Here come the gender disappointment questions

January 2, 2019

Here come the gender disappointment questions

We know it’s inevitable. People will ask the question, and they’ll do so with the best of intentions.

“Are you disappointed it’s not a girl?”

As previously announced, we’re expecting our third child in June 2019, and at 12 weeks, we learned the baby will be a boy.

Our third boy.

So it seems reasonable for people to get inquisitive. I can’t blame them. They’re curious. They’re concerned.

Anyone who decides to have a third child when the previous two are the same gender clearly know the chances are 50-50 and anticipate the joy of having the boy or girl they didn’t previously had.

During the entire day we learned the results of the gender test, I reflected and assessed and even asked myself questions — Am I disappointed? Is that okay?

This is known as gender disappointment. From The Today Show:

Some women feel a momentary twinge of sadness when they find out the gender of their baby. For others, the disappointment cuts deeper, and can even turn into depression. This phenomenon, known as “gender disappointment,” is rarely discussed yet common among expectant mothers. 

It’s not just women. Us Dads can feel it too. But am I supposed to confess that to family and friends who ask whether my wife, Alison, and I are disappointed we’re not having a girl?

Gender disappointment started right away

The day we learned the gender of our third baby, I felt the emotional amusement park like never before. Thought I was gonna need Dramamine and a glass of brandy just to get through the morning.

Because my wife qualifies for — dare I say it — advance maternal age, she took a blood test at 12 weeks. It measured a lot of stuff like chromosomal disorders and the sex of our baby.

The week before we learned the results shattered my nerves. Was our baby all right? Was our baby a he or she?

Black and white image of hands
Gender disappointment is real and not often discussed.

While we set out to have a third baby content no matter the gender, undoubtedly, we were thinking girl right from the start. 

After Alison learned she was pregnant, and during all the early ultrasounds and heartbeat detection, she kept saying our baby felt like a girl. And I photographed a wedding in November with a vision in my own conscious of one day dancing with our daughter and hearing the angelic whisper of “I love you, Daddy.”

Then, while I worked in a photography studio, my phone rang, and it was my wife. After telling me the results showed a healthy baby inside her womb, she turned to the next subject.

“You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “Are you sitting down? It’s … a boy!”

That’s when motion sickness set in because elation quickly swung like a Tilt-A-Whirl to heartbreak for Alison; for both of us us. I know she loves our boys, but she grew up with a sister, her mom grew up with a sister, her dad had two sisters. We both figured a girl was on her way.

But it’s not meant to be. And if I felt disappointment, then the emotional Tilt-A-Whirl hurled me away from heartbreak toward guilt for daring to feel that way. 

How to answer the question

And so how do you answer the question people will ask? Are we disappointed?

Finding the right answer begins with being honest with yourself, both the mother- and the father-to-be. Parent.com quoted Dr. Stephen Quentzel, a child and pregnancy psychiatrist at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York:

“It can sound ugly to say, ‘I wanted a boy and not a girl,’ because you’re expected to love the child no matter what,” he says. But it’s normal if you’re not immediately thrilled; soon enough you will be.

I had to take a long look in the mirror and just admit it. Yup, I wanted a daughter. 

Next, share your feelings with someone you trust. Hopefully that’s your partner or spouse, but if it’s a trusted friend and confidant, then okay. Get your feelings into the sunshine. Speak it out loud. 

Do not let that disappointment and guilt well up inside you, especially not now, because your pregnant partner or wife is gonna need your strength, patience, and love as the pregnancy moves forward. This might be your first test as a father, and the kid ain’t even born yet. 

Step it up with honesty, by being forthcoming, and then, as best you can, let it go.

A father holding hands with his son at a beach
Gender disappointment can wash away and be replaced by a father’s abiding love.

That’s where trust comes into play. Trust that love will replace any temporary disappointment.

Four days after learning we were having our third boy, I found myself staring at our ultrasound picture. He looked like a lumpy lemon with tiny legs. And I could just feel it, a father’s love, burst open, like fire catching kindling. 

It was on. Father and son. Let’s do this, No. 3. I’ll even get him a Reds jersey with “3” on the back.

So how do I answer when people want to know about gender disappointment? Like this:

Yes, I was disappointed, intensely for about a day. And then I let it go because my son needs me and his mother. 

What do you think? How would you answer questions about gender disappointment? How did you answer if you’ve been through this before? Would love to read your answers in the comments below.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa., who writes about the humorous and poignant moments of fatherhood. You can reach him at dave@writingintheafternoon.com.

More about Dave Pidgeon

3 Comments
    1. Well I can understand how you feel. We had a three year old girl and 8 month old twin girls in 1975. I was in unexpected pregnancy and was hemorrhaging at 28 weeks. They took the baby to save my life and I was praying it wasn’t a boy. My husband wanted a boy very badly. Turned out to be another girl, she only lived nine hours.
      So my husband made the best of things and coached our daughters in soccer until high school age.
      Luckily out of our seven grandkids, we got three grandsons, but seven years ago my husband died of gbm brain tumor and didn’t get To see the grandkids grow up.

    1. We were the opposite, with 3 girls. I was constantly asked if my husband was disappointed that he didn’t have a son. Nope. He’d told me that as long as he could still toss a ball with them in the backyard, he was happy. He also joked that he was just a GI-Joe in a Barbie doll world. As the girls grew, we got to liking the consistency, being able to use hand-me-downs, knowing what local sports, scouts, summer camps, etc were available for girls. Whenever our nephews gave their parents a rough time, my husband would mumble that he was glad he didn’t have any sons.

      Families come in all shapes and sizes. Ours was perfect for us, yours is perfect for you.

      1. I didn’t expect to feel the whirlwind of emotions I did. But I just look at those ultrasound images and instinctively feel a father’s love kick in. I think it’s okay to accept natural feelings like gender disappointment. It’s what you do in reaction to those that counts for a whole lot.

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