No happy gender reveal for these moms — in fact, they’re completely depressed after learning the sex of their bay is not the sex they were hoping for.
It’s a taboo topic, but along with postpartum depression, gender disappointment, and the overwhelmingly sad feelings that follow, are real for some moms.
There are blogs dedicated to the topic where anonymous moms express their shame over not wanting their baby after learning it was a boy, or a girl, when they wanted just the opposite.
Writer Adriel Booker has opened up about the topic on her own mommy blog, saying: “We were convinced it was a girl. We wanted a girl. We even had chosen a girl’s name while we were still engaged — long before a baby was on the scene. So when the sonographer told us ‘it’s a boy’ it came as a huge surprise. But the bigger surprise was how much disappointment came with hearing those three little words. I was shocked by it in fact. I genuinely thought I’d be happy either way. But I wasn’t. I was sad.”
She goes on to describe feelings of shame over her disappointment, writing, “It wasn’t just that the news caught us by surprise; the deeper issue was that I was ashamed at my sadness … I was desperate that my baby would feel no sense of rejection over his life from us, even stemming from his time in the womb, and so the fact that I dealt with these emotions made me feel like a failure before he was even in my arms. But over the next few days the news began to sink in. I’m having a boy. I always wanted a boy. It’s just that I always imagined having a girl first.
“I had looked forward to tea parties, playing dress-up, dolls, and shopping excursions — all the things my little girl self enjoyed, and all the things I imagined my grown-up self to love all over again with a little girl in tow. (And even that is a little silly, considering not all girls like that kind of stuff. I’m learning these gender stereotypes don’t actually do our boys or girls any favors.)”
Adriel was not familiar with the term “gender disappointment,” but quickly learned a lot of moms suffer from the condition.
Katherine Asbery’s 2008 book, Altered Dreams: Living with Gender Disappointment, is about her own experience with being told she was having a boy, when all she really wanted was a girl.
“Hearing ’It’s a boy!’ should have brought me great joy, but instead, it brought me months of anger and denial as well as a lot of sadness and shame at times. I wanted to experience raising a daughter as well as my sons. What did I do so wrong that I was not allowed to parent both genders? Why was I denied this life experience? How did I suddenly become the brunt of many jokes and strange looks just because I had the privilege to be raising only sons?” she describes of the book.
Dr. Stephan Quentzel, a psychiatrist in New York, who works with Mount Sinai Beth Israel, has handled gender disappointment with patients before, and says while it’s not an actual medical diagnosis, “folks who are hoping for one sex in the pregnancy and don’t get it,” can suffer from depression due to their disappointment.
“There’a a myriad of reasons that have to with self identity, psychological traumas, with the nature of the relationship between mother and father, with gender roles in the culture, different cultures have different emphases on the gender, any number of factors that contribute to why a person [would consider one sex to be so important over another].,” he says. “It could do with family pressures, the sex of existing children.”
Dr, Quentzel says that one positive that comes from the disappointment in advance is that the parents are “almost always satisfied when that beautiful bundle of joy is in their arms.”
“It takes seconds to dissipate, for others it can linger more, but that’s a minority,” he says. “If it takes some time, it needs to be addressed more as a psychotherapy issue or a couples issue or dealing with the cultural issues to accept who you have.”
“The vast majority get over it,” he adds, “while it may hold residual small disappointments like ‘I always wanted a boy,’ but not where it’s pathological. You’re not getting rid of the kids, and it’s not going to be impactful enough in the rearing of the child. That’s OK. There could be subtle influences over years with a mildly dissatisfied parent in the messages ‘oh you always wanted a boy,” and those are relevant in the development of the child. We shouldn’t do that. But it can be worked with.”
Most people agree that when the baby is here, “bundle of joy is gender free,” he says.
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