Twelve years ago I gave birth to my third son. In my heart of hearts, I knew he was a boy before the doctor said so. What I didn’t know was how much I would be affected by the knowledge that I would never have a daughter.
My husband and I wanted two to three children when we got married. When boys number one and two arrived, I assumed baby number three would be a girl. I was the oldest with two brothers. Every family I knew growing up either had both genders or all girls. The baby dolls I played with were girls. I never seriously considered that I would have an all-boy family. Until that’s what I had.
The Truth is Taboo
I knew immediately that I couldn’t tell a soul that while I was crazy about my beautiful, healthy newborn son, I was sad about the daughter I would never have. If I were honest about how I felt, people would accuse me of not being grateful for my children or not trusting God or not even being a good mother. After all, there were women in China abandoning babies of the less-preferred gender, weren’t there? To say that I wished for a daughter in addition to my incredible sons was a sin. And so I was silent and I grew very, very depressed.
One thing we know from studying veterans of wars and victims of crime is that if hurting people don’t express what they’re feeling, they are at risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and worse. As I continued to deny my feelings, the stress I was under in parenting three boys ages three and under escalated.
Thankfully, I found a group of women online who felt like I did–women who, like me, assumed they would have a child of both genders, but didn’t. Also, like me, they wrestled with guilt for feeling as they did and with the unwritten rule that you didn’t talk about how you felt. As I got to know these mothers, I learned two things that are important for mothers with the baby gender blues:
- You have to talk about it. You might not be able to tell your mother, your in-laws, or even your best friend, but there is another mother out there who knows what you’re going through. Be honest with her about how you feel.
- Let go of the guilt. Needing time to adjust to a different plan than you envisioned is not wrong. In fact, the more guilty you feel, the longer the adjustment time.
Others’ Comments are Unkind
When I thought I was adjusting well to the idea that I wouldn’t have a daughter, someone would say something that would set me back. Here are just a few of the things I heard and what I thought:
- I just can’t imagine not having my daughters. (She thinks my life will be awful without one.)
- I just don’t see you being the mother of a daughter. (I’m not good or girly enough to have a daughter.)
- I just got lucky having a girl after having boys. (I’m not lucky.)
- That is so, so sad that you don’t have a girl. (There’s no bright side.)
- Boys don’t take care of their parents. (I’ll be lonely in my old age.)
- You only get to be involved in weddings and with grandkids with your daughters. (I’ll be left out of my kids’ lives.)
With the help of friends who experienced similar unkind comments, I learned two more things that can help mothers with baby gender blues:
- People say stupid things that simply aren’t true, even if they believe them. I was blessed with a very close relationship with my mother-in-law. I knew that God willing, I could be close to daughters-in-law, too. I also knew families of all grown boys who took great care of their elderly mother and I knew grandmas with only sons who were very close to their grandkids. Look for the exceptions to these ridiculous rules. You’ll find them.
- People often have ulterior motives for what they say. People who are jealous of you will use what they suspect is a disappointment to their advantage. People who are hurting about their own family will often want the company of your misery. Consider the source. Are the people who love you best encouraging you? Listen to them.
My husband and I had three more children, the fifth a daughter. But having a daughter hasn’t changed my compassion for women with the baby gender blues. I remember that time in my life well.
To be supportive of a mother of one gender:
- Don’t assume they’re upset. Not everyone is disappointed.
- Don’t express sympathy. If you’re close, ask the mother how she feels about the baby’s gender and respond accordingly. If you’re not a confidant, don’t mention it.
- Don’t tell her gender doesn’t matter. You’ll contribute to her guilt.
- Compliment mom and baby. Tell her how beautiful her child is and what a great job she does in parenting.
- Share positive examples. People who told me about adorable families with all boys were my heroes. My pediatrician made me smile when he said, “You’ll always be the queen.”
- Use humor. When we learned that baby #4 was a boy, too, our brother-in-law said we might as well remove all the toilet seats. I should have taken his advice.
those who hope in me will not be disappointed. (Isaiah 49:23b)
While we may experience temporary disappointment in all aspects of life, we will never be disappointed in the God who loves us and will never leave us.
Has anyone said anything hurtful about the gender of your children or have you inadvertently said something to a parent with all boys or girls?