It’s one of the first questions people ask after finding out that you’re expecting: “Is it a boy or a girl?” And whether it’s too early for you to know yet or you’ve decided to wait and be surprised, the standard response is: “Oh, we don’t care—as long as the baby is happy and healthy.”
But if you’re being honest with yourself, maybe you kind of would prefer to have a girl. Or maybe it’s not so much of a desire for one gender over the other, but you’ve always imagined yourself with a son. Whatever your thoughts beforehand, gender disappointment refers to those feelings of sadness or frustration after the big reveal. And it happens more often than you think.
“Gender disappointment is quite common,” says psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee. “Particularly for those who feel like a specific gender holds certain meaning to them.”
For example, Dr. Forshee knows two women who both wanted boys and experienced gender disappointment when their baby girls were born. “For both of them, they were concerned about their daughters being the same as them when they were children—a real pain!” They imagined that having boys would be more fun and easier than having girls, based on their own experiences growing up.
And that’s just one possible explanation. Maybe you grew up with brothers and always dreamed of having a female ally at home. Or perhaps you already have a daughter whom you adore but want to experience something different with your next child.
So let’s say you’re feeling that letdown, and no matter what you do, you just can’t help but feel bummed about it. And after the initial disappointment, another feeling sinks in—guilt. I have friends struggling to conceive, I should be grateful that I can even get pregnant, you think to yourself. Or you worry that if anyone ever found out how upset you are about your baby’s gender, they might think that you won’t love your child. It’s these types of feelings that prevent people from talking about gender disappointment. But this is actually the first thing you should do.
“When we have profound disappointment about something (particularly about the gender of a baby), then you start to have shame or guilt about it and if you keep that in, it will eventually eat away at you,” explains Dr. Forshee.
Your feelings start to weigh on you and in order to relieve some of that shame, disappointment or guilt, you need to put it out there and process it. This is especially important after you’ve just given birth. “You’re already vulnerable to the hormones and the transition and you don’t want to add another thing to your plate that you have to contend with.” So talk it over with your partner, your bestie or someone else you trust.
The next thing you should do is to reframe your thoughts, says Dr. Forshee. Let’s say, for example, that you had a girl, but you really wanted a boy. Rather than focusing on all the negatives about having a girl, how can you reframe it to see the positives? (“I can buy her feminist baby books,” or “Great, now I don’t have to decide about circumcision.”)
“By changing the way you view your situation, it will help you to be more present and enjoy your little one rather than focusing on what you don’t have,” says Dr. Forshee.
But remember, it’s OK to feel disappointed. No feelings should ever be dismissed—they’re there for a reason. The key is finding a way to understand and then accept them, so you can move forward.
And here’s another comforting thought: Gender disappointment fades—especially once you actually meet your new family member.
Take it from one PureWow staffer: “My husband and I laugh about it now, but I was so convinced I wanted a girl, so much so that when my OB/GYN accidentally revealed the gender (yep, we wanted it to be a surprise), I was bummed to find out I was having a boy. I remember being like, 'But I have the girl name all picked out!' And lamenting over too-cute dresses I had no reason to buy. All those feelings disappeared in an instant when I met my son in the delivery room. I was consumed by the magnitude of the love I felt for this tiny being—and didn't give two hoots about the gender from that moment on.”