Here are some tools to help you along the way:

  1. Expectant parents should reconsider finding out the baby’s sex through an ultrasound or amniocentesis. Once you hear the sex of the baby, it can throw you off kilter for the remainder of the pregnancy. In most cases, once your child is born, you will fall in love in a heartbeat and the gender of the baby becomes a non-issue – you can’t imagine having any other baby than this baby!
  2. Remember that the feelings you are having are not “right or wrong” they are just feelings. It’s what you do with these feelings that matters most. As mentioned earlier, it’s not your baby that you are disappointed in. You are feeling the loss of a life experience that you looked forward to for many years.
  3. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings, such as your husband, a best friend or a healthcare professional like a mid-wife or therapist. Remember, a big part of this issue is how taboo it is to admit that you have gender disappointment. Talking with other parents who also experienced these emotions can go a long way toward alleviating your guilt or sadness.
  4. Use your spiritual beliefs as a guide. Accepting that this is your life’s plan, that this is what is meant to be will help you come to peace with your baby’s gender.
  5. Although it may be a distance away, someday you will have the opportunity to experience the opposite gender in your relationship with your daughter or son-in-law and with your grandchildren.

Final thoughts:
In a month, when my friend discovers the gender of her sixth child, those around her will react in a variety of ways. If it’s another boy, some will feel sorry for her and if it’s a girl some will rejoice. But knowing her the way I do, I am certain that she will settle into whatever her baby’s gender is with grace and appreciation. Because, regardless of the feelings she may have felt privately, she has learned after five children that seeing her baby’s eyes for the first time is pure bliss. 

Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation.  She can be reached at 466.3100 or lykes-synergy@nycap.rr.com


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