How to deal with gender disappointment

Gender disappointment - COPE

Feeling disappointed about the sex of your baby is common. Gender disappointment is not something to feel ashamed about.

Reasons for feeling disappointed about the sex of your baby

You may feel disappointed about the sex of your baby for various reasons. These may include internally longing to have a boy or a girl, having several other children already of the same sex. Gender disappointment can also be linked to feeling concerned that you won’t be able to personally relate to a particular sex. Or, it may stem from experiencing pressure from family to fulfil their wishes for either a boy or a girl.

I was devastated when I found out I was having another boy.  I had always desperately wanted to have a baby girl as I had two boys already.  We hoped so much for a girl this time round.  On finding out we were having a boy, I cried and cried.

It is common to experience feelings of fear at the time of finding out the sex of your baby. Gender disappointment can also incorporate feelings of grief or sadness if your hopes are not fulfilled on discovering the sex of your baby.

After days of crying, and hoping, desperately hoping, that maybe they had made a mistake… I soon began to accept we were having another boy.

Even when we first got the test results back, we were gutted.

I went home and went to bed and cried for hours.  You feel horrible because you want to be excited, but part of you is SO disappointed.

How to manage feelings of gender disappointment

It is important to acknowledge your feelings, reflect upon what the causes of this disappointment may be for you and allow yourself to be experience these natural feelings of grief and disappointment.  Try not to make things worse by being harsh on yourself for feeling the way you do.

Experiencing gender disappointment does not mean that you will not love, or be able to love your baby. In fact, these feelings often disappear after the baby is born as your mothering instincts kick in.

Your experience with your baby once they are born also can lead parents to come to the realisation that their perceptions of what it would be like having a baby of this sex may not reflect reality. Other times,  parents simply come to accept the sex of their baby.

Remember: Acceptance often involves experiencing grief and disappointment. This is natural and understandable – even if not commonly spoken about.

Gender disappointment and sexual abuse

Women who experienced abuse as a child sometimes feel anxiety upon learning that they are having a boy. This can be particularly so if the abuser was a male. Often these feelings only last during pregnancy. Once the baby is born and the mother realises the innocence and fragility of a newborn baby, these feelings can subside.

Alternatively an expectant mother may equally feel anxious about having a girl. This fear may be linked to feelings of not being able to protect them from a potential abuser. These feelings may emerge not so much in pregnancy (when the fetus is protected in the womb), but rather when the child is born and/or in infancy. Again the innocence and fragility of a new baby can compound these feelings of the child’s need for protection. In turn, this can cause anxiety about the mother’s ability to provide this.

It is for this reason women are commonly asked about factors known to increase their risk of developing mental health issues.  Similarly, they are also commonly assessed if they are currently experiencing common symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. This usually includes asking about their previous experiences of abuse. This way, such issues can be identified and help sought to resolve them.

Getting help and support

Acceptance of your baby’s sex and overcoming the feelings of grief and disappointment usually pass with time and understanding. Talking with someone you trust and feel will not be judgmental can also help you to gain support and understanding.

If, however, you are finding that you are not coping with these feelings, and they are impacting on your feelings towards the baby or your outlook, talking to a health professional can certainly help. Find out how to: