Hilary Duff — who is expecting baby number two — recently admitted she was “so nervous” her second child would be a baby boy (she’s already mama to a six-year-old son, Luca). You can probably guess what happened next (hint: The actress found herself under fire via Internet comments for having a gender preference).
Hilary was thrilled to learn her second child would be a girl, but not all of us have that experience. More recently, Khloé Kardashian admitted she had wished for a baby boy — but that upon meeting her daughter, True, she realized she couldn’t imagine anything more perfect. Again, the new mom found herself fielding criticism after admitting she had a preference.
Some pregnant women feel a deep gut instinct that their babies are one sex, only to be thrown for a complete loop when they hear that hunch was wrong. Some desperately want to experience parenting both boys and girls…but seem to conceive the same sex over and over. And some women dream of recreating the relationships they had with their own moms (or, on the flipside, experiencing that sweet mother/son bond), but are disappointed to learn that won’t be happening.
Ultimately, any baby is an absolute gift, and of course we want our babies to be healthy above all else — but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or abnormal to want something more specific and to be upset when you’re denied it. And while it may seem trivial to someone who is struggling to conceive, has experienced miscarriage, or has an unwell child, there’s no need for us to shame moms who wish for one gender over another — or moms who are disappointed when that wish doesn’t come true. If you’re going through gender disappointment now, here’s what you need to know.
It happens to the best of us
According to Dr. Vara Saripalli, a Chicago-based psychologist who specializes in pregnancy, prenatal and postpartum care, expectant parents who experience gender disappointment are not alone…though it may seem that way from time to time.
“I would say it is a pretty common experience, and it is perfectly normal to feel disappointed and sad when one has a fantasy of who their child will be and then find out something different,” Dr. Saripalli said of gender disappointment. “It is pretty common for women to feel guilty when experiencing gender disappointment, especially as there is still some stigma around feeling that way.”
You may feel judged
The expert agreed that to-be mothers who experience gender disappointment tend to feel judged — and that might be why we so often hear things like “I just want a healthy baby” when we ask pregnant women if they’re hoping for one sex over the other. “The whole I just want a healthy baby’ response is a way of heading off judgment from others,” Dr. Saripalli explained. “In so many areas, women are taught that they are not allowed to want too much. You will notice gender disappointment literature focuses mostly on women, and there isn’t the same level of judgment for men who are experiencing gender disappointment.”
But you shouldn’t feel guilty
According to Dr. Saripalli, that common ‘I’m just hoping for a healthy baby’ line may make those of us who have a gender preference feel like our priorities are off base. “It is phrased in such a falsely binary way,” she said. “As if the only answers are ‘I want a healthy baby’, or ‘I want the gender of my choice for my baby’, but not both. Both things can absolutely be true at the same time.”
The bottom line?
What it really comes down to is this: There’s nothing wrong with being a little let down when you open that gender reveal box and see blue again or feeling your heart sink a bit when you hear “it’s a girl!”. Whether your reason has to do with family balancing (you were really hoping for a son after four daughters!), something as simple as not being able to give your baby the name you chose, or another reason entirely, gender disappointment is natural. It doesn’t mean you love your baby any less, and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad mom.
The expert’s advice
Dr. Saripalli’s advice for women who are dealing with gender disappointment? “The most important thing to remember is that there is no such thing as a bad feeling, and it is okay to feel how you feel,” she said. “Sometimes disappointment stems from fear that you won’t know what you’re doing. It can be helpful to work through those concerns, do research, or talk to friends who have children of your baby’s gender.”
There’s no need for shame
So let’s stop shaming moms who are open about wanting one sex over another. Let’s understand that it doesn’t mean they’re not grateful for what they’ve been given. And let’s show ourselves some more kindness too!
Gender disappointment happens. It’s real, it’s understandable, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of — and if you’re experiencing it now, know this: You’re going to love that baby like nothing else. And you’re going to be an amazing mom.
About the expert: Vara Saripalli, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Chicago. Her areas of expertise include grief and mourning, anxiety, depression, anger management, fertility struggles, pelvic floor issues, and postpartum challenges. She enjoys working with individuals adjusting to life transitions such as becoming first-time parents, entering mid-life, retiring.