My girls are 17, 13 and 11 years old. They bring me and my husband a huge amount of joy. Currently Freyja (17) is studying for a Diploma in Music Production at our local College and planning her future globetrotting as well as developing her skills as a singer/songwriter/guitarist. Tilly (13) is homeschooled. She has a talent for lettering/calligraphy and is a thoughtful, compassionate individual. Rowan is currently in her final year at primary school, a free-spirit who cartwheels her way through life. They are healthy and happy (most of the time). The next bit might lead to a few eye-rolls or ‘yeah rights’, but I speak honestly and from the heart; In the almost 18 years that I have been a mother, not once have I got tired of my girls. Yes there have been sleepless nights and financial challenges and various obstacles to navigate along the way, but I love that I look forward to seeing them when I wake up every single morning – that has never changed. I have and continue to enjoy their company. I value their opinions and include them in all decisions that affect our family. I feel lucky, so very lucky that these precious creatures are mine!
I was 23 when Freyja was born. Fresh faced (how things change) and pretty (very) naive. I attended the majority of the ante-natal appointments/classes alone as Matt was at work. It was assumed (perhaps due to my age) on almost every occasion that I was a single mum-to-be. This became a little annoying after a while. I knew very little about pregnancy and child birth. This was in the days before smart phones and regular internet access. I was going into this with my eyes kind of shut.
So, on the day of our 20 week scan, when we were asked if we wanted to know if we were having a boy or a girl, I didn’t know what to say, as we hadn’t anticipated the question…told you I was naive!
We said no, as we really hadn’t thought about this and would be more than happy as long as our child was healthy; excuse me while I adjust my crown! I’m not saying this because it’s the right thing to say, but because that’s really how we felt.
When Freyja was nearly 3 I found out I was expecting again. This child was planned and we were thrilled. Unfortunately my 12 week scan revealed a missed miscarriage – the little bean’s heartbeat had stopped at about 9 weeks. The sadness and grief that I felt was unprecedented. Unexpectedly, only 3 months later I was expecting again. My little rainbow baby was growing beautifully. Due to the stress of suffering a miscarriage, I was keen to know the gender of our baby. I needed it to seem real as I was still grieving for the little lost one. A girl was brewing. They could have said girl or boy, we didn’t mind, we just needed some sort of identity to allow us to build a picture of our precious child; to give us focus after our previous experience of loss.
So now we had ourselves two little girls. They are ace. Similar, yet different. Beautiful souls. Fast forward a couple of years and baby number 3 was on the way. I was still in my twenties and like before attended many of the antenatal appointments alone as my lovely Matt was hard at work earning for our growing family. I was asked a number of times by midwives and other mums to be if, seeing as this was my third child, my children were all fathered by the same person. Not that this should matter to them or to me, but I found this rude and relished in the look of embarrassment on their faces when I said ‘yes!’.
On the day of our 20 week scan, we had decided not to find out whether this little one was going to be a boy or a girl. We took Freyja and Tilly with us to see the little wiggler that would be their new sibling on the screen. Tilly needed to use the toilet and so Matt stepped out of the room with the girls and with no planning I suddenly asked ‘can you see what it is?’ – I surprised myself with this question and felt an immediate surge of guilt that I had asked without agreeing it with Matt. But I just suddenly felt like I needed to know. I’ve questioned my motives for this decision ever since – am I just impatient, probably, or was it because endless amounts of people had said to me ‘I bet you’re desperate for a boy!’. Did I want a boy? I didn’t particularly have a preference, but had become consumed with clouded thoughts due to the questions and expectations of others – I wanted MY baby…fit and healthy.
There seems to be a certain shame associated with gender disappointment, leaving many women taking to internet chat groups to anonymously share their distress.
It’s a girl, revealed the sonographer. I felt relief -not because she was a girl and not a boy, but because now I knew and I wouldn’t have to speculate and wonder and deal with challenging thoughts about whether or not I was being drawn into some form of gender obsession. As soon as I left the room I told Matt that I knew and that I was happy to keep the information to myself if he’d rather wait. I think he lasted until we got back in the car until he gleefully said ‘come on then…tell me!’.
Rowan was born in September 2006. I remember someone on the maternity ward chatting to me and when I said she was the 3rd of three girls, they smiled broadly and said ‘how wonderful, there’s something rather magical about 3 sisters’ – I’ve never forgotten those words…magical! I felt strongly that my family was complete.
A feeling of depression or anxiety experienced by an expectant parent when the gender of the baby does not match his or her preference.
– Collins English Dictionary –
In subsequent years, I was repeatedly asked whether I was going to keep trying for a boy. My answer was and always has been that we feel our family is complete. Having discussed this with a few friends however, it did get me thinking about ‘gender disappointment’. I feel rather lucky that I did not have a preference as to the gender of my children, but I could and can understand why some women (and men) feel an overwhelming need for a child of a particular gender.
There seems to be a certain shame associated with gender disappointment, leaving many women taking to internet chat groups to anonymously share their distress. At first, I’m embarrassed to say, I thought these women must be very selfish and that they should be happy with what nature has gifted them. Then I began to really listen to their reason’s for baby gender preference and I was blown away. For me, this acknowledgement began when I had a discussion with a friend who had a little girl who had died at only a few months old. She then went on to have two boys and was currently pregnant again. She told me how she so desperately wanted a girl, not to replace the girl she had lost, but that after having gone through the trauma of losing her beloved girl she felt a sort of primordial need, that seemed to come from somewhere deep within, for a daughter, and that she would never feel complete or able to move on unless she got her girl. I think I get it now.
