Secretly Sad: Overcoming Gender Disappointment
The first words out of my mother’s mouth when I told her I was having a boy were, “Better luck next time.”
My husband and I called her with the news from our cell phone after getting our 20-week ultrasound. I was so relieved the baby was healthy that my mother’s comment did little to damper my happiness. But by the next day a quiet yet growing sense of disappointment had crept over me.
At first, I attributed the feelings to the usual letdown that can follow an exciting event (this was the first time I had actually “seen” my baby since he was a tiny smudge on my fifth-week ultrasound). But soon, the mild sadness intensified into an overwhelming feeling of depression and loss.
Then, a few days later while shopping at IKEA, it hit me. I was in the toy department when my eyes zeroed in on a beautiful little girl sitting with her legs tucked neatly underneath her, quietly playing with a small wooden horse. Kicking up a storm beside her was her little brother, who was noisily trying to shove a square puzzle piece into a round hole.
It was at that moment that I realized everything I had been looking forward to in having a child was intricately tied to having a daughter. Dressing her in frilly clothes, braiding her hair, eventually helping her plan her wedding, and spending countless hours chatting over mimosas at fancy day spas—all of it gone in the instant it took the technician to cheerily chirp “it’s a boy.”
Also, the prospect of having a girl eased my fears of motherhood. I truly believed that our shared chromosomal makeup would guarantee me a magical and effortless connection to my child. But with a boy, I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what to do or expect. I had little experience, and even less interest, in sports, action figures, and video games. Instead of filling me with joy, the prospect of parenting a son left me feeling like a first-time explorer without a road map.
Dealing with the Guilt
Of course I couldn’t admit this to anyone. My secret preference for a girl filled me with guilt and shame.
Unlike my sister-in-law, who had endured nearly two years of agonizing infertility treatments, I had become pregnant quickly. The weeks preceding my ultrasound were relatively free of the nausea, fatigue, edema, and stretch marks that can come with pregnancy. And most importantly, my baby was healthy.
“The big statement is: ‘As long as it is healthy,’” says Joyce A. Venis, RNC, director of nursing at Princeton Family Care Associates in Princeton, New Jersey, and president of Depression After Delivery Inc. “If you in any way, shape, or form have a preference for either sex, it is interpreted as you are not being a good person, that you are not a good mother.”
Reaction of Others
Celia, a New Jersey mother of two, remembers sharing her disappointment over having a boy with some coworkers.
“Everyone I told either didn’t react at all, or they told me how horrible it was that I wasn’t happy with whatever I got,” says Celia. “That made me feel worse.”
Similar reactions from her husband, mother, and friends compounded Celia’s feelings of isolation and despair to the point that she even considered terminating the pregnancy. Fortunately, Celia found a therapist who helped her understand the devastation she felt over having a boy.
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