The Boy-Girl Blues: Dealing with Gender Disappointment

You may be secretly sad after finding out your baby's sex. But the feeling is more common than you might think.
woman holding an ultrasound picture of the baby


Around your 20-week appointment, people keep asking: "Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" You tell them that you simply want a healthy baby, even though you're secretly wishing for a particular sex. When the ultrasound tech reveals the results you pretend to be thrilled, even though you're heartbroken. It's a feeling that Katherine Asbery, author of Altered Dreams: Living With Gender Disappointment, knows well. She had hoped that her second-born child would be a girl but instead she had another boy. Before she got pregnant for the third and final time, she tried tactics that she found on the Internet to help her conceive a girl. She ate yogurt to try to change her pH balance, and she made her husband take hot baths to alter his sperm. When she discovered that she'd be birthing another boy, she "cried and cried and cried," she says. "Then I felt guilty." Asbery isn't alone. Many women have sobbed during their big ultrasound, but there are ways to deal with the disappointment -- and get excited about the sex of the child you're having.

Accept Any Emotions

The first step toward moving forward is to simply recognize your disappointment and be honest with yourself, says Stephan Quentzel, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in pregnancy and childbirth issues at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City. "It can sound ugly to say, 'I wanted a boy and not a girl,' because you're expected to love the child you're having no matter what," he says. But if you're not immediately thrilled, that's okay; soon enough you will be.

Moreover, you shouldn't feel ashamed if you're upset and it shows. "Many women make sure they dry their eyes, fix their makeup, and plant a smile on their face before they leave the ultrasound room," notes psychiatric nurse Joyce Venis, author of Postpartum Depression Demystified. But if you don't eventually let your feelings show, it'll be a lot harder to keep your negative thoughts under wraps. "Feelings aren't good or bad or right or wrong -- they're just feelings," Venis says. So acknowledge them out loud to yourself and to your partner, and let him do the same if he's disappointed also. Unable to discuss your feelings with your husband? Consult a therapist or confide in a nonjudgmental friend instead.

Boy or Girl: How Genetics Determine Your Baby's Gender
Boy or Girl: How Genetics Determine Your Baby's Gender

More Tips to Deal with the Disappointment

Work Through Your Concerns

Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Are you upset because you grew up with brothers and always pictured living-room wrestling matches and games of flag football with a son? Did you imagine spending weekends shopping and doing craft projects with your daughter? Keep in mind that the daughter you're having might be a rough-and-tumble girl who's a standout on the field -- or perhaps you'll give birth to a creative, art-loving boy who's completely disinterested in sports. What's more, even if you had gotten the gender of your choice, your kid might not have grown up to have the interests or personality that you expected based on his or her sex.

Perhaps your negative feelings stem from doubts that you'll know how to be a good parent to the child you're having. "A lot of it is fear -- stuff like, 'I don't know how to play baseball, so how can I teach my son?'" Venis says. "You don't have to know, and you don't have to like playing Barbie to raise a girl. You will learn what you need to as you go along." If you're really worried, it may help to spend some time with friends or relatives who have children of that sex, so you can explore the experience that's ahead of you, Dr. Quentzel suggests. For example, if you're going to have a boy, make an extra effort to have some one-on-one time with your nephew or a friend's son. And be sure to ask your sister plenty of questions about how raising her son has been different from raising her daughter. Unsure how to handle the daughter you're about to have? Invite your niece to spend the weekend at your place.

Trust Your Ability to Love

Finally, realize that any discontented, guilty feelings you might have now won't last forever. During pregnancy, all you really know about your baby is his or her sex. Once your little bundle arrives, you'll have the whole package -- which includes a personality, quirky traits, and a precious face. "Gender disappointment typically only lasts until your child's birth day, when you finally meet each other," says Diane Ross Glazer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, in Tarzana, California. In fact, oxytocin, the powerful hormone that your brain releases during labor, helps you fall in love with your baby. This was certainly true for Asbery. "My children are a blessing to me," she says. "Each of my boys is different, and each of them brings something fantastic to our family."

Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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