Pregnant woman looking at ultrasound

Right around your 20-week appointment, people will inevitably ask, "Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" You say you simply want a healthy baby, even though you're secretly wishing for a particular sex. Then the ultrasound reveals the results, and you pretend to be thrilled even though you're heartbroken. It's a feeling that Katherine Asbery, author of Altered Dreams: Living With Gender Disappointment, knows well.

Katherine hoped her second child would be a girl, but instead she had another boy. Before getting pregnant for the third time, she tried tactics found online to help her conceive a girl— eating yogurt to change her pH balance, taking hot baths with her husband to alter his sperm, etc. When she discovered that she'd be having yet another boy, she "cried and cried and cried," she says. "Then I felt guilty."

Like Asbery, many women have sobbed during their big ultrasound, but there are ways to cope with your mixed feelings. Here's how to deal with gender disappointment and get excited about the sex of your future child.

Accept Your Negative Emotions

The first step toward moving forward is recognizing your gender disappointment. It's always best to be honest with yourself, says Stephan Quentzel, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in pregnancy and childbirth issues at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City. "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.

Additionally, don't feel ashamed if your sadness shows to other people. "Many women make sure they dry their eyes, fix their makeup, and plant a smile on their face before they leave the ultrasound room," says psychiatric nurse Joyce Venis, author of Postpartum Depression Demystified. But if you don't eventually let your emotions show, it'll be harder to keep your negative thoughts under wraps.

"Feelings aren't good or bad or right or wrong—they're just feelings," Venis says. So acknowledge them out loud to yourself and to your partner, and let him do the same. If you're unable to discuss this with him, consult a therapist or confide in a nonjudgmental friend instead.

Find a Reason for the Gender Disappointment

Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Are you upset because you grew up with brothers and pictured living-room wrestling matches and games of flag football with a son? Did you imagine going shopping and doing crafts with your little girl? Keep in mind that the daughter you're having might be a rough-and-tumble gal who's a standout on the field—or perhaps you'll give birth to a creative, art-loving boy who's disinterested in sports. What's more, even if Baby-to-be has your preferred gender, he might not have a personality that conforms to gender norms.

Perhaps your letdown stems from doubts about being a first-time parent. "A lot of it is fear—stuff like, 'I don't know how to play baseball, so how can I teach my son?' " Venis says. "You don't have to know, and you don't have to like playing with Barbie dolls to raise a girl. You will learn what you need to as you go along."

If you're really worried, make plans with friends or relatives who have kids of that sex, so you can explore the experience that's ahead of you, Dr. Quentzel suggests. For example, if you're having a boy, make an effort to spend some one-on-one time with a friend's son. And ask your sister plenty of questions about how raising her son has been different from raising her daughter.

Trust Your Ability to Love

Realize that any discontented, guilty feelings you have won't last forever. During pregnancy, all you know about your baby is his or her sex. Once your little bundle arrives, you'll have the whole package—which includes a personality and quirky traits. "Gender disappointment typically only lasts until your child's birth day, when you finally meet each other," says Diane Ross Glazer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, in Tarzana, California. In fact, oxytocin, the powerful hormone that your brain releases during labor, helps you fall hopelessly in love with your baby.

This was certainly true for Asbery. "My children are a blessing to me," she says. "Each of my boys is different, and each of them brings something fantastic to our family."

Parents Magazine


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