We Need To Talk About Gender Disappointment

We Need To Talk About Gender Disappointment

I’d wanted a third baby for so long. Matt, not so much. He was worried that the PND would return and worried about the finances of raising another child. He was also worried about the sleeplessness nights and the constant demand of a newborn just at a point where we had got to the even keel of life with a four and a six year old.

But for me, the yearning grew and grew. We argued about the third, we cried, we debated, and finally, after I had recovered from the PND, and our lives were more settled, with a bit more money in the pot, Matt suggested we try for this much wanted third. And so we did.

My head immediately raced with the possibility of another child in the mix, my heart filling with excitement at idea of what our new family future would be. I envisaged bringing another baby girl home, the girls meeting their sister for the first time, three daughters. In our families, there are girls as far as the eye can see on this generational line. In Matt’s family, his brother’s have 5 girls between them, and on my side, I have three nieces too. Amazingly, a boy had never appeared and so our natural default was always girl girl girl. There was no reason, other than a slight biological probability, that another baby wouldn’t be a girl and so we set about planning for a new, baby girl, arrival.

I fell pregnant very quickly and the test was positive seven days before my period was due. After planning for the first two I guess I knew exactly my dates of ovulation but the blatant ‘hello, I’m on my way’ positive line on the pregnancy test, arriving so quickly, took me by surprise. But in hindsight, I had ‘felt’ pregnant, almost immediately, My body responded with painful boobs, bloated tummy and nausea pretty much straight away, and the speed of these early symptoms was certainly different from the first two pregnancies. But, third baby, right?

The nausea grew into morning sickness and then hyperemesis gravidarium. I’d had the same with the girls. My bump started to grow and it stuck out in front of me, more oval than the round fullness I’d had when carrying the girls. A niggling feeling started inside, but I shut it out. We picked out a girls name – Peggy Primrose. We told our families we were expecting and everyone started to prepare for little Peggy’s arrival.

My experience of boys up to this point was friends and family and honestly, they are lovely but I didn’t really connect with them in the way that I did with other little girls. They would come for play-dates, tear around the house with Maggie and Bess and seek the cars and balls out of the toy box, digging and discarding the dolls, tea sets, Barbies that the girls had a plethora of. When I was little, playing mums and babies, my dollies were all girls bar one, a smaller baby boy doll called, funnily enough, ‘Matthew’ (my now husband’s name) and I had begged my mum to have him because quite frankly it was the first time I had ever seen a baby doll with a willy. I didn’t think of him really as a boy other than that and soon he was discarded in favour of the girls because that felt more ‘right’. In my games, I was a mum of two girls. I only ever imagined that scenario as I grew up, thinking about motherhood and imagining myself raising children. Girls. Only girls.

I know for some reading this they will roll their eyes and mutter ‘oh for goodness sake, it’s a 50/50 chance you stupid woman’ but having a boy just never really entered my psyche. I know, I knew, that there was a possibility, but I shut it out, so convinced was I that I was destined to be the mum of girls. And for the first two pregnancies, I was right. Bob on. I trusted the ‘vision’ and didn’t expect otherwise.

16 weeks into the third pregnancy, I booked a gender scan for us to take the girls to for them to ‘meet’ their sister. The hyperemesis had ended at 13 weeks and I was starting to feel good, unlike the pregnancies with the girls where the sickness had lasted almost to 20 weeks. I was craving chocolate, sweet stuff ALL the time, which was different from the girls – I had devoured 6 apples a day with both of them for at least half of their gestation. En route to the scan, I started to feel that niggle rise again, a little funny feeling in the pit of my tummy. A little worry feeling, a little anxiety. I battered it back into submission by bantering with Matt about how he was going to cope with all these women in the house, telling him to be prepared for another girl, that his Dad wouldn’t believe it etc. I secretly whispered inside my head ‘Come on Peggy, I can’t wait to meet you’.

The scan started and all was well in all the ways you worry about and of course, want the baby to be healthy and developing well. When it came to checking the gender though, the baby wasn’t in position (much like the girls!). I had to go for a walk, drink cold water, jiggle about until the sonographer could get a better view ‘between the legs’. We walked around town, and my heart started racing. What if it wasn’t a girl? What if my assumption wasn’t right? I looked at my little family and felt a pang. What if there wasn’t another little blond girl joining this gang, but… a boy?

Upon return, I lay back down, the girls excited chatter dimming as the sonographer turned off the lights. I put my hand on my forehead, half covering my eyes. My mind kept saying over and over ‘boy’. It’s a boy. You know it’s a boy. “Well,” said the sonographer. “The good news is that we have a perfect view now, well done you” and she pressed the probe down onto my tummy. My heart raced. My mind filled with ‘Please be Peggy. Be a girl. I don’t know what to do with a boy. Come on Peggy. This is it, let it be you’.

