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Gender disappointment is real — and it doesn’t define you as a parent before you even have a child.
Sometime during pregnancy, it’s very common for a woman to develop some expectations about their baby’s gender. It’s normal to find yourself hoping for the child of your dreams — or perhaps having an actual dream that, like a premonition, seems to reveal the the sex of your baby. It’s easy and natural to get your heart set on the details of the child you’re carrying.
Although you know you “should” be happy with and accept any healthy baby, it simply doesn’t always work that way. And that’s okay. Gender disappointment is real. Life isn’t about “shoulds.” It’s about the reality of what is.
Perhaps you come from a large family of boys and you want nothing more than a little girl. Or perhaps you have a girl-heavy family and a son is the gift you’ve always wanted. Maybe you’re feeling pressure from the family of your husband or partner. Maybe you’re even feeling pressure from friends to “produce” a boy or girl (as if you have any say in your baby’s sex)! It’s normal to have a preference.
No matter the reason, when you feel gender disappointment, it’s a loss you need to process. And that loss can be very real.
What can women do to help proactively prevent gender disappointment?
Thanks to ultrasound technology, the predicted gender of the baby is usually accurate. However, it’s not a guarantee. One option to mitigate the risk of the results being “wrong” is waiting. Sure, it’s tempting it is to learn the sex of the child as early as possible, especially if it’s your first time being pregnant.
If you hold off just a bit, however, the accuracy of telling girl from boy increases substantially. Although an ultrasound can fairly safely detect baby’s gender earlier, its accuracy soars to nearly 100% by the 20-week check (source). Waiting until birth — thereby giving yourself time to mentally prepare for whoever will arrive — is also an option that approximately 40% of parents choose (kudos to them for patience!).
Waiting can spare you from feelings you’d rather not have if early predictions are wrong: sad, disappointed, or a host of other tricky emotions that might otherwise be avoidable. You won’t have to mourn the loss of the baby you thought you were having.
Indeed, gender disappointment can happen at any time, even after birth. However, a bit more time to prepare for the “what ifs” can be helpful.
Pregnancy is enough an emotional roller coaster as it is!
If you already know the sex of your baby and feel gender disappointment, these tips can help.
Forgo the gender reveal party.
Opt for announcing the gender of your baby at a time that feels right to you. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. (Hint: not everyone else is revealing the gender en masse, either.) It wouldn’t feel good to publicly announce something that you haven’t yet embraced emotionally.
If you’re feeling gender disappointment, the last thing you need is to add the pressure of surprising a room full of guests with the gender of the baby. If anyone else shows disappointment, it certainly won’t add to your comfort with the sex of your son or daughter.
You hope, of course, that everyone will be supportive and fully embrace your baby no matter if it’s a boy or girl. Still, parents and grandparents, in particular, can have strong feelings about the sex of the baby and might need to process some feelings of their own.
Communicate the news in a way that feels authentic to you.
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Know that you’re not a “bad” parent for feeling gender disappointment before your child is even born.
Give yourself time and space to process gender disappointment in your own way. Accept your disappointment; your journey to being a parent has taken a different path than the one you’d hoped to be on. It’s personal. You deserve time to tend to your mental health.
As long as you’re pregnant (and long thereafter), you’ll be processing everyone else’s opinions about what’s “right.” For now, let go of others’ concerns about whether you’re having a male or female baby and how they think you should feel about it. The gender, and your processing thereof, is your business alone.
If talking to others about your gender disappointment might help, find a friend or loved one who will listen non-judgmentally. Talk openly with them about your desire for a particular gender. Find someone who can remind you that your feelings about your baby’s sex don’t define your “fitness for motherhood.”
If you’d rather process alone, find ways to feel your feelings without talking yourself out of them. Give yourself grace to acknowledge your truth without judging yourself.
Trust your timing and your process. Sadness does not require forgiveness. Grieving is normal and you’re not a bad parent for having to shift your expectations.
Give yourself permission to love the baby you thought you were having.
Write a letter to the girl or boy you thought you were having; pour out your heart to them. It’s okay to tell them that they were the child you’d hoped for; to feel all the love for that boy or girl exactly as you envisioned him or her to be before you knew their sex. It’s okay to feel sad, disappointed, and anything else you feel.
What you don’t need to feel is shame for hoping things were different. This is your mental health here — and all your feelings are valid. Repeat: there is no shame in feeling your feelings. Mourn what you feel you’ve lost; what you expected to be your reality.
Love that baby.
And then, when you’re ready, prepare your heart for the gift of the child you’ll soon be holding in your arms. Believe in your infinite capacity to love and support yourself — and the child who’s going to call you Mama.
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Sarah R. Moore is the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. As a certified gentle parenting coach and trainer, she’s a regular contributor to international parenting magazines, as well as frequent guest on podcasts and parenting summits. She offers a popular series of mini-courses, webinars, and FREE expert interviews. She’s currently writing two books that will be released this year. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.