Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!
Join our FREE live Masterclass: Repairing with Your Child After You Lose Your Cool
Register Here!

February 20, 2024

November 24, 2021

Overcoming Gender Disappointment

E:
96
with
Dr. Renée Miller
Clinical Psychologist

What You'll Learn

  • Defining Gender Disappointment
  • Gender Disappointment vs. Sex Disappointment
  • Causes of Gender Disappointment
  • The Impact of Gender Disappointment
  • Working Through Gender Disappointment

When you first learned you were expecting a baby, did you have a preferred gender in mind? Some people do and for a variety of different reasons. It can be hard to admit, but you may have even experienced some sadness if you learned the baby wouldn’t be your preferred gender. 

This is completely okay and more common than you might think. But since it can be hard to admit, it can also be hard to work through. Dr. Renée Miller has spent her career helping parents overcome gender disappointment, and she’s here today to help us unpack this concept.

Defining Gender Disappointment

“Gender disappointment is grief. It ranges from mild to extreme in people, and it happens when we find out the sex of the baby we’re having is not the sex we had hoped for,” Dr. Renée explained.

Gender disappointment can occur while we’re pregnant and learn the sex of the baby is different than we’ve been planning for. Or if we opt not to know the sex of the baby, it can occur once we’ve delivered a baby and realized it’s not what we were planning for.

I always imagined I would have a daughter and even had a name picked out. I turned out with three boys, and there was some processing around that. When we decided our family was complete, it was like closing the door on something I’d always expected to happen.

We sometimes find it hard to express our feelings of disappointment around gender, because we feel like we shouldn’t be disappointed. But gender disappointment isn’t a lack of gratitude for a healthy baby. 

It’s more that we had hopes and dreams for the baby we thought we were having, and those are gone. It doesn’t mean we don’t love and value the child we have, but our plans have to change. And those initial dreams are gone.

It can be very isolating to keep these feelings to ourselves, but this is something moms do a lot. “Oh, I don’t have it as bad as this other person. What right do I have to feel bad?”

Dr. Renée compared it to thinking of a friend with fertility problems and thinking, “I should just be grateful for what I have.” She explained this diminishes our lived experience, and just acknowledging it could be more helpful.

“The deeper the drive or narrative of a child of a particular sex goes in terms of a woman’s life experience, the more disappointed she will be,” Dr. Renée said. She went on to say there would often be more to work through too.

Causes of Gender Disappointment

We often decide we want a child of a particular sex based on our own relationships or relationships we’ve seen. “I put together this idea that people either want to replicate something, they want to repair something in their lives that wasn’t so great, or it’s a reflection of the self,” Dr. Renée stated. She explained she came to this after finding people who experienced gender disappointment tended to fall into one of these three camps.

Maybe you were closer to your sister than your brother and so you hope for a girl to replicate that relationship. Or you were close to your mom and think you’ll have the same relationship with your daughter. In both cases, we’re trying to replicate a relationship we valued.

You could also be trying to repair a relationship. Maybe you know someone who has a horrible relationship with a child of one sex and are hoping to avoid that.

Or you feel your brother is closer to your parents and has an easier relationship with them. Because of this, you may feel a boy child will be closer to you than if you had a girl. Or you may not want a girl to move through life feeling like she’s not as connected to her family as her brother is or would be. 

You could be hoping to heal that wound in the relationship with your child.

If you had a horrible relationship with a parent, you could be hoping to heal that wound in the relationship with your child. For those that have experienced loss, they might be thinking, “I’ve lost a boy, and so I don’t want to feel the next baby will replace the one who died, but the converse can be I want the same sex,” Dr. Renée said.

Overachievers who have been successful and take care of their parents or grandparents while their brothers have horrible habits and aren’t worried about success might hope to reflect themselves in a girl child. This is an example of reflection. 

“For all of those examples, I’ve seen the converse happen in real life,” Dr. Renée said. “But you can see, these sorts of beliefs go deep. They’re about people’s experience in the world and their assumptions about gender.

Even if we got the gender we were hoping for, it doesn’t mean that the dreams we had for this kid will come true. They may be very different from what we expected. 

Gender Disappointment vs. Sex Disappointment

“It is the incorrect term, but it’s the commonly used term,” Dr. Renée said. “But gender disappointment in and of itself is a set of feelings of grief around feeling disappointed that what we’re having is not our preferred sex.” 

I think I experienced a mild to moderate form of this when I found out the different genders we were having. It took some processing and didn’t really make a major impact on my mood, but gender disappointment exists on a continuum. People can have a more severe experience.

