When I was Disappointed by My Child’s “Gender”

With my first pregnancy, I really wanted the sex to be a surprise – after all, it’s the one major surprise in life you know is going to be wonderful either way, right? I got a thrill imagining all the possibilities of who my little unborn person could be, without gendered boundaries. I was thrilled when my son was born – I saw him on the bed below me and immediately squealed, “Oh my god, he’s here!” I tried to pick him up so fast the midwives had to stop me so I wouldn’t yank the cord.

My second pregnancy was an entirely different story. As you may know from a few of my other posts, I’m a feminist. I believe strongly in deconstructing the patriarchal values that disadvantage people who aren’t heterosexual, cisgender males in our society. So perhaps it won’t surprise to say I always hoped I’d have a daughter. I envisioned a young woman who I could raise to be a strong bulwark against the bullshit of the patriarchy, someone who would resist gender stereotypes and prove “the man” wrong with her intelligence and independence. My husband hoped for the same. We only plan on having two kids, so suddenly the sex of this little person had more at stake, and we decided to find out at the 20-week ultrasound. We’d heard enough stories of people who’d been disappointed with a baby’s sex, so finding out in advance seemed like the safer option.

When the ultrasound technician pronounced the fetus male, I didn’t feel disappointed at all – I looked at the tiny little black-and-white image and thought, How could I ever be disappointed in who you are, little one? It was a relief to feel nothing but joy as I watched little kicking feet and legs on the screen; I felt I had transcended the upset I’d feared.

So it was also a disappointment in myself when in the next few days I was suddenly overcome by waves of sadness about the ‘loss’ of ‘my daughter.’ I would burst into tears when talking to my mom or my sister, and when I heard the song “When She Loved Me” (if you’re hormonal right now but don’t feel like a good cry, maybe don’t click that link). The feelings were so strong, they almost felt like mourning. I tried to identify the reasons for these emotions, exactly what I thought I was ‘losing’ by not having a daughter. My head presented different theories, but each one was quickly dismissed with rational thought:

I wouldn’t have a child to have ‘girly time’ with. I’m not really a big fan of stereotypically ‘girly’ activities anyway: I get drained pretty quickly in a mall, and have had painted toenails exactly twice in the last two years. What I mostly look forward to with my “girl” time is a cup of tea or glass of wine and some lengthy chatting. Neither hot beverages nor conversation are the exclusive domain of women, and even for the occasional pedicure, shopping trip, or feelings-y movie night that I do enjoy, who’s to say that a) a daughter would have enjoyed any of those things, or b) that my sons won’t?

I wouldn’t get to raise a “feminist,” or be a feminist role model to a little girl. To be honest, I’m ashamed my brain even presented this one, since many of the men I know are self-proclaimed feminists. Plus, I can be a feminist role model for my children regardless of their sex, and little boys need these role models just as much as little girls do.

I wouldn’t get to have the close mother-daughter relationship with my child that I’ve so loved having with my own mom. This was harder to swallow. But truth be told, I know lots of women who aren’t close with their mothers, and lots of men who have great relationships with their moms, so having the same reproductive parts as my kid is no guarantee of a close emotional bond.

I would be the ‘odd one out’ in my family. The worry waves come in fast: Will my kids go to their Dad for advice instead of me, assuming he will more likely ‘get’ what they’re going through? Will I be the only one in my family who cares at all about keeping tidy order in our home… and therefore will I be left to do it all?  Will I be assigned the role of the nag, always cautioning against risk rather than jumping headlong into the fun? Will I be alone in having the occasional emotional meltdown? All these worries, of course, assume that my kids penises somehow preclude them from being neat, cautious, or emotional. Even though I know lots of men who are each/all of these things, and even though I know personal bonds are built on many more blocks than biological sex, somehow the smallest sliver of this fear still hides in the back of my mind. (As a sidenote, it’s harder to keep perspective when all these concerns are reinforced by the countless people who’ve responded to the news with a sympathetic head shake and, “Two boys? Well, you’ll sure be busy!” Please, everyone, stop doing that.)  Fortunately, I also know that I can be open with my partner about these things, and we can work together to minimize their impact, if any of them actually arise.

silhouette two boys

Even though I dismissed each of my fears, I still think it was completely legitimate to feel a sense of mourning when I found out my little baby was a boy, because really, I was mourning the disappointment of my own expectations – and expectations, even though they’re not usually based in reality, can feel as solid as if they’re made of concrete. Best of all, acknowledging some of the things I had hoped for with a daughter forced me to confront some of the gendered biases I still had, despite years of education on gender and sexuality.

We place so much importance on the “gender” of our unborn babies, and we even ask people if they’re going to find out the “gender.” Really, we’re finding out what reproductive parts our fetuses (appear to) have, and I think we’ll do much greater service to our kids if we remember that’s all we’re finding out at that much-anticipated ultrasound.

All my worries, all my fears, all my sense of loss, had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with the little bundle of joy and wonder that was growing inside me. Just another lesson along my road of motherhood: a reminder that my kids are purely themselves, and my job is not to assume I know who they are, but to pay attention and let them show me.


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