When you ask expecting parents if they are hoping for a boy or a girl, you always get the same answer: “As long as he or she is healthy, it doesn’t matter to me.” But among parents, this answer doesn’t fly. We all know that every parent secretly hopes for one or the other.
The healthy baby line is what you tell your acquaintances at your baby shower. Real gender disappointment is something you save for those in your inner circle: your husband, your mom, your sister and your best friend.
For new parents, why is gender disappointment shrouded in shame? For starters, many mothers believe that having a preference for one sex or another means that they are disrespecting the child they have. A better word to describe the gender disappointment aftermath would be “guilt.”
Adriel Booker, mother, speaker, mentor and leadership coach, was candid about her struggle with gender disappointment during pregnancy. Like many moms who hope for a girl because of that coveted mother-daughter bond (myself included), Booker automatically assumed she was having a girl. She and her husband had a girl’s name all picked out.
When the sonographer told Booker and her husband that she was carrying a boy, her sadness at the news surprised her. “It wasn’t just that the news caught us by surprise; the deeper issue was that I was ashamed at my sadness… Experiencing gender disappointment made me feel like a failure as a mother,” she explained.
On the Badass Breastfeeder blog, Abby Theuring, M.S.W., describes the same disappointment over her secret preference to have a girl. Theuring, too, was familiar with guilt, but she took a more accepting approach to her disappointment, “I told myself that it was OK to be disappointed and not to feel guilty about having these feelings. I am a firm believer that any and all true feelings are valid and important to acknowledge to be able to work through them.”
Katherine Asbery, M.A., even wrote a book on this hot-button topic: Altered Dreams…: Living with Gender Disappointment. According to Asbery, the key to coping with guilt and shame is to make gender disappointment less taboo. In reference to Altered Dreams, she said, “Gender disappointment has psychological impact on all facets of one’s life. As I share my journey, and those of others, from despair to acceptance after the birth of my third son, you will realize that you are not alone in this way of thinking or feeling.”
As the mother of two toddler boys, my most prevalent gender disappointment came when we found out the sex of my second child. I blame most of this pressure on the white-picket-fence version of the typical American family: a dad, a mom, a boy and a girl. We already had one son, so I foolishly assumed that a baby girl would be in the cards for us next.
When we found out that our family was complete with two little boys (since we were done having kids), I felt the disappointment, guilt and shame, too. But as any mother can tell you, and what I hope my youngest son understands if he reads this post in the future, is that the disappointment is natural and fleeting. As you get to know your child, boy or girl, he or she is perfect — you wouldn’t want it any other way.
Expecting moms, it’s OK to be real when your bubble is burst. The less we lie to ourselves and those around us as parents, the easier it will be to deal with uncomfortable topics like this.