Overcoming Gender Disappointment
Gender disappointment is more common than most people probably realize. That’s because it’s PC to say, “We’re just hoping for a happy, healthy baby,” so that’s what almost everyone says, whether they’re thinking it or not.
“There’s a lot of shame because we’re supposed to feel grateful and blessed,” says Shoshana Bennett, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in pre- and postpartum issues. “We’re supposed to be happy no matter what, so if we’re disappointed, we might not mention it, not even to our friends or our spouse.”
There are plenty of reasons for disappointment:
• Fear. “Some people have preconceived notions that they’d be a better parent for a boy than they would be for a girl or vice versa,” Bennett says.
• Stereotypes. You’re not a girly girl, so you envision T-ball games and mini monster trucks, not tutus and princesses.
• Convenience. Hey, maybe you have lots of girl clothes you want to pass on to a second girl. Having a boy slashes that plan.
• Cultural bias. It seems like there’s a societal expectation to have a “set”—a boy and a girl—and life just doesn’t always work out that way. In certain communities, it’s expected that a child of one gender is going to be more loving, partake in certain traditions or even care for their parents in old age.
• Personal history. If you have a strained relationship with your mother, for example, having a girl might give you anxiety that history will repeat itself with your daughter.
Whatever your reason, forgive yourself for feeling let down—it’s a completely valid emotion to have. But remember that whatever is making you feel this way is based on a fantasy of what your family should be.
“I encourage my clients to talk about their fantasies openly, so they can let go of them as quickly as possible,” Bennett says. Pick a friend or family member who you know can listen without judging and tell them about your worries to help you vent.
Remember: You haven’t even met this person yet, and you’re assuming a lot about who he or she is. Maybe she’ll be a tomboy, or maybe he’ll be a dancer. Each child is an individual, no matter the gender. “Even if you were to have a child with the gender you’d wanted, you’d be placing all kinds of expectations on what the child would be like,” says Bennett. “The truth is, you don’t know what this child’s temperament will be. They’ll have their own passions. Look forward to discovering them along with him or her.”
Bennett points out that gender disappointment tends to fade away pretty quickly after meeting a new baby. Bonding can take place instantaneously, or over the course of the first weeks or months, but we promise it will happen. “All the closeness you’ve been looking forward to will come, and happiness and joy will be fostered, no matter baby’s gender,” reassures Bennett.