Somewhere between 16 and 20 weeks, when you have an ultrasound scan, it’s possible to find out what the sex of your baby will be (assuming your baby cooperates and gives the technician a good view).
Some women have a moment or two of regret when they discover that the sex of their baby doesn’t match what they were hoping for, but for others, it’s a much deeper and more profound disappointment.
There’s a difference between a few moments of “what if” and a more long lasting disappointment that can even lead to depression and problems bonding with baby – that’s gender disappointment.
Why do I feel like this?
There are many reasons women feel disappointment about the gender of their baby. Some might have had dreams about the kind of relationship they would have with their daughter, others might already have a child of one sex and want the second to be the opposite sex, while others might face cultural or family pressure over a particular sex.
For some women it’s all to do with their relationships with their parents. For example a difficult relationship with their mother might leave them longing for a boy rather than a girl because they imagine that their relationship with their daughter will mirror that of their mother – or a very close relationship with their mother will have them wanting to recreate that closeness with their own child.
“It’s natural to want things that are familiar,” explains clinical psychologist Ruth Ancer.
However, she firmly believes that we often have unconscious needs and that when we express a preference for one sex over the other, there’s a much deeper reason for that need. If you can understand that, you can avoid projecting your expectations (and disappointment) onto your unborn child.
The shame game
More than one mother has had a crying spree over the disappointment they feel when they find out that they’re having a baby of the opposite sex they’d hoped for – and then felt shame and guilt over those feelings.
Society expects us to love a baby no matter, but admitting your disappointment is a key step in dealing with these emotions.
“The first step toward moving forward is to simply recognise your disappointment and be honest with yourself,” says Dr Stephan Quentzel, a psychiatrist specialising in pregnancy and childbirth issues at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, commenting for Parent.com.
Another way of dealing with the disappointment is to talk about it with your partner and close friends. Just expressing your feelings can be a healthy way to process it.
Turn that frown around
In an interview on Today.com, Dr Louann Brizedine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco and the author of The Male Brain and The Female Brain, recommends a process called “active reframing”, where the mom-to-be talks about the positives of having a child of the opposite sex than she imagined.
For example, if they’re having a boy and wanted a girl, they get to avoid the dreaded teenage years. Active reframing focuses on the positives of the sex you’re expecting.
Ruth recommends that if you are very fixated on having a child of either sex, you could opt to find out the sex of the baby before the birth. “It’s more important to get used to the idea, so that if it isn’t what you were hoping, that you have had time to come to terms with it,” she advises.
“For a lot of people, that feeling does change when they see their baby and realise that the baby is healthy, but not for everybody,” says Ruth.
For some parents, those feelings might linger and there might be that slight resentment. You often hear adults say, “My father really wanted a boy,” or, “My mother really wanted a girl,” and children pick that up.
“Parents have an obligation to love and raise their children without having expectations and conditions. The most important thing is to recognise why it is so important to you, what are your expectations and what are the needs that you hope will be met in having a child of that gender?” she says.
But this is serious...
Fortunately, the hormones that flood a woman’s body after birth cause her to bond with her baby. “We see lasting gender disappointment very rarely,” comments midwife Mary-Ann Alves.
“Although a woman might have set her heart on a particular sex, when that baby arrives, that desire is often completely forgotten with the arrival and the aftermath of the birth. However, it can lead to postnatal depression if it persists and isn’t appropriately dealt with,” she cautions. If you can’t come to terms with it and it’s really upsetting you, Ruth advises seeking professional help.
“If it is very entrenched that you can only have a girl or you can only have a boy, I would really suggest that you look at getting therapy to try and understand what your fear is and what your need is,” she says.
Pregnancy and birth can be a difficult time for a mom, hormonally, emotionally as well as physically, and there’s no shame in seeking help from someone equipped to guide and assist you.
“We have expectations that this baby will meet some kind of need, and even if it does temporarily, it doesn’t long term. If we can use what we think we want as a way to deepen and further understand ourselves, it serves a good purpose,” says Ruth.
“In the end, the most important thing is realising that we can’t control [the baby’s gender] and you need to deal with it if it’s going to interfere with the way you relate to your baby or if it’s causing you abnormal distress. We can use therapy as a way to further our understanding of ourselves and that is very useful,” she says.