When pregnant UK journalist Esther Walker wrote a controversial 2012 article titled “It’s taboo to admit it, but I wish my unborn baby wasn’t a beastly boy!” in the Daily Mail, she opened a can of worms most mums would rather keep shut.
Walker, who also has a daughter, wrote candidly about her disappointment upon discovering her second child was a boy — dubbing it “the dreaded gender”.
Ask any pregnant woman if she wants a girl or boy and, chances are, she’ll say she’s happy either way, as long as her baby’s healthy. But is this really the truth? Privately, she may be longing for a first son to carry on the family name, or a daughter to fill her home with glittery, girlie shoes. Yet, to admit any kind of preference over gender seems to go against the very nature of motherhood.
Boys to “carry the name”
Historically, boys have been the most popular choice, with Henry VIII’s infamous quest for a male heir ending with numerous wives ousted from the tempestuous monarch’s bed (often without a head). But, according to a recent Netmums survey, this trend has reversed, with 45 per cent of mothers secretly wishing to give birth to a daughter, and only 22 per cent hoping to have a boy. The remaining 33 per cent said they didn’t mind their baby’s gender.
When Katherine Lee, 29, mum to 6-month-old Jack, found that she was having a boy at her 20-week scan, she was so disappointed, she cried. “I’m one of three sisters and was so sure I was having a girl,” she explains. “We’d chosen a name and even started collecting pink clothes, so it was a shock — I felt I’d lost my dream of a daughter. I felt so embarrassed in front of the sonographer, so I pretended they were happy tears.”
To anyone who has struggled with or gone through more serious parenting problems, this debate may sound superficial and divisive — yet another war pitting parents against each other. But discovering your baby’s gender can prompt all sorts of unexpected emotions.
Reasons for being upset range from women wanting to “dress up” a baby girl, to believing they would “bond and understand” girls better. Other studies suggest couples with two girls are the happiest family unit, with less noise, fighting and a greater openness.
Of course, there are also those who prefer boys. When Devi Ratnam, 30, mum to Tara, 8 weeks, and Diya, 2, discovered that her third child would be another girl, she was disappointed. “My hubby was delighted — I was the one who wanted a son. I’d grown up with a brother and loved all the sporty fun we’d had, so I wanted the same for my daughters.”
Psychologist and parenting expert Claire Halsey notes that most parents keep quiet about their gender hopes for fear of being judged. “But it’s normal to have a preference, which will be affected by your own experiences.” Your husband’s perspective will have an impact, too, along with how you imagine your relationship might work with either gender.
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Perceptions of babies
One hang-up could be down to gender judgment. Mothers of boys (MOBS) are seen as having a tougher time and are pitied by mothers of girls (MOGS), whose angels sleep better, eat vegetables and would never dream of chasing pigeons.
Such misplaced judgment has united mums in the US, with a group of 40 women in New Jersey launching the Mother of Boys forum some 10 years ago. “It was a vehicle for mums of boys to connect and let off steam,” explains co-founder Marylyn McLaughlin.
And while it’s not common in Singapore, informal gender support groups also exist in the UK. “It’s relaxing to hang out with other mums going through the same problems,” says Hannah Evans, mum of three boys and author of MOB Rule: Lessons Learned By A Mother Of Boys. “You don’t have to apologise for what can sometimes be a scary surfeit of energy.”
However guilty you may feel about this disappointment, admitting it to yourself can actually help. “It’s important to face the fact that you’re disappointed, and not feel guilty about it,” advises psychologist Mia Scotland. “We often react to it by adding emotions such as shame, self-criticism or envy that make it worse.”
It’s better to accept you’re disappointed and know this doesn’t mean you’re rejecting your baby. You can feel sadness and still love the baby you have. “I felt low about not having a boy,” recalls Maria De Cruz, mum to Eva, 1, and Melissa, 4. “But when Eva was 2 weeks old, I started to bond with her and decided I should count my blessings — I have two gorgeous, healthy girls.”
Girls are familiar
Often, the reason some women want a baby girl is because it’s familiar territory. “Women may have preconceived ideas about what their relationship with a daughter would be like,” Halsey notes.
And like most stereotypes, they often contain a kernel of truth — for example, boys may be more active and be more likely to play sports, while girls may be interested in dressing up and shopping. But the typical assumption that boys will be loud and boisterous, while girls are quieter and more complicated, does not always ring true.
If you’re unhappy about your little one’s gender, focus on getting to know his or her unique characteristics. “Chances are, your disappointment will be fleeting,” Halsey says. “In the rare instance you feel your inability to come to terms with your baby’s sex is causing problems, speak to a friend or your GP.”
By the time bubba reaches the 3-month mark, you’ll realise he or she has become such an adored part of the family, the gender debate seems irrelevant.
“It’s only one aspect to all the intricate elements that make up your child,” Halsey points out. Looking back, De Cruz can see she was blinded to the benefits of having a girl while pregnant, thinking only about what a baby boy would be like. “It now makes sense that we had a girl,” she adds.
“We know what we’re doing and we have all the girl stuff". It’s also incredible watching our daughters together — you can tell they’re going to make a great team.”
So, respect to all mothers of kids out there, whether you’re decorating your new baby’s nursery with a train theme or filling the wardrobe with pink playsuits.