Photo credit: katrinaelena/iStock / 360/Getty Images
"Gender disappointment" likely renders one of two emotions in you: "been there" or "how could you?" Many women have imaginings of what their baby will be like long before they get to know her or him. Things like personality traits, likes and dislikes and, yes, even gender enter those dreams and it feels like a surprise when our baby is different than we imagined. We, of course, fall in love with our babies as they are and move beyond this, but the feeling is there and it is as real as the criticisms women get for it.
Gender disappointment is common enough that it has a name, a definition and many articles written about it. Learning what you, or your friends, are going through with gender disappointment is important, as both reactions and duration vary. Psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman, LCSW, says, "The reaction to gender disappointment runs the gamut from a strong experience of loss and denial to feelings of sadness and disappointment. These negative emotions may stay with a woman throughout the pregnancy and even well after the child's birth and beyond or they may come to a quick halt when she is presented with her perfect new baby or as she bonds with him or her and gets to know the wonderful little person he or she is."
Before the shift to acceptance settles in, many women feel shame — or are shamed — when they discuss their (very real) feelings of disappointment. About shaming, Coleman says, "Shame is never useful because it's more than feeling badly about one's thoughts and working to change them — it's about believing you are bad because you have them."
It's far better to listen to a woman as she talks about gender disappointment than to shame her for it. New motherhood is difficult to maneuver, and this is one of those arenas she may just need to go through. Shame will only hinder her as she does so. Coleman explains, "Shame can lead to counter-productive and even destructive behavior because the woman will have difficulty acknowledging her feelings, putting them in perspective and moving on from them. Over time transference of these negative feelings to the child can occur, [such as] “it's because of him or her that I feel this way.” This can lead to rejection by the mother which interferes with bonding and healthy relating and can impact the child's self-esteem and overall emotional health over time if not addressed."
You're not alone
To open the door to this discussion, and as a reminder that if you're feeling gender disappointment you're (truly) not alone, five women share their own experiences with gender disappointment.
Hayley McLean is a first-time mom to her 1-year-old son, Tyne, who blogs her experiences at Sparkles & Stretchmarks.
Photo credit: Hayley McLean
About her experience with gender disappointment, McLean says, "It has always been a running joke in my family that we simply do not carry boys. At the time I was pregnant, the last born boy in the family was 26 years old. I have 40+ first cousins, and only one of them is male. That is how unusual boys are to us. And so, I expected to give birth to yet another girl. I dreamed of what my life as a mother would be like... going to ballet lessons, buying frilly dresses and ribbons, playing with dolls and so on. When I found out at 16 weeks that I was expecting a boy, I felt sadness beyond words. I hated myself for feeling it, but I couldn't shake it.
It took a while but after some Googling I came across some Gender Disappointment forums and I instantly felt better to at least know that I wasn't the only person who'd ever felt this way and that what I was feeling had a name.
I soon started to understand that I wasn't sad about having a son — I was sad for the daughter I had expected to have who wasn't to be. Once I acknowledged that sadness, I felt a lot better. I can honestly say that since my son arrived I have never once wished he had been a girl and I no longer even feel the need to have a daughter. I would happily have a house full of sons!"
Read more^ You can read more about McLean's story on her blog.
Rachel Rainbolt, M.A., is an attachment parenting, homeschooling mommy of three wonderful boys and parenting author, educator, coach and speaker at Sage Parenting.
Photo credit: Rachel Rainbolt
About her experience with gender disappointment, Rainbolt says, "In the 10 seconds [discovering the sex of my third and final child after having two boys] I can feel the pressure from the door slamming shut. It momentarily sucks all of the oxygen out of the room and it takes a minute for me to be able to fill my lungs again. It's as if the entire fabric of the universe has shifted and my husband and I are the only ones who are aware of it. Deep breath. Just keep breathing. I love this wee wiggly one. I love this baby's soul, which is genderless, the truest essence of this baby. I just wish he had sprouted girl parts. I will never have that moment I've dreamt of, overflowing with joy for the honor of having that divine feminine energy blooming inside me. I will never be able to take my powerful, compassionate daughter by the hand and lead her through the experiences the world has for her to claim. I smile as we count his 10 toes. Oh, how I wish they were 'her' toes. But I can't wait to kiss each one. Goodbye to the daughter I inexplicably felt destined to have but never found. Hello to our newest little Baby Boy Rainbolt. You are joining your brothers in a legacy of love."
read more^ You can read more about Rainbolt's story in her book, Sage Parenting: where nature meets nurture, in which Gender Disappointment is a chapter.
Nichole Beaudry is a photographer and mother of two.
About her experience with gender disappointment, Beaudry says, "When we had our nuchal translucency test at 12 weeks pregnant, the sonographer was certain that we were having a boy. I remember feeling as though she had punched me in the stomach. I had honestly never even contemplated having a boy. I was choked up, but managed to hold it together until I was safely in the hallway with my husband, at which point I completely fell apart. I had just been told that we were having a healthy child and I was crying like a lunatic because that healthy child was a boy... Then, after a long pregnancy and many difficult months after his birth, I grew to love this little boy every bit as much as I love his sister. This didn't surprise me, as I never questioned whether or not I would love him. I had just always questioned whether he would be enough. Day by day, the love I feel for him has grown to a point where I shudder at the idea that I was ever disappointed... Katie is everything I always knew that I needed and Matthew is exactly what I always needed, without knowing that I needed it."
READ MORE^ You can read more about Beaudry's story on her blog.
Photo credit: Nichole Beaudry
Jennifer P. Williams
Jennifer P. Williams is a mom, wife and writer who's sassy, but full of grace.
Photo credit: Jennifer P. Williams
About her experience with gender disappointment, Williams says, "I always expected my first born would be a boy. I was devastated when I realized that wasn't the case. It wasn't that I didn't want a girl, but the possibility had never entered my mind. All of my expectations about my baby and being a mom were dashed with one ultrasound. Now, nine years later, I know that I would not have had it any other way. My girl was just what I needed."
read more^ You can read more about Williams' story on her blog.
Sarah Stewart Holland writes about parenting, politics and everything in between at bluegrass redhead.
About her experience with gender disappointment, Stewart Holland says, "You know that friend of a friend who was told they were having a girl during the ultrasound and then gave birth to a boy. That's me. It's a long and funny story. Well, now it's funny. At the time, it was traumatic and stressful. I was intimidated by boys and scared to death of raising one. Now, as luck would have it, I'm raising two! I found the key to dealing with gender disappointment is just that. Deal with it! Don't try to hide it or feel guilty or bury it down deep. Acknowledge your sadness and mourn the loss of the child you thought you were going to have. Also, know it gets better with time as you fall in love with the child you do have and let go of the one you thought you were going to have."
read more^ You can read more about Stewart Holland's story on her blog.