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Dealing with gender disappointment and shattered dreams. One mom shares her story.

Is it a boy? Is it a girl? The anticipation of finally finding out your unborn baby’s sex is huge, but so to is the gender disappointment if it is revealed that ‘he’ you secretly hoped for is a ‘she’.

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. She seeks the images on her screen to determine if everything is as it should be with my developing baby. 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.

When gender disappointment strikes

“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 bursting into hysterical sobs. My bewildered husband looks on. “The baby is healthy and normal – isn’t that all that matters?” he exclaims.

Of course, every word he says is true. 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. I ought to be immensely grateful that I can conceive so easily in the first place, unlike many women who endure one disappointment after another. I also know I should be immeasurably grateful that my baby hasn’t developed problems or disabilities along the way.

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. I was desperate to experience dirty sports kits, rugby on a Saturday morning and all the other elements I imagined came with raising a son.

Gender disappointment – the shattering of a dream

This was my dream and letting go is ultimately what this is all about. It is somewhat comforting to know that 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 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 gender disappointment 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.”

Why does baby’s sex matter so much?

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 Evolutionary Biology journal (December, 2008) 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 daughter.

In countries where society still deems boys to be worthier than girls, a huge discrepancy can be seen. Predictions state that it could take fifteen years for the gender imbalance in China to resolve itself. Their “only-one-child” law has resulted in an unprecedented number of little boys being born, mainly due to the wider use of ultrasound scans and the easy access to abortion, which further skews the preference for boys. In 2005, for example, 118 boys were born for every 100 girls. My Chinese friend, Lucy, explains that the preference for boys is because they carry the family’s last name. Yet, due to the gender imbalance, society itself is changing. “I know that many men who want to marry a woman in China nowadays have had to compromise by taking the woman’s family name instead,” she tells me.

Love cancels out gender disappointment

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 the feelings brought on by my gender 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 and form a lifelong bond – irrespective of gender or anything else.

Sasha Cuff