“The reason it’s called gender disappointment is because all we’re talking about is the genitals of the child,” Dr. Renée said. “But the way it’s conceived of is around gender and expectations around gender.” 

We immediately begin to form stereotypes about this child who hasn’t come into the world.

Think about gender reveals. If we’re announcing a boy, everything is blue. We throw balls around or may decorate with motor vehicles and dinosaurs. If it’s a girl, everything is pink with glitter and rainbows. We immediately begin to form stereotypes about this child who hasn’t come into the world.

The Impact of Gender Disappointment

Gender disappointment affects some people more than others. “Some people just feel things more strongly,” Dr. Renée said. “But if you drill down it speaks to the level of experience and feelings the person carries and holds that have formed their assumptions and preference.

“What is it actually about? Because it’s not about the sparks and getting your nails done,” Dr. Renée said. If your gender disappointment revolves around things, it may actually be you’re looking for connection.

But once we get past the preconceived ideas of things we thought we could do with a child of a particular sex, we can find connections in other ways. I wanted a girl to go to the Disney princess castle with me. I don’t think my boys will be interested in that but I love connecting with my oldest son through his creativity and artwork.

Children don’t have to fit gender stereotypes, and we don’t have to teach them.

There is also the distinct possibility that a child who isn’t the gender we thought we wanted is actually still interested in the things we wanted to do with a kid of that gender. Children don’t have to fit gender stereotypes, and we don’t have to teach them. How do you actually know your boy doesn’t want to dance—or whatever thing you wanted to with a girl—until you’ve tried it?

Dr. Renée once worked with a client who wanted a boy, because she grew up with parents who spent more time and energy on her brothers. She didn’t want another girl to experience what she did, and she had no idea how to protect a daughter. For her, working through gender disappointment meant forgiving her younger self.

The pattern here seems to be we have to get to the root of what we’re actually grieving to work through it. That could be different for everyone.

Overcoming Gender Disappointment

“Just accept your feelings and try to move away from the shame and the guilt,” Dr. Renée said. She explained this is the first step to working through gender disappointment.

“Your feelings are your feelings and you’re having them because you hold meaning in certain things,” she said. “It’s important to open your mind to working through the layers of loss.”

It’s important to open your mind to working through the layers of loss.

This is another “Name it to tame it” situation. Working through this begins with accepting your feelings, having someone you can talk openly and honestly with about the disappointment, and working through some of the other issues we may have developed around how we view gender.

Once we’ve accepted what we’re feeling is gender disappointment, we can begin the work of processing through those feelings. That often means understanding that things we attribute to gender may have nothing to do with gender. It means recognizing our child is or will be their own individual person whose gender identity may not even match their biological sex and has agency over how they connect with us. 

That can be a lot to process. If you’re feeling disappointed or a little unsettled that you're having or have a child, not of your preferred gender, reach out to Momwell Therapy Support. We can connect you with a professional to help you process these feelings.

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Tags:

Gender disappointment

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood, Pregnant

Share Now:

OUR GUEST

Dr. Renée Miller
Clinical Psychologist

Dr Renée Miller is a perinatal clinical psychologist who runs the Antenatal and Postnatal Psychology Network in Melbourne, Australia. Renée’s doctoral research was on postpartum depression, anxiety and stress in first time mothers. Her clinical work is focussed on supporting pregnant and postpartum women and couples through the difficulties associated with conception, pregnancy, and becoming parents.

