Gender disappointment is real—and if you feel it, you’re not alone

I’ll say the thing that people are often too scared to admit: When I first found I was having a boy, I felt… confused. I was thrilled that he appeared healthy on the ultrasound. I was relieved to know the sex of our baby after weeks of eagerly waiting. But there was something else there too. Something I couldn’t quite name at the time, something that I didn’t even want to examine too closely. Basically, I was happy to be having a baby boy, but I also kind of wanted to cry.

I had always wanted to have a daughter. I have a close relationship with my own mom and I hoped for the same with a daughter. I wanted to teach her about what it means to be a women in this world. And yes, as regretful as it is to admit, I suppose I also wanted to do the stereotypical “girl” things with a daughter—get pedicures, go shopping together, share makeup. I know, I know.

But just because my feelings of disappointment were fleeting, that doesn’t mean they weren’t valid. 

Fifteen years and two boys later, I can say emphatically that all of those feelings were very fleeting. I don’t miss having a daughter at all. I absolutely adore having sons. I adore my sons. And I am sometimes shocked at how much I love raising boys. 

But just because my feelings of disappointment were fleeting, that doesn’t mean they weren’t valid. 

Often referred to as “gender disappointment,” what we’re actually referring to is the baby’s sex and not their gender. Very important note: gender is an identity that isn’t known until a child is old enough to identify with a gender so parents typically assume that a baby’s gender matches their sex assigned at birth. 

Related: Dear daughter, when I fail at being your role model

Acknowledging disappointment about your baby’s sex is still pretty taboo in parenting circles. We are supposed to love our child unconditionally. And we do. But we are also complicated people with a multitude of emotions. It should go without saying, but it’s possible to feel disappointment and also feel grateful and in love with your baby. We can feel more than one emotion at the same time. Humans are amazing like that. 

I loved my baby boy instantly, but it took a while to settle into being the mother of a son. But three years later, when we learned we were having another boy, I was thrilled to be having another boy. 

You won’t—and don’t—love your child less than or differently. You just need some time to adjust the image of motherhood you had in your mind and settle into the reality.

A decade and a half after that very confusing ultrasound appointment, I am so glad that I have two sons. (To confirm, so far, their gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.) I take my role as a mother to sons very seriously. I talk to them about menstruation, sex, and the patriarchy. I don’t push any of that “man up” or “boys will be boys” nonsense. I acknowledge their emotions and hold them when they cry. (Anyone who tells you that boys are less emotional than girls is lying to you.) And I parent them with a certain softness while also trying to not tame out all of their wildness (which is more attributed to who they are than their gender). I’ve learned to deal with a toilet seat that’s always up. I’ve gotten used to the noise. I am, dare I say, a pretty good mom to sons.

I’ve talked to several other parents who had complicated emotions when they found out the sex of their baby too. “I cried,” I’ve heard more than one mom sheepishly admit. This is normal and not uncommon.

But while all feelings are valid, not all behaviors are appropriate. Your feelings aren’t a free pass to act like a brat or hurt others. Crying is normal, but hold off on the tantrum (like the dad in a viral TikTok video) and sexist jokes are also a no-no. It’s not okay to tell your child you wish they were someone different than who they are. And it’s not cool to ask other parents if they are “trying for a girl/boy” when all of their other children are the opposite sex. 

If you felt or feel disappointed by the sex of your baby, you aren’t alone. There is nothing wrong with you. If you’re wondering how to deal with gender disappointment, start by acknowledging your feelings. And remember that, while valid, this feeling is also fleeting. It will pass. 

Related: How becoming a boy mom transformed the way I see men 

You won’t—and don’t—love your child less than or differently. You just need some time to adjust the image of motherhood you had in your mind and settle into the reality.

Because here’s the thing: no matter the sex of your baby at birth, your child will be the unique and beautiful person they are meant to be. They will surprise you and impress you and challenge you. After all, nothing shatters our expectations of motherhood like the realities of motherhood, whatever sex or gender they are. But equally true? No one is better able to mother the child you have than you are. 

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Today’s Parent is Canada’s #1 source for parenting content that informs, inspires and builds a sense of community. We help parents celebrate the happy chaos that comes with having a family and remind them that they are not alone. If you’re trying to conceive, pregnant or have children from newborn to ages 9+, you’ll get insightful information for all ages and stages on discipline, health, behaviour, education, plus easy and nutritious recipes and so much more.

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