Sex disappointment*.

It happens, but few of us want to talk about it. Especially those of us in the loss community.

“I’ll just be happy if your baby is healthy and alive,” we say about pregnancy after loss, because we all know the alternative. We may even demand the same from our friends and acquaintances who are going through easy (as we would call them) pregnancies.

pregnant woman holding belly - the secret truth about sex disappointment in pregnancy after loss

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And because it’s true. A pregnancy which results in a healthy, live baby is absolutely what we hope for. We want our baby to come home in our arms, and not suffer along the way.

Yet many pregnancy-after-loss moms report a measure of disappointment when they learn the sex of their child. And I’ll confess, I struggled too after learning our rainbow baby’s sex.

Here are a few reasons why you may be disappointed at learning the sex of your unborn baby:

1. You lost a child of a certain sex, and have big feelings about either parenting a child of the same sex — or not getting to parent a child of that sex again.

When a parent has a child of the same sex as the child who died, there can be confusion. “Well, I bought all these outfits for this baby girl, and now a different baby girl is going to wear them. I don’t know how I feel about that.” You might look into your child’s eyes, and search for the one who is missing. Friends and family might comment that since you “got your girl after all,” causing you to worry that this new addition will be seen as a replacement for the one you lost.

On the flip side, if you have a baby of a different sex, there is the fear — and many times the actualization — of the fact that you may never parent the gender of the child you lost. You were a “boy mom” at one time, but now there are only girls in your arms. I felt this distinctly. We raised a son for a year and a half, and about 6 months after he left, I found out we were expecting a girl. I mourned that I would never be a boy mom again.

2. You might have relationships outside of the this pregnancy that make you concerned about parenting a child of a certain sex.

Perhaps you had a very difficult time bonding to your mom as a daughter, and you suffered as a child and then as an adult from that strained bond. Well, it would make sense that you might have some trepidation around having your own daughter, and wondering what that experience might be like.

This can come from many different relationships and it can definitely play into how we feel about our own children’s sexes.

3. You might have parented a child of that sex before, and are concerned that this next child will automatically deal with the same issues your first child had.

A friend of mine had a son with congenital health issues that predominately affects boys. Needless to say, when she found out she was having another boy, she was full of fear. She had hoped for a girl in part to know that she would not suffer the same as her older son.

Perhaps you have already raised a daughter and have struggled in some way with that relationship, or she has struggled in some way with a health concern. It makes sense that you might attach the issue at hand with the gender, and worry that your next child of the same sex will automatically face the same struggles.

4. Because you’re built for relationship.

I think the most common reason women in pregnancy experience sex disappointment is that they are longing for a relationship with a son or a daughter. Not only have they had those 12-20 weeks bonding to a baby whom they have created dreams, hopes and plans for — but they also have years prior of imagining what their family might look like.

When you find out your child, the one you’ve acceptably told others for half your pregnancy that you hope is a girl, is in fact a boy … you have the right to mourn. And it’s not because you are not looking forward to having a relationship with a son … it’s because you are missing that relationship with a daughter.

So what can you do if you are facing sex disappointment?

1. Give yourself time.

As I mentioned, we spend weeks or years imagining what our relationships might look like with our children. Going into a sex reveal can feel like whiplash when your hopes and dreams around a specific sex need to change and adjust. That’s ok. You’ll come around in time. Your desires, hopes and dreams will grow. I struggled with disappointment at our ultrasound for our rainbow baby — even while so relieved and grateful for her health — but trust me, not long after I was very excited she was a girl. And now I can’t imagine her any other way.

2. Embrace “both/and” thinking.

Our emotions do not exist in a vacuum. It is possible, likely even, that we will feel more than one thing at a time. You can feel 100% grateful for your baby to have a heartbeat, and 100% disappointed that you will not be having a daughter (or a son). You can be sad, anxious, scared, excited, hopeful, cautious, etc., all at the same time. So if someone accuses you of being ungrateful, know that it is not true. You are grateful — you’re just mourning the loss of an expectation, and that mourning is healthyand necessary, and paves the way for a better bond with your child as he or she is.

3. Don’t allow others to speak their disappointment to you.

Grandparents, aunts, BFFs or even strangers at the grocery store might also have strong hopes and opinions on your baby’s sex. While they might be allowed to also have their feelings, it is not appropriate for them to disclose those to you, the parent of this child.

It’s like the concept of the concentric circle. You and your husband are on the inside. And each relationship is one concentric circle out. The people on the outer circles should only express their opinions to the people farther out than them. Never inward. If grandma is disappointed, let her tell a friend of hers. Not you. And not your husband, or any of your other children.

4. Find someone you trust to share this with.

Maybe it’s your husband, or a best friend, or even a counselor. Your feeling of disappointment may feel shameful to you, but it should not be a reason to feel shame. It is a healthy, pre-programmed response to unmet expectations.

Like most issues in life, sex disappointment is handled best within a trusted community, rather than stuffing it, hiding it, or pretending it isn’t so. Let someone you trust in to share your emotions — someone who will offer grace and love for both you and your child.

Sex disappointment is a real struggle many parents face. And these feelings can be even more complicated when facing an already anxiety-ridden pregnancy after loss. What about you? Have you experienced sex disappointment? What was that like? How did you cope? Did you find that your feelings changed and adjusted with time?

*A note on sex (gender) disappointment: Among the loss community this has been referred to as gender disappointment in the past. In recent years there has been a movement to label this experience as sex disappointment, as this more accurately describes the genitals a person is born with. However you define this experience for yourself, it’s important to know that sex disappointment is a real psychological experience that pregnant after loss parents can go through. 

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