Over recent years, Renée has developed an interest in women's experience of gender disappointment. Renée conducted informal research on the topic of gender disappointment, by inviting followers of her Facebook page to share their experiences of gender disappointment. As a result of this research, Renée authored the article “Gender disappointment: Grieving the idealised child”.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
RELATED ARTICLES
April 29, 2024
April 24, 2024
Understanding and Implementing Responsive Parenting: How to Break the Yelling/Shame Cycle
E:
222
with
Dr. Cindy Hovington
Founder of Curious Neuron
April 22, 2024
April 17, 2024
How to Maintain Friendships (and Make Friends) as a Mom
E:
221
with
Danielle Bayard Jackson
Author
April 15, 2024
April 10, 2024
How Stressed Moms Can Cope: Understanding and Breaking Out of the Stress Cycle
E:
220
with
Amelia Nagoski
Co-author of Burnout
April 1, 2024
March 6, 2024
Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts About Baby: The Role of Stress, Anxiety, and Anger
E:
215
with
Dr. Caroline Boyd
Clinical Psychologist
March 25, 2024
February 28, 2024
How to Embrace Career Change as a Mom: Finding Your Passion and Overcoming Guilt
E:
214
with
Jess Galica
Career and Leadership Coach, Best-Selling Author
February 26, 2024
January 31, 2024
Postpartum Rage vs. Parental Anger: How Social Expectations Create Overwhelmed Moms
E:
210
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder and CEO of Psyched Mommy, licensed clinical psychologist
April 25, 2024
January 24, 2024
You’re Not an Angry Mom: Why We Experience Mom Rage (and What We Can Learn From It)
E:
209
with
Minna Dubin
Author of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood
February 20, 2024
January 17, 2024
What Causes Mommy Brain? The Role of the Invisible Load on Forgetfulness and Brain Fog
E:
208
with
Dr. Jodi Pawluski
neuroscientist, psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
January 3, 2024
How Parents Can Avoid Information Overload: Maintaining Confidence in Our Decision-Making
E:
206
with
Cara Goodwin
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 29, 2023
Prioritizing the Invisible Load of Motherhood: Valuing Our Own Time and Letting Go of Mental Labor
E:
201
with
Whitney Casares
Founder and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc
February 20, 2024
November 15, 2023
Breaking Generational Trauma Cycles: Healing Our Past and Moving Forward in Motherhood
E:
199
with
Dr. Mariel Buqué
Psychologist and the author of the book Break the Cycle: A Guide to Healing Intergenerational Trauma
February 20, 2024
November 8, 2023
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Perfectionism? Reframing the Concept of “Perfect” in Motherhood
E:
198
with
Katherine Morgan Schafler
Psychotherapist and author
February 20, 2024
October 11, 2023
Embracing the 7 Types of Rest: Why Moms Are Exhausted and What Actually Helps
E:
194
with
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
Board-Certified internal medicine physician and award-winning author
February 20, 2024
October 4, 2023
Interpreting Newborn Hunger Cues and Sleepy Signs: How to Learn Your Baby’s Needs
E:
193
with
Sharon Mazel
Author of Bite-Sized Parenting: Your Baby’s First Year
February 20, 2024
September 20, 2023
Managing Mom Anxiety: Why Millennial Moms Are So Anxious and How to Overcome Our Fears
E:
191
with
Dr. Lauren Cook
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
September 13, 2023
Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home
E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
September 6, 2023
How to Raise Confident Kids: Breaking Cycles of Negative Self-Esteem
E:
189
with
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe
Founder of The North Star Developmental Clinic
February 20, 2024
August 23, 2023
Understanding Sensory Self-Care: How Overstimulated Moms Can Regulate and Regain Calm
E:
187
with
Holly Peretz
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
February 20, 2024
August 16, 2023
Navigating Matrescence: The Roller Coaster of Becoming a Mom
E:
186
with
Dr. Catherine Birndorf
Co-Founder and Medical Director of The Motherhood Center of New York
February 20, 2024
July 26, 2023
The Journey of a Bereaved Parent: Stefania Thomson’s Story of Navigating Grief and Loss
E:
183
with
Stefania Thomson
Bereavement and Grief Advocate
February 20, 2024
June 21, 2023
Myths About Toddler Behavior: How to Reclaim the "Terrible Twos"
E:
178
with
Dr. Cathryn Tobin
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
April 19, 2023
Overcoming Grief as Our Children Age: The Value of Acceptance and How to Be More Present
E:
169
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Marriage & Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
March 29, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 2: Facing Pregnancy After a Traumatic Birth
E:
166
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 22, 2023
Birth Trauma Part 1: How Birth Trauma Impacts Our Family Decision Making
E:
165
with
Kayleigh Summers
Clinical Social Worker
February 20, 2024
March 15, 2023
Real Self-Care for Moms: Why Mindset Matters More Than Massages
