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Two parents on having gender disappointment, because it's more common than we admit.

Picture this. It’s your 20-week ultrasound. You’ve already had three children, all of them boys, and today you’ll learn the sex of your fourth child.

The nurse comes into the room. She smiles and you smile back. A bit of chit-chat as she places the cold gel against your skin, grabs the probe, and begins the ultrasound. “Do you want to know the gender?” she asks.

“I do,” you say with hesitation. You’ve been telling yourself all week that this doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. It’s a blessing just to have a healthy child.

You take a deep breath. The nurse beams. “IT’S A BOY!” she exclaims, as if you’ve won the lottery.

And your heart sinks. You force a smile onto your face. You’re going to have to lie and pretend, even those closest to you, that you weren’t really, really hoping for a girl this time around.

That’s how Mel from Northern NSW felt, at least.

Sean Szeps and Zoe Marshall discuss dealing with gender disappointment on our podcast The Baby Bubble.

I first learned of Mel’s story on Instagram when a mutual friend told me about her anxiety over feeling the “wrong way” about her baby’s sex. The condition has a name: Gender Disappointment. Spend any time on IVF Facebook groups or online forums and you’ll realise it’s a lot more widespread than we admit.

I could relate. I wanted boys and only boys. Mainly because I’m a gay man and was nervous about raising a girl without a female role model in the house. And much like Mel, I had painted a picture in my head of what my family would look like. Anything other than that would come as a shock. So when we had a daughter, I wasn’t upset. I was just really worried.

I asked Mel if she knew that she always wanted a girl, and she replied with “I always dreamed I’d have one of each.” Mel wasn’t shocked or worried like me, she was simply crushed. “I dreamt about her all the time.”

Having had a chance to talk with Mel in detail about Gender Disappointment, I’ve realised its more than just a passing quirk of pregnancy. Like postpartum depression, it can be a sneaky, confusing experience that people feel too embarrassed to manage openly.

“I have always been fairly open about hoping for a girl, but not my true feelings about how much it hurts me.”

She opened up to me more. “It takes my breath away so that I can’t breathe,” she admitted. “I go to bed early because I’m exhausted from dealing with my thoughts and the pain. It grieving something that never existed.”

We live in a complicated world and sometimes our emotions can be confronting. But suppressing our reality because of how others may respond isn’t healthy to us, or to other people who might be feeling the same way.

 

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Mel said that she was, in fact, grateful.

“I love my children and would die for them, but I feel like someone is missing, someone who was always meant to be there.”

And that’s all that should matter. It’s important that we own and accept our real emotions. We need to speak out and ask for help if we’re struggling and to push back when people judge us.

Mel suggests that you talk to your doctor.

“A physiologist helped me realise that I’m not a horrible person for feeling the way I feel. She validated my feelings, which helped me cope.”

The reassuring truth about Gender Disappointment is that it’s perfectly compatible with loving your child unconditionally. Wanting another gender doesn’t mean you can’t love the child in front of you. Trust that those two things can live side-by-side.

As Mel said so perfectly, “There are groups where you can talk and support each other. I now know that I’m not alone. There are hundreds if not thousands of women and men around Australia all seeking a certain gender. Some are okay with either but are hopeful, and some are just like me and want what the heart wants.”

Either way, you are not alone.

Can you relate to struggling with gender disappointment? Tell us in a comment below.

To hear me discuss Gender Disappointment and Mel’s story in more detail, listen to the latest episode of The Baby Bubble with my co-host Zoe Marshall.

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