Tips and strategies for dealing with gender disappointment

If a tearful Google search has led you here, please know this: You. Are. Not. A. Terrible. Person.

It’s okay to be shocked or even upset if you hoped for a baby boy but are cooking up a little girl, OR wanted a baby girl in your life, only to spy a tiny penis on the ultrasound screen. What you’re feeling is called ‘gender disappointment’. 

You might be surprised or embarrassed by it, but it’s actually totally above board. This article is not intended to make you feel guilty about it, but to guide you in finding how to overcome gender disappointment.

First, let me just say this:

The word ‘gender’ is problematic in itself. It’s really a word that refers to the socially constructed roles assigned to a person’s biological sex. But I’m going to keep referring to ‘gender disappointment’ in this article, because I think a lot of the thoughts and feelings that arise around a baby’s sex probably relate to these constructions, rather than the actual anatomical features. 

What is ‘gender disappointment’?

There isn’t a tonne of research available on gender disappointment, probably because parents don’t speak out about it a lot. And I get why that is. Gender disappointment could be seen as ‘ungrateful’ or ‘selfish’. “At least your baby is healthy”, “At least you’re pregnant at all” – and all that.

But, mama, there are legit reasons you may be dealing with gender disappointment.

  • Family fantasies – You might have dreamed about the relationship you’d have with your child, how you’d raise them, and what sort of activities you’d do together. Perhaps you had names and outfits picked out already. Or maybe you just convinced yourself that you were pregnant with a boy or girl (cue gender prediction myths), and are genuinely shocked when the opposite is confirmed. In some cases, mums might be desperate to ‘balance out’ the sexes in their family, only to produce boy after boy after boy…

  • Cultural or societal factors – Culture and society has a long and troubled history with gender. Ugh, the patriarchy. You may feel sad that the sex of your baby could reduce their opportunities in life, or disappoint your family. As one example, some families relish the fact that baby boys can ‘carry on the family name’.

  • Personal fears – You might be concerned about your competence in parenting a child of a certain sex (i.e. not knowing what to do with a girl if you’re not very ‘girly’ yourself). Or your fear could be related to unresolved trauma. Women who experienced childhood abuse by a man, for example, might ‘fear’ a baby boy. Or worry that their son will grow up to be a jerk towards women. (Spoiler: We can raise good ones!)

  • Previous pregnancy loss – If you’ve experienced the loss of a baby, gender disappointment could arise whether you get pregnant with another of the same sex, or the opposite sex.

This sh*t can hit hard, so here are some tips on how to cope with gender disappointment.

Tips for coping with gender disappointment

Let yourself feel the feels

Don’t beat yourself up. Have a good cry if you need to. It’s okay to grieve for the child you imagined.

Identify the root cause of your gender disappointment

Explore what’s upsetting you about your baby’s sex.

  • Is your vision of how your family would look not panning out?
  • Do you not align with traditional gender stereotypes yourself? 
  • Are you used to having more males or females around you, like if you grew up with only brothers or only sisters? 
  • Are you wanting to recreate your childhood experience?

Whatever the reason, it’s okay. Processing all this can take some time.

Get started on baby prep

Some mums find that preparing for this baby and starting to visualise life with them can help you move past gender disappointment. Some places to start:

  • Buy some cute baby outfits. (Tiny shoes, eee!)
  • Brainstorm baby girl names or baby boy names.
  • Talk to your baby, and start to imagine what they might be like as a person. 

Consider what ‘gender’ actually means in today’s world

Boys can wear pink. Girls can play with trucks. Boys can be quiet and sensitive. Girls can grow up to be powerful CEOs.

Times are changin’ – just saying! 

Get some gender disappointment counselling

Pregnancy counselling is incredibly useful in more ways than one. So if you’re struggling with gender disappointment, consider hashing it out with a counsellor. 

How long does gender disappointment last?

Does gender disappointment go away at all? Some mums say yes: the shock and sadness may fade away after a few days or weeks. 

Others report that the disappointment never fully goes away. They experience lingering grief for this idealised child that lived in their mind. But even if that does happen to you, it doesn’t mean you won’t love your child and be an ah-mazing mum. You’re gonna be great, even if this kid isn’t what you were expecting. 

How to avoid gender disappointment humiliation

We don’t think you need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about gender disappointment. But if you’ve got your sights set on a boy or girl and are worried you’ll turn into a mortifying mess of ugly crying in front of your friends and family (awks), here are two tips.

Consider the best time for you to find out

Seriously. Think about this. Would it potentially be easier for you to process gender disappointment before birth so you’ve come to terms with it by D-Day? Or would you be more likely to avoid gender disappointment AT birth by leaving your baby’s sex a surprise? After the effort of giving birth, perhaps you’ll be too tired and relieved to care what sex your child is!

Case in point: Check out what these mamas felt when they met their babies for the first time.

DO NOT have a gender reveal party

Don’t put yourself through the pressure of ‘keeping it together’ in front of people. Just don’t. 

The takeaway

You might feel distraught right now – only compounded by guilt and shame for feeling that way – but you’re not alone! Up to 1 in 5 mums experience gender disappointment (and many don’t admit it!). 

Remember, you never really know what sort of person you’re making no matter what their sex is! This is all an exciting, slightly terrifying adventure. And we’re honoured to be with you on it.

Read next: Mumli’s official newborn baby checklist

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