When the grass looks greener...Coping with gender disappointment
“From early in our pregnancy, my heart was set on a girl. I wanted tea parties and rounds of dress up and little girls who snuck into mummy’s make-up drawer. I wanted to have once in my life where girls were the majority instead of the minority: where farts were gross, not hilarious; where a trip to the spa, not a football game, was a special treat; where someone would want to grow up to be like mummy, not like daddy.”
Although similar hopes for a particular gender may be harboured by many parents during pregnancy, it’s not every day you hear these dreams expressed out loud. In fact, this quote itself was posted anonymously by the author presumably due to some underlying shame. Surely no good parent would ever want more than just a healthy happy child? Even less common is for expectant parents to admit that they are actually disappointed by the gender of their baby if he or she doesn’t fit with their dreams. Stricken with thoughts such as “I’m so ungrateful”, “What will people think?”, and “I’m a terrible person”, most are careful to keep their feelings to themselves.
But when disappointment about the gender of your baby occurs it can be very intense and spiral into depression if unattended to. Here are four steps to coping with your disappointment.
Acknowledge your feelings. “For weeks, I never said anything about it. I told myself and everyone else that I was 100% thrilled to be having my little man. I wanted so badly to not have any nagging sense of disappointment.” Like this mother, you may feel like convincing yourself and everyone around you that you aren’t disappointed. This is a natural reaction if you have mental rules such as “If I’m disappointed then I’m a terrible person”. However, avoiding or trying to change your feelings may paradoxically have the opposite effect. Your true feelings may continue to nag you and get stronger until you pay attention to them.
Examine your feelings. “I grew up surrounded by brothers, whom I love dearly, but I always longed for a sister.” Think about what significance the gender you hoped for has for you. Although not often thought about, our childhood family’s dynamic can have a real impact on the hopes we have for our own future families. Even if you have no personal preference for a boy or girl, external pressure to produce one or the other can also cause feelings of loss, disappointment, and depression. For example, you may be highly vulnerable to your parents’ preferences for a grandchild of a particular sex.
Separate your feelings. “I don’t love my boy any less because he isn’t a girl.” It is possible to have disappointment about not having a particular gender coexist with love for the baby you will have. They are not mutually exclusive. Your disappointment about the loss of one dream doesn’t have to impact on the relationship you will have with your real child when you separate your feelings for each event. Similarly, you can be both disappointed and grateful, both disappointed and happy. Human emotions are not black and white.
Be kind to yourself. Being disappointed when you lose something meaningful doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. This is a normal human experience. It is ok to mourn the loss of your dream. Adding additional layers of guilt and shame to your already painful experience is not necessary.
If your disappointment is turning into more difficult feelings such as overwhelming anger, hopelessness and/or resentment toward your child, it is also ok to seek professional help to process your feelings.