Splashed all over social media we see “gender reveals”, in the form of pink or blue sprinkle-filled cakes, confetti-filled balloons, coloured smoke bombs, and even pink or blue paint-ball games. An amazing, exciting moment for some, but for others it’s a moment that can be consumed by feelings of shame when disappointment regarding the baby’s gender surfaces.
The feelings that can ensue go beyond mere “disappointment”, or a twinge of sadness at the discovery of carrying a particular gender. For some, anger, grief, resentment or shame develop. This can manifest through disconnect with the pregnancy and baby, or avoidance of thinking about or planning for baby’s arrival. The ‘taboo’ nature of the subject can lead to parents seeking to hide their thoughts and emotions, leading to isolation and loneliness. For some parents there may be concern that they won’t be able to care for or love their baby. Pressure to feel a certain way may lead to feelings of failure or incompetence as a parent.
WHY do we feel this way?
As long as the baby is healthy, that’s all that should matter, right?
That simply is not the case.
There are many reasons why we invest ourselves into wanting certain things, and this is no different for the gender of a child. Personal preference… maybe you’ve always imagined yourself to have a daughter. You may have fantasised over what your family would look like one day. Existing family genders… having children of the same gender already while reaching the number of children you wish to have. Cultural or familial factors… Perhaps your culture or wider family places a greater value on a particular gender. Competence as a parent… maybe you feel you’d better relate to one gender over another therefore feel more competent or confident as a parent. Previous loss… wanting either the same gender as a baby that was lost, or a different gender as a clearer separation. Childhood trauma for a parent may also lead to preference of one gender over another.
The reasons that a parent has a preference for one gender over the other are individual and valid.
How to move through gender disappointment
Sit with your emotions, don’t deny them. Work to identify your emotions… grief? Disappointment? Anger? Fear? Bring to these to your awareness. Validate what you’re feeling. Grieve your losses. Identify your fears. Give yourself permission to feel emotions.
Try saying it or expressing it in a way you feel safe to do so. If you have someone who can listen without judgment, verbalise your feelings. Journaling, art, and letter writing can also be effective ways of working through emotion.
Seek out support from other pregnant women. You’d be surprised at how common gender disappointment is. Online social media groups and mothers groups are a great way to source support.
It can be useful to speak to a perinatal counsellor who can help you process your experience, alleviate difficult emotions, and move toward acceptance, particularly if one parent feels this disappointment and the other appears dismissive or critical. Within therapy a counsellor may also work with you in regard to connected issues such as resulting isolation. Gender disappointment has been shown to escalate to depression, so don’t feel silly or embarrassed seeking help.
Gender disappointment is real and needs to be acknowledged and normalised. I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
My name is Fiona Rogerson and I am an ACA accredited perinatal Perth counsellor and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Practitioner. I work with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding conception, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and identity. I am also available to provide professional development training and workshops to various organisations. I am based south of the river in Perth. To work with me, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0402 017 425 or message via my contact page.