TLDR: It’s common to have some big feelings—including disappointment—around the reveal of your baby’s biological sex. We asked a therapist for advice on how to deal with gender disappointment so that can you feel positive and optimistic before your baby’s birth.
It’s your 20-week ultrasound, and you’re so excited to get a glimpse of your baby. With such a close look at their anatomy, you are about to find out the sex. The sonographer carefully explains all of the wavy gray shapes on the screen, pointing out your baby’s brain, spine, and heart. And finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for….”It’s a___!” Your stomach drops. Even though you told all your friends and family that you “really don’t care whether it’s a boy or girl!”—deep down you hoped for a certain outcome, and now you’re disappointed. This feeling is called gender disappointment, and it’s incredibly common for new parents—but it’s an under-discussed emotional aspect of the pregnancy journey.
People who feel disappointed about the gender of their unborn child often stay quiet about their experience—they might feel guilty thinking about their friend undergoing IVF, or they imagine someone judging them for these thoughts. And of course, everyone wants a healthy baby, no one more than that baby’s parents. It makes sense why parents don’t talk about this, but it doesn’t make the feelings disappear.
It’s perfectly normal to feel disappointed if you had your heart set on raising a little girl or always envisioned yourself as a #boymom. You may feel sadness, shame, guilt, fear, anger, disconnection, or any other combination of emotions. It’s okay to grieve your fantasy.
All of that said, it’s important to note that sex is not necessarily the same as gender1 . A baby’s sex is the biological attributes that they are born with, including their genitalia and chromosomes. Gender is more complex and is influenced by instinct, culture, society, and more. In general, gender identity is how someone feels and expresses their gender. The sex of the baby is what you find out through a first-trimester blood test, at your anatomy scan, or at the moment of birth—the gender of your baby is something that will reveal itself in time. And although our culture seems to most often use the term gender in relation to babies, what most people mean is actually sex.
Still, it’s common to have some big feelings around the reveal of a baby’s biological sex, even if you intellectually know that their anatomy won’t dictate their identity. We talked to Dr. Emma Levine, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of Perennial Wellness2 , a group practice that specializes in women’s mental health, to learn more about how you can cope with your very valid feelings of disappointment.
“Gender disappointment is a very common psychological experience among the women in my practice,” says Dr. Levine. “Women often fear that their disappointment is a barometer of how they will be as a mother, or of how much they will love—or be able to love—their child. Shame shows up for women when they conflate their feelings of disappointment as being indicative of who they are as a woman and as an expectant mother.”
But, she adds, “The key here is that preferences are flexible. Most people are also typically able to regain their ’emotional footing’ and, ultimately, feel optimistic and positive in relation to the sex of their unborn child.”
Here are some of the ways Dr. Levine suggests you can process your feelings.
Dr. Levine encourages looking inward. “It’s important to first make space to engage in non-judgmental self-reflection about your feelings of disappointment. The ability to be curious about where your disappointment may be rooting from is foundational to healing your pain. For example, is your disappointment the result of a deeply-rooted fantasy not being actualized? Is your disappointment showing up because you feel insecure or less able to parent a child of a particular sex? Is it connected to a prior pregnancy loss, or some other trauma from your past?”
Talk about your experience
Because of feelings of insecurity or shame, parents struggling with gender disappointment often feel alone or isolated in their experience. Dr. Levine adds that we don’t even know how often gender disappointment happens or the full range of its impact on mental health, “because women often silence themselves and are reluctant to seek support for their feelings.” So don’t bury this deep down. Talking about it can be a powerful way to process and share with people you trust, including friends, family, or a therapist or maternal mental health specialist. Consider joining a new parents’ circle to connect with other people in the same stage of life—chances are, someone there has experienced some of the same feelings.
Check-in with your partner
Once again, communication is key. Your partner may be having similar feelings of disappointment, especially if you have a shared vision for your family. Regardless of their own personal feelings, they can be a strong support for you as you process yours. Be open to sharing how your thoughts and feelings are evolving—and to hearing how theirs are, too.
Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of your fantasy
It’s okay to want a child of a particular sex. Seriously—that’s a completely normal human want. So when the ultrasound results don’t match up with the expectation, allow yourself to grieve the loss of your desire and fantasy. Dr. Levine advises, “Work to trust that the grief can exist while also holding space to love and build a bond with your unborn child. Break down dichotomous, black-and-white thinking. Use self-talk such as: ‘I feel sadness and grief that I will not be having a baby boy and I trust that I will love my baby girl deeply and will have gratitude for our special bond.’”
How to find acceptance (and excitement!) through mindfulness
Mindfulness can also be a powerful tool to help you move through feelings of grief and disappointment, says Dr. Levine. The practice of mindfulness often helps people move to a place of self-acceptance, which can be key when experiencing gender disappointment. Whether it’s meditation, journaling, or other mindfulness practices, Dr. Levine says these types of activities are all “useful strategies to allow yourself to feel your feelings of disappointment without judgment.”
Take time to tune into yourself and feel the parts of you that are strong, loving, and accepting. Whatever your baby’s sex is, everything you need to parent your little one is there inside of you already.