The screen lit up, as the sonographer started to explain what we were seeing. Feet, legs and, then “Ah, there we go. Do you know what that is girls?”

The girls looked blank and shrugged at the grey and black image. Matt stared at the screen. quizzically. I knew instantly.

“Oh, hang on. Is that, is it, oh wow, is that erm, is that a…” Matt trailed off.

“Yes ,that’s a penis. And here is the scrotum. Clear as day. You are having a baby boy! Congratulations!”

I stared at the screen. This was a mistake, obviously.

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Oh absolutely. Girls are harder to see, sometimes. The probability of us predicting correctly is always much higher with boys because well, it’s all ‘out there’ for us to view. Girls not so much. Did you think you were having a boy?”

I went into this weird trance like feeling where the girls were chattering about a baby brother and Matt had tears in his eyes and I heard myself say ‘a boy, wow’. You know in the films how they illustrate that feeling with a cacophony of noise, like ringing in the ears and the camera sort of stumbles around, confused? That was exactly how I felt. Sort of out of my body. There was no Peggy. There was this boy, the first boy of his generation in our family. The only boy amongst all of these girls.

‘Wow, a boy’. I repeated over and over, as if I was forcing it into my head. Matt was delighted. He phoned his Dad straight away, excited, thrilled and talking of season tickets for Nottingham Forest. The girls were bouncing around in the back of the car and started to detail all the ways they were going to keep a baby brother in line. I phoned my mum, and she didn’t believe me at first. I heard the pause amongst her congratulations and a slight hesitation in her voice and I realised that I hadn’t prepared anyone, let alone myself, for anything other than another girl. Peggy wasn’t coming. She was a he and this was a completely new baby to bond with, whilst still being exactly the same little bean I had carried for 16 weeks. Everything had changed, and yet not.

The next few days and weeks blurred. Don’t think for a second that I wasn’t thrilled to be pregnant or understood how fortunate I was, or how grateful that this little baby was healthy and developing so beautifully. I’d always known that if I had found out I was carrying a boy I would need a period of adjustment and I guess, over those initial two, three weeks, that’s what happened. I started looking at baby boys on Pinterest, imagining what he would look like as a baby, a toddler, a little boy. I looked up clothes and followed Instagram accounts of mums with their boys. I asked my friends for tips and I started to take a lot more interest in their sons, watching their mannerisms and engaging with them more than I had before.

It’s maybe trite, but I don’t know how to otherwise explain the transition – but I felt a sort of grief. Not overwhelming, but a tinge of sadness that this baby girl that I had longed to meet wasn’t to be. I cried privately for a few days, not because I didn’t want my baby, but because I needed to let go of the future I had anticipated, of the vision of what I had expected. I had to let go of ‘Peggy’, and welcome ‘Ted’.

And slowly, but surely, the future of two girls and a boy looked exciting. I bonded with this little boy bump and started to feel that fierce protection grow. His name stuck, and we counted down the days until Ted Oliver joined us and by his birth date, on a cold January morning, I arrived at the hospital, ready for my c-section, and ready to meet my baby boy.

The rush, the overwhelming moment of Ted being placed on my chest for the first time pricks hot tears in my eyes when I think of it now. The bond was instant, overwhelming, deeply ingrained. “My boy, my baby boy“, I whispered into his bloodied, wet, matted hair as this little face lay looking up at me, his eyes deep and dark. He was so chunky, a gorgeous bundle with a green hat and I was flooded with love. I was so proud, so unbelievably proud of this baby boy. I had a son. My boy. My Ted.

Ted is now eight months and every day brings a new rush of love. I can’t explain – I don’t think we have the words in the English language for it, to be honest – the fierceness of the love I have for him. It’s different from the girls – still as intense, still as fervent – but different. The connection is distinct, in a way I can’t truly describe other than to say I ‘get’ the ‘Mums and their boys’ saying. I don’t love him any more or any less than my two gorgeous, bright, beautiful and funny girls, but Ted has unveiled another layer of love, another part of my heart that I may otherwise have never known. He’s the easiest baby – sleeps, feeds, plays, repeat – and SO happy. He radiates sunshine and smiles all day long. He is calm (so far!) and sweet-natured.

So for those reading this and maybe at the beginning of the ‘shock’ of gender disappointment, oh, please don’t worry. The love you will have for your baby will triumph over the despondency you feel in this moment. Allow yourself time to grieve what you imagined, and replan, refocus the love into your new possibility. It’s utterly wonderful on the other side. There’s not a day that goes by where I am not enormously grateful that Ted was Ted all along.

My family is complete now. We are more fulfilled than I could ever dared imagine.

I have a son. My baby boy. My Ted.

Kate Dyson

Kate is the Founder of The Motherload, the 'owner' of one husband, two daughters, two cats and one rabbit. She loves wine, loathes exercise and fervently believes in the power of women supporting women. Find me on instagram: @themotherloadhq

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