Gender Disappointment: What it is and Why it Happens

“A healthy baby” — that's of course what you're supposed to hope for. People always ask “do you want a boy or a girl?” when you're pregnant… and the right answer is supposed to be “oh, I just want a healthy baby.”

Of course, if you have a few of one gender, people start getting pushy and saying “don't you want a boy” (if you have a pack of girls) or “don't you hope this one's a girl?” (if you have a passel of boys).

This is something I've wanted to write about for a long time, but I've hesitated because the subject seems to be so taboo. If you start talking baby gender, people automatically seem to assign you to outdated cultures of first-born-son worship! Or, they imply that you should be grateful for what you get.

Gender Disappointment is Real

I'm against sugar-coating things, though, so I'm going to set the record straight. Gender disappointment really happens. In fact, it's really normal.

Here's something else important to know: you can fully and totally love your baby and still experience gender disappointment.

Gender disappointment is not something tied to the child you get. It's tied to the dream you had for a child you did not get. The dream of experiencing a son or daughter, or of giving an older child a brother or sister.

There are many, many varied issues that can cause depression (temporary or persistent, mild or deep) during pregnancy and the vulnerable postpartum period. Mothers battle with guilt over all of these things, but for the most part they're all normal. Babies are resilient, and can overcome emotional issues that mothers have. Mothers can overcome them, too, but compassion and support go a long way in determining how quickly that can happen.

Condemnation Does Not Help

Shaming a mother or making her feel guilt because she expressed a desire to have a baby of the opposite gender does not help her.

Simple affirmation of a mother's feelings (or of your own) is the best policy when struggling with gender disappointment.

It is very rare for a person to rise above and overcome challenges when they meet heavy-handed condemnation at all points. It's much better to calmly accept what a mom needs to help get through the situation.

Why Do I Feel This Way?

As I said, gender disappointment is normal and many families experience it.

It's most common to feel gender disappointment when you have a child or children of one gender and hope to have the experience of parenting the other gender. Though some people feel fine to get daughter after daughter or son after son, many also long to experience the other gender.

Some women may have had an especially close relationship with their mother or their sisters, and that leads them to want a daughter so they can share the same joyful relationship with her.

Sometimes a woman has experienced abuse (especially sexual abuse) from a man, and this leaves a deep fear within her. These women often feel fearful of having sons and desire a daughter.

Conversely, some women had a trouble-filled or abusive relationship with their own mother (or occasionally poor relationships with sisters). These moms feel fearful of having a daughter because they don't feel they know what a good mother-daughter relationship is like.

A woman who was a “tomboy” during her own childhood may feel nervous about having a girl and think she'll identify better with a son.

Sometimes families want a son to carry on the family name. Some want a son first and a daughter second. Many families want one of each gender.

There are so many other reasons that women desire one gender over another, and why a mom might feel disappointment when she discovers she's going to have a baby of the opposite gender.

Hopefully this has provided a nice overview of why gender disappointment happens, and why it's not a horrible thing. It's actually pretty normal!

I'll give suggestions for coping with gender disappointment in the second part of the series!

Photo by Clownhouse III

About the author 

Kristen

Kristen is childbirth educator, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! She has spent years helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Find her on her website NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com and helping families through her online childbirth class MamaBabyBirthing.com

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