How to Deal With Gender Disappointment

Your heart was set on having a girl (or a boy), but genetics decided otherwise. It's perfectly normal to feel disappointed about your baby's biological sex. Here's how to work through the confusing feelings.

Pregnant woman looking at ultrasound
Photo: Phil Jones/Shutterstock

Right around your 20-week pregnancy appointment, people will inevitably ask, "Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" You say you simply want a healthy baby, even though you're secretly wishing for a particular sex. Then the ultrasound reveals the results, and you pretend to be thrilled—even though you're heartbroken.

You probably know that your big "gender reveal" moment tells you very little about the person your child will become. A baby's sex isn't necessarily the same as their gender; sex refers to biological appearance at birth, while gender refers to how someone personally identifies. Gender exists as a spectrum, and someone's gender identity can change throughout their life. And even if a person is cisgender (meaning their gender identity correlates with their biological sex), it doesn't tell you anything about their personality.

Still, you may feel disappointment if your pregnancy doesn't go exactly as you wished—and that's a normal and understandable reaction. Experts advise embracing your mixed feelings in order to work through them. Here are some tips for dealing with gender disappointment and getting excited about your future child.

Accept Your Negative Emotions

The first step toward moving forward is recognizing your gender disappointment. It's always best to be honest with yourself, says Stephan Quentzel, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in pregnancy and childbirth issues at Mount Sinai 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 no matter what," he says. But it's normal if you're not immediately thrilled.

Additionally, don't feel ashamed if your sadness shows to other people. "Many women make sure they dry their eyes, fix their makeup, and plant a smile on their face before they leave the ultrasound room," says psychiatric nurse Joyce Venis, author of Postpartum Depression Demystified. But if you don't eventually let your emotions show, it'll be harder to keep your negative thoughts under wraps.

"Feelings aren't good or bad or right or wrong—they're just feelings," says Venis. So acknowledge them out loud to yourself and to your partner, and let them do the same. If you're unable to discuss this with your partner, consult a therapist or confide in a nonjudgmental friend instead.

Find a Reason for the Gender Disappointment

Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Are you upset because you grew up with brothers and pictured living-room wrestling matches and games of flag football with a son? Did you imagine going shopping and doing crafts with your little girl? Keep in mind that the daughter you're having might be a rough-and-tumble gal who's a standout on the field—or perhaps you'll give birth to a creative, art-loving boy who's disinterested in sports. What's more, even if your baby-to-be has your preferred sex, they might not have a personality that conforms to gender norms.

Perhaps your letdown stems from doubts about being a first-time parent. "A lot of it is fear—stuff like, 'I don't know how to play baseball, so how can I teach my son?'" says Venis. "You don't have to know, and you don't have to like playing with Barbie dolls to raise a girl. You will learn what you need to as you go along."

Cultural expectations and societal pressure might also come into play with your gender disappointment. Some cultures may place a higher value on one sex over another. Friends and family may also put pressure on parents to want a child of a certain sex.

Trust Your Ability to Love

Realize that any discontented, guilty feelings you have won't last forever. During pregnancy, all you know about your baby is their sex. Once your little bundle arrives, you'll have the whole package—which includes a personality and quirky traits. "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 hopelessly in love with your baby.

If you're really worried, make plans with people who have kids of the same biological sex as your baby, so you can explore the experience that's ahead of you, suggests Dr. Quentzel. For example, if you're having a boy, make an effort to spend some one-on-one time with a friend and their son. And ask your friend plenty of questions about how raising their son has been different from raising their daughter.

Find a Support System

If you're really struggling to accept the sex of your baby, don't keep your disappointment locked inside. It's important to find someone with whom you can share your honest feelings—someone who will listen without judgment to help you work through your emotions. This may be your partner, a close friend, your own parent, or a therapist. Also consider connecting with a support group, either online or in person. Your parenting journey will include many more uncomfortable and unfamiliar experiences, so start building your support system early.

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