this isn’t what I ordered

For some, the gender debate begins shortly after conception, but does baby’s sex really matter?
By Sasha Cuff

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In the dim light of the ultrasound room, the tension is tangible. Silenced by her concentration, I lie and wait as the sonographer steers the probe across my belly. I squint at the monitor, trying to see what she is seeing, but aside from a distorted and bumpy jumble of shapes, I am lost. As the scan draws to a close, she confirms that all appears to be in order. I have arrived at the moment I have been anxiously awaiting since the pregnancy test first came up as positive.
 
“Can you tell me what sex the baby is?” I ask her. She smiles and shifts the probe around a bit. I feel my pulse quicken.
 
“It looks like a little girl,” she says. And there it is: my moment of truth and my whole world caves. I manage to gather up my things and return to the car, before breaking down into hysterical sobs with my bewildered husband looking on.
 
“The baby is healthy and normal – isn’t that all that matters?” he exclaims. Of course, every word he says is true and this is what I should be focusing on. Yet the feeling of loss and disappointment at not carrying a boy is overwhelming and further compounded by an enormous sense of guilt at how thankful I should be. The thing is this: I already have a beautiful daughter and, as we’d planned on having only two children, I dreamed and yearned for a boy the next time around. As the eldest of three girls, even the family cat was neutered, I was desperate to experience dirty sports kits, rugby games on a Saturday morning and all the other elements I imagined came with raising a son.
 
This was my dream and letting go is ultimately what this is all about. It is somewhat comforting to know that, in order to heal, I must acknowledge that there is a loss involved – the loss of something that never was. Guilt should not be a factor here, as it is only natural to be disappointed once you realise that a dream will not come true. There are no good or bad feelings, if I am to be truly honest. I just need time and support. In this case, I’m lucky to have a compassionate husband who, upon realising the depth of my feelings, has let me grieve and neither judged nor tried to brush off the way I feel. Sadly, many women don’t get the support they need during this period of acceptance and resolution. Many mothers, therefore, choose to suffer in silence.
 
It has been comforting to talk to other mothers about my feelings and some have, for the first time, shared their own sadness and disappointment over gender with me. My friend, Karen, recently confided: “When the scan said I was having a boy, I cried in secret for ages, but never told anyone how I felt because I didn’t think they would understand and I worried they’d think I was a bad person.”
 
Many women have a preference for a particular gender, for a variety of reasons. Some may arise due to societal pressures or from family, such as a spouse’s desire to have a son to carry on the family name. Preconceived notions about males and females also add to the pressure to produce a particular sex. Interestingly, research published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology points to the existence of a “fatherhood gene”, which determines whether men are more likely to father boys or girls or both. The study involved an examination of 927 family trees containing information on 556 387 people from North America and Europe, going back as far as the year 1600. It emerged that men with a version of the gene known as “mm” produce more sperm with the Y chromosome and are, therefore, more likely to have sons. The second variant, known as “ff”, produces more X sperm and men who hold this gene are more likely to father daughters. The third version known as “mf” produces roughly equal numbers of sperm with the female X and male Y chromosomes. In this case, a man may have either a son or a daughter.
 
Ultimately, I know that each child is unique and special and deserves to be loved and nurtured unconditionally. I am glad that I found out the sex of my baby before the birth. I can now use this time to work through my feelings of disappointment so that by the time my baby arrives, I can welcome her with open arms and as much love as a mother can give – irrespective of gender or anything else.

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