Gender Letdown

Have you struggled with feelings of disappointment over your growing baby's sex? Don't worry--you're normal.


When Toni McLellan of Woodstock, Ill., found out that she was pregnant with her third--and last--child, she felt sure this time she'd get her girl. McLellan relished her role as a mother of two sons, but when an ultrasound showed that she was having another boy, she found it hard to stifle feelings of disappointment. "I remember lying on the ultrasound table thinking, So that's it, then," she says. "I never knew it was possible to feel so overjoyed and so sad at the same time."

As the mother of four sons--who always expected to have at least one girl--I've felt that same pang of disappointment myself. While I am, of course, thrilled with my boys, part of me grieved for the little girl I always thought I'd have, and didn't. Although at first I felt like it was somehow unmotherly to feel sad about missing out on having a girl, I came to realize that it didn't mean I loved my actual baby any less!

If, like McLellan, your immediate response to finding out your baby's gender is disappointment or sadness, don't feel guilty, advises Susan Bartell, Psy.D., a Long Island, N.Y.-based psychologist and director of the website "It's normal to explore those feelings," says Bartell, who adds that trying to suppress negative emotions will just short-circuit your ability to handle them in a healthy way.

Should you wait to find out? If you think you might be disappointed, is it better to learn your baby's gender during pregnancy or to wait for the moment of birth? The answer depends on your personality and how you think you'll handle unwelcome news, Bartell says. While some women may benefit from the opportunity to work through their feelings while still pregnant, others might find that the thrill of delivering their child overshadows any twinges of disappointment.

Either way, don't worry that feeling letdown over your baby's gender will make you a bad mother. In most cases, such emotions become much less intense as your pregnancy progresses, says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: The Ultimate Guide to Conception, Birth, and Everything in Between (Wiley, 2002): "You'll have this powerful 'real' love for your baby that isn't just a fantasy in your head."

That held true for Alicia Brooker, a mom from Newport News, Va., who hoped so strongly for a girl during her first pregnancy that she fantasized the ultrasound technician may have been wrong. "The first words out of my mouth when my son was born were, 'Is it still a boy?' " Brooker says. "Yet, when he was placed on my chest, I felt for the first time that he wasn't a part of me but his own perfect self."

Learning the gender early: the downside If you're the impatient type, should you try a product such as Baby Gender Mentor, which claims to determine the sex with 99.9 percent accuracy just five weeks after conception?

"That kind of technology is very powerful," Bartell warns. "You have almost the entire pregnancy to create in your mind what kind of child you think your baby is going to be instead of allowing him or her to become what he or she actually is." And, of course, the ability to test for gender so early, while unproven, might influence a mother to terminate her pregnancy if the results were not what she hoped for--a possibility that troubles ethicists, though Bartell says she's never personally known it to happen.

Bartell adds that for some women, getting past negative feelings about their baby's gender may be too difficult to manage alone and can lead to trouble bonding with the baby. Douglas agrees, warning that unexpressed guilt can be a new mom's worst enemy. If you're overwhelmed by sadness or disappointment--or shame over those feelings--it may be a good idea to seek counseling during pregnancy to help you get a handle on your emotions before your baby is born.