Last Updated on 2 November 2023 by Rebecca
Around your 20-week scan, friends and relatives will ask whether you’re having a girl or a boy and which one you’d prefer. Even though genetics has already decided for you and you say all you want is a healthy baby, deep down – whether you want to admit it or not – you might have a preference for one sex over the other.
Upon finding out the sex of your baby, what you were expecting turns out to be the opposite, what’s commonly known as gender disappointment – and while you should be happy – you can’t help feeling heartbroken at the news despite putting on a brave face. According to research, little is known about the experiences of gender disappointment among parents in Western society as there isn’t a particular bias toward one sex over another compared to parts of Africa and Asia.
Often considered a taboo subject, gender disappointment can lead to anxiety, depression, and postpartum sadness. In this blog, I list how you can deal with it and those initial feelings won’t last forever.
What is Gender Disappointment?
Gender disappointment is normal and is a feeling of sadness that can last days, weeks, months or sometimes years, which leads to extreme gender disappointment. This is when your emotions run deeper than what you see in others.
When we get asked the innocent question “are you hoping for a boy or girl?” your automatic reply may be that you want a healthy baby. When we’ve had time to think about it a bit more, that innocent question can sometimes lead us to question whether we’d prefer one sex over another.
Feeling this way can also be followed by bouts of guilt and shame or any other emotion, particularly if those around you express that you should be happy to have a healthy baby. That, however, doesn’t make your feelings any less valid.
For others, gender disappointment can hit harder in pregnancy after a loss, which is what I’ve been experiencing during my third pregnancy with my rainbow baby following the loss of my second born last July. But rather than avoiding the feelings you’re experiencing, it’s best to embrace what you’re feeling to work through them.
5 Ways to Deal With Gender Disappointment
1. Understand Why You’re Experiencing Gender Disappointment
As with my previous two pregnancies, I haven’t found out what I’m having with my third. The surprise at the end is worth it, but at the same time, there have been moments when I’ve wanted to find out the sex with this pregnancy. With the loss of our secondborn, Luna, last July I’m still conflicted as to whether I would be happy with a girl or a boy. If it’s a girl, would I feel like the baby would be a replacement for what I lost, even though nothing could replace Luna? But if it’s a boy, would that help me heal a bit more and keep the two separate?
2. Accept Your Gender Disappointment Feeling
The first step to acknowledging what you’re feeling is to accept your gender disappointment. Whether you’ve found out the sex of your baby during pregnancy or following the birth and you’re back home recovering, be honest with how you’re feeling. Don’t be ashamed to cover up your emotions because society deems we should.
If you can, talk to someone you trust – a partner, parent, or a close friend who won’t judge – to express what you’re feeling. Talking about it will help in the long term rather than bottling everything up. And it will help you come to terms with things quicker, meaning you can focus on the baby you have and not the one you thought you were going to have.
3. Trust That You Will Love Your Baby
For whatever reason you’re experiencing gender disappointment, know that the feeling won’t last forever. It might not feel like it now, particularly if you’ve yet to give birth, but once you meet your baby those feel-good hormones, known as oxytocin, will kick in helping you to have a love for your baby like no other. If you’re still worried, talk to a therapist to work through your feelings (this is something I’ve been doing and have found to help me process my thoughts) or find out from a friend how to raise a baby boy or girl, if you have experience with raising the other.
4. Shift Your Thought Patterns Following Gender Disappointment
Once you’ve come to terms with the way you feel, it’s time to shift your thought patterns around your baby’s sex. Maybe you thought you’d bring them to ballet or watch them playing football or maybe you imagined going to the spa with them or going on camping trips. Regardless of the baby’s sex, you can still do these things as there’s no limit to what boys and girls can do in today’s world. It might take a little time, but by shifting your thoughts to the baby you’ll be having and what they might look like, you can better prepare yourself when your baby arrives.
5. Grieve the Loss of Your Fantasy Baby
It’s okay and normal to want one sex of baby over another. If it wasn’t, we probably wouldn’t express these feelings. So when the ultrasound scan or when you give birth reveals the sex of your baby and it doesn’t match up with what you were expecting, take the time to grieve what you were hoping for. After all, you’ve spent 20 weeks – or if you’ve gone the full 40 weeks without finding out – thinking your baby was the opposite sex, it’s only natural to feel some form of gender disappointment.
Does Gender Disappointment Go Away?
Even though it might not seem like it, the way you’re feeling right now will pass. It’s just something that you need to process. Whether you were hoping for a girl or a boy to do particular things with, the good news is that most of these activities can be done regardless of the baby’s sex. If you’re hoping for a boy or girl to reconnect with a lost baby or to separate the two, know that (and it’s something I’m getting to grips with) you won’t replace your lost baby and it won’t somehow make you forget your baby that isn’t here.
Despite being a topic that’s not talked about enough, gender disappointment is not uncommon. Something that you may feel while you’re pregnant or during those initial moments of welcoming your baby home won’t last forever. They will eventually fade as you move towards healing yourself.
For every parent, though, how you feel and for how long will vary. Don’t rush the process. By the time your baby is two-years-old, your gender disappointment should be long forgotten. Gender disappointment can last through most of your pregnancy and even into those initial months when your baby comes Earth-side. Getting the support you need will help your mental health as you come to terms with this and focus your time on loving and raising your baby.