Gender Disappointment: When Parents Don't Get The Child They Wanted

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Expecting parents who hope for a specific gender -- and then get the opposite -- can go through real feelings of depression and shame. Credit: sallyrae17, Flickr

Parents wait with bated breath to learn the gender of their unborn baby -- and sometimes, the answer isn't what they wanted to hear. Gender disappointment is a real and often heartbreaking matter for mothers and fathers who had their hearts set on a boy or a girl.

We chatted about this in the office when our colleague, an AOL editor who's expecting his first child, admitted that had his heart set on a girl.

"Everybody in my family has girls," he tells us, preferring to remain anonymous. "I guess we need a boy in the family, but when the doctor told us we were having a boy, I was so disappointed."He says he knows he shouldn't be upset, and that as long as his son is healthy he'll be a happy dad, indeed. But that doesn't stop him from thinking about what could have been.

Joyce Venis is a psychiatric nurse in Princeton, N.J., who works with parents who have similar reactions. Gender disappointment is often dismissed or not discussed, she recently told MSNBC, because parents feel they will appear ungrateful.

Venis adds that it's not wrong for parents to hope for a specific gender, and it does not mean that they don't want the child. "They have the right to want the certain sex," she tells MSNBC. But if the problem is severe enough to cause symptoms of depression, parents should not be ashamed to seek the advice of a therapist.

In some cultures, gender disappointment takes on even greater import. In China, for example, where the government limits the number of children parents can have, boys are preferred because they continue the family line. In too many cases there, parents have been known to abandon or even kill their newborn baby girls.

Back in America, our colleague knows that he's lucky, and jokes about how his wife tells him to stop talking about having a girl in front of their unborn son.

"She really wanted a boy," he says. "She always tells me when I talk about it, 'The baby can hear you!'" He adds that one reason he wanted a little girl is so that he could see a "cute little version of his wife running around, but I'm still super excited either way."

Were you upset when you found out the gender of your baby, and how did you cope with those feelings of disappointment?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.