E:
164
with
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin
Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
February 8, 2023
Overcoming Mom Guilt: Rewriting the Motherhood Contract and Charting Your Own Path
E:
159
with
Libby Ward
Founder of Diary of an Honest Mom
February 20, 2024
January 11, 2023
Understanding Baby Temperament: How to Tune Into Your Child’s Natural Personality
E:
155
with
Dr. Cara Goodwin
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 28, 2022
Coping During Postpartum with No Family Support: When Reality Clashes with Expectations
E:
153
with
Emmalee Bierly and Jennifer Chaiken
Founders of ShrinkChicks
February 20, 2024
November 23, 2022
The Mental Load of Motherhood: How to Address the Imbalance of Household Labour
E:
148
with
Gemma Hartley
Journalist and Author
February 20, 2024
November 16, 2022
Surviving the Baby Witching Hour: How to Cope With Colicky and Fussy Babies
E:
147
with
Dr. Whitney Casares
Pediatrician
February 20, 2024
November 2, 2022
How To Deal With Toxic Positivity As a Mom: What To Do When Someone Invalidates Your Feelings
E:
145
with
Whitney Goodman
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 19, 2022
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave: Navigating the Emotions, Difficulties, and Challenges
E:
143
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
October 12, 2022
How to Know if You Have Postpartum Anxiety: Red Flags to Watch for in Pregnancy, Birth, and After Baby
E:
142
with
Dr. Sarah Oreck
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
October 5, 2022
Protecting Maternal Sleep: The Relationship Between Sleep Deprivation and Postpartum Depression
E:
141
with
Dr. Nicole Leistikow
Reproductive Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
September 21, 2022
Encouraging Independent Play: Why Unstructured Play Matters and How to Foster It
E:
139
with
Susie Allison
Founder of Busy Toddler
April 25, 2024
August 31, 2022
Why Does a Messy House Give Me Anxiety? How to Stress Less About Cleaning and Keep Your House Functioning
E:
136
with
KC Davis
@domesticblisters on TikTok and Founder of Struggle Care
February 20, 2024
August 3, 2022
Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Why Support Matters and How to Find Resources to Help
E:
132
with
Dr. Wendy Davis
Executive Director of PSI
February 20, 2024
July 27, 2022
Overcoming Working Mom Guilt: Why Moms Should Never Be Ashamed to Be Ambitious
E:
131
with
Lara Bazelon
Law Professor and Author
February 20, 2024
February 16, 2022
What is Matrescence? The Transition into Motherhood (And Why Being a New Mom is Hard)
E:
108
with
Dr. Katayune Kaeni
Perinatal Psychologist
February 20, 2024
February 9, 2022
How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby: Planning, Introducing, and Keeping Everyone Safe
E:
107
with
Dominika Knossalla
Certified Dog Trainer
February 20, 2024
February 2, 2022
Discover Your Personal Core Values
E:
106
with
Dr. Cassidy Freitas
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
January 26, 2022
When Mommy Rage Strikes: How to Prevent and Control the Anger
E:
105
with
Dr. Ashurina Ream
Founder of Psyched Mommy
February 20, 2024
January 5, 2022
Sleep Training Doesn't Have To Be Scary
E:
102
with
Dr. Aubrie DeBear
Founder of Baby Sleep Dr.
February 20, 2024
January 19, 2022
Carrying the Mental Load: How to Redistribute the Burden and Give Moms More Freedom
E:
104
with
Eve Rodsky
New York Times Bestselling Author
February 20, 2024
January 12, 2022
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression: How to Spot the Signs So You Can Seek Support
E:
103
with
Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis
Reproductive Psychiatrist
February 20, 2024
December 29, 2021
Decluttering: The Secret of an Easy to Tidy Home
E:
101
with
Katy Wells
Declutter Expert
February 20, 2024
December 22, 2021
100th Episode: Erica’s Husband Tells All
E:
100
with
Frenel Djossa
February 20, 2024
December 15, 2021
The Pressure to Get It Right
E:
99
with
Dr. Jen Douglas
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
December 1, 2021
The One and Done Family
E:
97
with
Renee Reina, Ph.D.
Founder of The Mom Room
February 20, 2024
November 24, 2021
Overcoming Gender Disappointment
E:
96
with
Dr. Renée Miller
Clinical Psychologist
February 20, 2024
November 17, 2021
Adding a Sibling to Your Family
E:
95
with
Bryana Kappadakunnel
Family Therapist
February 20, 2024
November 10, 2021
Regulating Your Nervous System
E:
94
with
Dr. Quincee Gideon
Psychologist
February 20, 2024
October 13, 2021
Momming With ADHD
E:
90
with
Dr. Melissa Shepard
Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
February 20, 2024
October 6, 2021
Supporting NICU Moms
E:
89
with
Kristin Reinhart
Registered Social Worker
February 20, 2024
September 29, 2021
Alcohol, CBD, and Cannabis While Pregnant and Nursing
E:
88
with
Dr. Jennifer Lincoln
OB-GYN
February 20, 2024
September 22, 2021
Working As A Mother
E:
87
with
Dr. Courtney Tracy
Founder of The Truth Doctor
February 20, 2024
September 8, 2021
Caring for the Postpartum Brain
E:
85
with
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
Neuroanatomist