The Unspoken Shame of Gender Disappointment

This post is contributed by Eileen Pike, the wonder woman behind the social media curtain at Strong is Our Sexy. 

 

When you announce family and friends that you are expecting, the very first question you usually get is “Do you want a boy or a girl?”  The answer that is usually given and is expected is “I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s healthy.”  But for so many women, more than you would ever expect, that is not the case.  Secretly, they have been wishing for a certain sex.

I can personally share my story.  My husband and I had struggled with conceiving our first child for over three years.  It was so painful and such a roller coaster.  I went to see my OB/GYN for the official infertile diagnosis and was surprised with the news that I was 8 weeks pregnant.  To say I was excited, of course, was a understatement.

Once I got over the shock, I quickly tried to think of a way to share the news with my husband.  It was late November, and because I am a Christmas freak, I already had our tree up.  I went to Target to find a ornament to share our amazing news.  Hanging on the holly, jolly shelves were two choices.  It’s a Boy, or It’s a Girl.  I did not even hesitate: I picked up the pink bling spoon and put it in my cart.

I was a princess, I was having a beautiful mini “me” and her name was Aubrey. 

Flash forward to my 18th week and our ultrasound.  The nurse moved the round unit over my adorable belly and looked at us and exclaimed “It’s a boy!”   The butterflies in my tummy sank, and my gaze flew to my husband’s.  His grip on my hand tightened.  He said “are you okay?” even as his eyes twinkled with excitement.  I am not going to lie, tears slid out of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks as the dreams of pink and more pink slowly died inside me. I felt so awful, so guilty for being so upset that my beautiful healthy baby was not my princess, but a prince.  

As we left the doctor’s office my hubby began to call our family and excitedly share the news that the Pike name would live on.  The joy and excitement and seeing him bang on his chest with  of his ability to produce a male heir….. quickly melted away my sadness.  I decided I was going to be a #boymommy, and I was going to be amazing.

2015may_eileen_gd

I felt so awful, so guilty for being so upset that my beautiful healthy baby was not my princess, but a prince.

Besides, these days, parents everywhere are breaking down the traditional gender expectations and traditions. Pink is not just for girls, any more than blue is just for boys. If anything, I’ve learned that boys will surprise you more often than not! He may grow up to like pink all by himself.

While my gender disappointment quickly faded within the first hour, for so many other women, that’s not the case.  Gender disappointment is a condition that fills with women with guilt and shame.

“The big statement is: ‘As long as it is healthy,’” says Joyce A. Venis, RNC, director of nursing at Princeton Family Care Associates in Princeton, New Jersey, and president of Depression After Delivery Inc. “If you in any way, shape, or form have a preference for either sex, it is interpreted as you are not being a good person, that you are not a good mother.”  It is the reaction of others that shames women into hiding these feelings and not seeking help.

It was not too long after I had my 10 pound bouncing baby boy, that a friend of mine asked me if I was sad that I had a boy instead of a girl.  Jane had found out that she was having a boy a few months before, and her dreams of pink were just as big as mine had been.  But unlike me, she could not get over the disappointment.  Her husband had reached out to me because he was very concerned that his wife was in a very bad place, and he was right.

Jane and her husband had struggled with infertility for years and had only conceived after turning to a fertility clinic.  She was convinced that this child would be her only one, and the thought of not having a girl was heartbreaking.  Instead of being happy and enjoying her pregnancy, she was mourning the loss of the daughter she was never going to have.

Women in this position feel extreme sadness, guilt, and are afraid of talking with anyone about their feelings because they fear they will be shamed.  But it’s very important they know they are not alone.  I found an online forum that I shared with Jane: GenderDreaming.com,  a place where she could go to chat with women who were in the same situation.  Having that outlet to chat with others, but at the same time have her identity protected, really was a comfort to her.

But just having the online support was not enough.  “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. Jane needed her husband to understand what so many do not. “Feelings aren’t good or bad or right or wrong — they’re just feelings.”

Severe cases of GD can lead to women having baby after baby in an attempt to conceive the sex of the baby they do not have.  I have personally seen women in mommy groups who have 3 or 4 boys and still try again in a desperate attempt to have their daughter, even if they cannot afford to support a large family.  Meanwhile, decades ago, if given a choice, couples would prefer sons. That has certainly been the case in places like China and India, where couples have used pregnancy screening to abort female fetuses. But here in the United States, a different kind of sex selection is taking place: Mothers often want a girl, and they are willing to spend thousands of dollars on procedures so that they can select one.

Gender disappointment typically only lasts till you hear your baby cry and gaze into his eyes, and for my friend Jane, that was the case.  When I asked her about that time of her life, she shared with me, “I hate to even think about my pregnancy. I am so mad at myself for not enjoying that time of firsts. I can’t even imagine being in that dark place again, and I want women who experiencing those same feelings to know, you are not alone. You can get past it, but you have to ask for help.”

As women, we need to support and lift each other up. Not judge or shame for something we do not understand. It’s so easy to point a finger and say “I would never…”  But how can you truly know how you would react if you have never been there?

Pregnancy is such a blessing, and at the same time, one of the hardest journeys a woman can go through, both physically and emotionally. Just remember: at the end of the nine months, you will have a baby. As long as it is healthy with ten little fingers and toes. Blue or pink? Boy or Girl?  Being a Mommy is now all that matters. 

Eileen is a wife, GRIT Coach, Social Media Guru, and Super Mario Mommy to two beautiful boys. She keeps herself very busy with teaching group fitness, handling social media for Strong is Our Sexy, and being the volunteer Chapter Coordinator for The National Canine Cancer Foundation Cincinnati & South Florida Chapters. Between all her jobs she still finds time to strength train, blog, and spend as much time as possible with her boys and her pups.

 

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