Dealing with Disappointment
"It is very validating for a woman to hear that what she actually has to do, in terms of healing, is understand that there is a loss involved," says Karen Kleiman, MSW, clinical director of the Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, and author of This Isn't What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression. "It's almost like 'my daughter has died,' the potential for my mother-daughter relationship is gone."
The day Gail, a first-time mother in Kansas City, found out she was having a boy, she broke down and cried.
"I remember saying to myself 'Oh my gosh, I don't know what I'm going to do with a boy,'" Gail recalls. "I really had a bad time with it. For weeks, I felt terribly guilty until I realized it was a natural thing to be disappointed when your dreams don't come true."
"We all have fantasies about what kind of mother we are going to be and what kind of baby we are going to have. And some people deal with fantasy better than others," says Kleiman. "Depending on your life circumstances and the support that you have, it can be a bigger deal for some people than for others."
Simply admitting your feelings to someone you trust, such as your partner, a friend, a relative, or a medical professional, can greatly reduce future complications with your baby. According to Venis, secretly harboring these feelings can manifest themselves as anger or disappointment toward the child, lack of interest in the child, or an exacerbation of postpartum depression.
"Husbands and partners should encourage [the mother] to talk about her feelings and to listen," Venis suggests. "Let her say things like 'I won't be able to play Barbies with him' or 'The clothes for boys out there are just terrible.' Don't interrupt and say things like 'But they have such nice things in the boys' department at Macy's.' It isn't the same, and this is just denying her feelings."
Even if a woman has no personal preference for a boy or girl, external pressure to produce one or the other can cause feelings of loss, disappointment, and depression.
Ali, a mother of two living in New Jersey, remembers an overwhelming sense of failure when she learned that her first child was a girl—even after she had suffered three previous miscarriages.
"My first reaction was 'I let everybody down,'" says Ali. "My husband's brothers and sisters all had girls. I knew that no one else in the family was going to have any more kids, so I felt like I better produce a grandson."
According to Venis, many new moms and dads are highly vulnerable to their parents' preferences for a grandchild of a particular sex.
"People think, 'If I have a boy then my mom will be tickled pink,'" says Venis. "Or 'My mom always wanted a granddaughter, so if I have a boy, she's going to be disappointed in me.' They personalize it, like they somehow have failed."
Compounding Gail's sadness about having a boy was her mother's obvious disappointment over the news.
"She had visions of the three of us girls going shopping together," says Gail. "She said she couldn't believe that the three of us were never going to be able to sit around and talk girl talk together."