I was in the corner of my closet hiding behind my wedding dress and every formal I’ve ever owned. It was dark, stuffy, and felt like a good place to hide. I’d just found out I was having a boy, and I was devastated in ways I didn’t think possible and was trying to hide what I was feeling from the world around me.
What kind of mother isn’t completely enamored with her baby-to-be? Did this make me a monster? I should have been happy. After all, I was having a healthy baby. That’s like winning the lottery. Instead, I felt alone, abnormal, and ashamed about my disappointment over having a boy. One of the worst parts was that I felt like I had no one to turn to who wouldn’t judge me.
That’s one of the hardest things about gender disappointment: You can’t talk about it.
Women get a huge pass and sympathetic ear when it comes to pregnancy complaints. Seriously, there are a lot of woes that come with housing another human inside your body for nine months. But gender disappointment is one complaint that can’t be talked about, and that’s a real shame because more women struggle with it than let on, and more often than not, they need someone who’s been there. Someone who can say, “I felt that too. Nope. Doesn’t make you a bad mom.”
So here is my confession, and I’ll say it loud for those in the back: I had gender disappointment. I had it bad and here is what I wish someone would have told me.
First, you’re not alone. You might feel alone, and that feeling might be exacerbated by being told to suck it up and just be thankful. Now, some might find this surprising, but you can be thankful while also being disappointed. It’s part of being human and having complex emotions. But back to not being alone. A national news source reported that 1 in 5 mothers experience gender disappointment.
I searched the crevices of the internet for the original study or poll and couldn’t find it, so I conducted my own semi-scientific research. Over 600 hundred women responded, and a third of them reported feeling gender disappointment during pregnancy. This ranged from slight disappointment when they found out the news to core-shaking emotions. Most were women who wanted daughters and only had sons, but there were also women who desperately wanted baby boys.
No matter what they wanted, no matter the disappointment, there was another mother who’d been through a similar situation.
No one has to be alone.
What you’re feeling, someone else has probably felt before. And I mean that in a validating, loving way. You’re not alone.
Second, gender disappointment can happen to anyone, and it’s not a reflection of the mom you’ll become. I had people reach out and make a number of condescending statements:
“Wow! You should just be thankful. I would never feel that way. I had a miscarriage and would just be thankful for any baby.”
“I had infertility, and I just wanted a baby. But I guess when people get pregnant easily . . .”
“Some of us are just happy to have children . . . I don’t have a lot of sympathy. That may be mean to say, but it’s just the way I feel.”
Well, let me tell you, my friend, loss and infertility are not insurance against gender disappointment. My husband and I spent plenty of time and money on our pregnancies. We had three miscarriages and a micro-preemie who died in our arms, yet I still experienced gender disappointment. Gender disappointment can happen in one pregnancy and not another. It can happen to the first-time mom or the mom who already has her arms full and never felt it before. It can happen to a mom who actively tries to avoid guessing and wondering about what the baby will be.
Gender disappointment just happens, and it happens because it’s a normal part of life and pregnancy.
Third, this is the most important and most misunderstood—it’s not about the baby.
It’s not. I promise. It’s about you. You see, pregnancy is a waiting period. A daydream period where you fantasize about that baby and all the things you’ll do together. Without even realizing it, those daydreams are tinged pink or blue. Tea parties and hairbows, dolls and dance lessons. Then you find out you’re having a boy and all those dreams have to adjust. Or maybe it’s the other way around and you wanted that close, proverbial mother-son bond and now you’re having a girl and you have to confront your lack of mother-daughter relationship or relive the hard parts of your own girlhood. The stories and reasons for gender disappointment are as varied as the people who experience it. But very rarely does it have to do with the actual baby.
When I got to the root of my disappointment, it had nothing to do with my son or thankfulness for the pregnancy, but it had everything to do with me. I was still grieving the loss of my daughter. Having another girl would have felt like a link to her. It would have been a second opportunity to experience all that comes with baby girls after my first opportunity was taken from me.
When people found out my little bump was holding a boy, they usually had negative comments about boys being loud, messy, noisy, and peeing everywhere and to “get ready because your life will never be calm again.” (Sentiments I never heard when I announced my daughter, and they just added to my disappointment.)
You might have strong ideas of what it means to have a daughter or a son, but those are figments of imagination or stereotypes.
I’m sure my daughter wouldn’t have fit the ideal any more than my son fits the ideal.
It’s easy to forget that a yet-to-be-born baby is their own unique person who will have their own unique experiences that shape them. Not all girls like unicorns and rainbows, nor do boys eschew those. (My son loves rainbows and has a Halloween unicorn that is a common companion.)
When you get down to it, the disappointment has very little to do with the baby, and everything to do with something unique in your past that you might not be able to recognize yet. Take some time to sit with it, recognizing what it is might help you move past the disappointment and enjoy the pregnancy more.
Lastly, you’ll learn to love the baby you have. The disappointment disappears. It might not happen the moment you hold them, but in the coming weeks as you love and care for them and see their personality come out, you’ll forget the disappointment and just love them.
Four years later, I can’t fathom how disappointed I was because now I think my son is just perfect.
He is my everything. He loves to snuggle. He makes pretend Mac and Cheese cereal for breakfast every morning. He is loud and rambunctious, but he can be tender and quiet. He is stubborn and sweet.
He is mine, and that’s why I love him.
You might get over your gender disappointment tomorrow or it might not happen until you’ve been mothering for a few weeks. The time frame and intensity are different for everyone. But if you take away one lesson from this, I want it to be this: You’re not alone.
You’re not the first person to feel this, and you won’t be the last. The disappointment you feel is normal and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re meant to mother the baby you’re having, and you’ll do great! This is just a bump in the road that will be in your rearview mirror soon enough.