I needed to educate myself on this matter, so I can pass this information on to my girls when the time is right. They too may become mothers some day and knowing that judgement and speculation can be avoided through healthy discussion is my responsibility to share with them. I asked a number of women who had either already had one or more children or who were currently expecting, what their thoughts are regarding gender bias and gender disappointment. Here are some of their responses:
Thank you to the wonderful women who own these words, for their honesty and for enlightening me on this subject:
“I wanted a girl. At least I thought I wanted a girl. But I got my boy instead and if I’d known at that point what I know now, I wouldn’t have been even the most tiny bit sorry to get him. Having to go through a horrific marriage full of lots of psychological abuse and a divorce and then life as a single mum…I just think having the boy that I have was the thing that made it manageable for both of us. I think my ex would have been very different with a little girl, and I don’t think that would have helped anyone. I also think a little girl might have been more drawn to her dad, and again, I think that would have made things immeasurably worse. I also am just glad that my boy is able to be occasionally chivalrous – he walked me down the aisle and he holds doors for me, and I think he has felt he should do those things (and wants to) more than a little girl might have.” (Anon)
It had never crossed my mind that perhaps experiences such as abuse or divorce could have had an impact on baby gender preference. My eyes were being opened…
“If I’m brutally honest with myself, if I’d completed my family and never had a girl I think I would have had a slight sense of loss. Probably for the very simple reason that I’m a girl and I imagined recreating lots of my favourite childhood memories with a daughter. Having said that, if my daughter had been a boy I can’t possibly imagine that I would have been disappointed with the reality – I just haven’t actually parented a son yet! I’m pretty sure if we’d had two boys we would stop and feel lucky with our family and not push for a daughter. One of my close friends was really upset when she found out she was having a son, and is trying very hard to have a second child – she’s actually going as far as trying to conceive early in her cycle to try and increase the likelihood of a daughter. In some ways I admire her for not beating around the bush – she’s always dreamt of having a daughter, but that doesn’t stop her adoring her son either.” (Anon)
“Gender disappointment is a thing and I was really cross to find myself having sad feelings when we found out my youngest was a girl. I soon snapped out of it literally within days but I think I was sad at losing the idea of having a boy rather than sadness that my daughter was a girl. I love having two girls. I think I wanted a boy because I was getting a lot of pressure from outside sources in the forms of “are you hoping it’s a boy?” “How lovely would it be to have one of each?” I’m one of five (four girls and one boy) and boys were idolised by my mother and she has ideas of fathers and sons. My husband is really close to his girls though so there is no regret now or a want to try for a boy. I think we have a girl preference now but we get a lot of ‘sympathy’ for not having one of each which is baffling.” (Anon)
It would seem that gender disappointment can be just as prevalent for expectant fathers as it can for mothers. Psychologist Graham W Price suggests “Gender disappointment can affect fathers just as much as mothers. In fact, it often takes men longer than women to get over their regret, as there is a biological imperative for women to bond with their children.”
“I’m 25 weeks pregnant with our first child – a girl. As it’s our first, we didn’t really mind what we had, but for the second we want a boy now. I wouldn’t say I’d be disappointed if baby 2 turns out to be a girl as well, but I would feel a sense of loss for my husband, as he’s desperate for that father/son relationship. I watch him with our nephews and he’s just completely in his element and I really want him to have that experience with our own child one day.” (Anon)
“I’ve only ever wanted girls. I come from a very strong line of women (the men in my family aren’t particularly strong willed and seem to die young) so growing up with a single mum for now 2/3 of my life and a sister has definitely had an effect on me. Whenever I ‘saw’ my life I never saw boys (apart from my husband!) in it. I’ve got one girl already and had a few moments during my pregnancy where I was actually scared of having a boy! Both my husband and I wanted a girl and we didn’t find out. I plan on having one more and have said in conversation – ‘I don’t mind now’ but in my heart I know I want another girl. I think having a teenage boy is the thing that freaks me out more than anything. I know what to expect with a girl in some respects. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what comes next. I still won’t find out what the gender is when I’m pregnant next time… but maybe I’ll will the penis away!!” (Anon)
I have mentally scolded myself for making judgements about people’s choices and for assuming that those who experience gender disappointment are simply selfish. Instead, I see women and men who have used their life experiences, both good and bad to make an often subconscious decision about the preferred gender of their off-spring. Perhaps there is an evolutionary explanation also. As women, particularly those of us who have grown up with sisters and maybe a single mother, a preference for girls could be inevitable; it’s what we know and understand and therefore survival seems more likely. This too could be true for those brought up amongst boys.
Although it may not be quite so simplistic for some, this quote from Dr. Ruth Wilf (PHD) a certified nurse midwife at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, is rather apt:
“I think one of the problems is that there is too much stress on gender. You get told this one isolated fact and it gets blown out of proportion. Once the child is born, you will fall in love with the individual baby and then the sex doesn’t matter as much because little boys and little girls all have varying attributes. After a while, you can’t imagine that you could have any other baby than this baby.”