Getting Over Gender Disappointment and Having All Boys

boy mom embraces all the girly things after having gender disappointment

Boy, gender disappointment sucks. As a parent, you have ideas of what your life is going to look like when you have kids, and sometimes all these dreams vanish in an instant. Yeah, it does look a little silly to an outsider looking in. But to a woman who had been waiting to bask in ballet lessons and frilly pink dresses, finding out I would only have sons felt like the loss of a life I had envisioned.

I was 20 weeks pregnant heading into my sonogram appointment with ten pink baby outfits waiting in my Target pickup order.

All I had to do was press confirm on my phone and I could grab them on the way home. I’d lay my favorite outfit with the sonogram photo and announce we’re having a daughter. The hunt for a perfect name could begin, and I had a list a mile long of ethereal, practical, princess names—even though my heart was already dead set on Annie.

She’d be so cute, with a grandmother who designed and embroidered kids clothes. We would have her wardrobe planned out till Valentine’s Day.

I have eight uncles, two brothers, and a son. Any girl cousins I had were either ten years older than me or lived in a different country. I was desperate for someone to watch Princess Diaries with me. Desperate for some estrogen. 

Grabbing ahold of my husband’s hand, I squeezed tighter as the ultrasound tech searched. He thought the whole thing was silly, he didn’t get it at all. “It would be like if I was upset I had to go to a softball game.”

Girl. Girl.  I thought, scanning the television for the “hamburger” sign. The “Angle of the Dangle” theory had captivated my attention the last couple of months, but had been inconclusive. I had even bought a Baby Dust Method book hoping I could time things just right to have a girl, but we got pregnant before I even attempted gender swaying. I had meticulously kept track of every symptom I was having, as if to just persuade myself I was having a girl. Just in case I wasn’t, I wanted to at least dream about it.

“It’s a boy,” the ultrasound technician’s voice was soft, almost like she knew that wasn’t what I wanted to hear but was entreating me to be happy anyway. 

I really wasn’t that crushed at first. This wasn’t my first time, been there, done that. I still went to Target after and bought two brand new outfits for him. One baby blue and white striped two-piece set to bring him home in. One cream knit several sizes bigger—his Christmas outfit. 

It wasn’t until that night when my husband started joking with me about never having a daughter that I burst into tears. The look on his face told me he was shocked I was taking it this badly. I had had gender disappointment briefly with our first son. But this was our last baby; it felt like I was mourning my idea of a daughter. My dreams of watching Gilmore Girls and having similar interactions with my daughter evaporated. I tried to think of depictions of mothers and sons in TV shows, and couldn’t envision anything I wanted for my own life.

Don’t get me wrong, my gender disappointment didn’t mean I was sad I had boys.

I love my boys. In fact, after my first son was born, my husband asked me if I still wished I had had a daughter, and I said “No.” The thought of not having my perfect baby boy made me nauseated. But I also longed for a daughter in a way that made my heart feel like it was being squeezed. I had always, always envisioned myself with a little girl with dark curly hair—just like mine. When I was younger, I had this beautiful boy baby doll someone had given me when I was a little girl, and how it had always sat on my shelf in the back of my closet. I don’t think I even named him.

Gender Disappointment was supposed to go away once you had your baby, and it did with my first son, but I didn’t want to wait until my boy was here—that wasn’t fair to him. I had had severe postpartum anxiety with my oldest, and I was determined to enjoy the newborn phase this time. As much as anyone can enjoy not sleeping and bleeding and being a human pacifier. 

So, I made a list. Anything that made me long for a daughter went on this list. 

The cute outfits. The beautiful names. I had a list of baby girl names that were not only sophisticated enough for a lawyer, but also fun enough for an artist. These names would age well and had a plethora of available nicknames for her to choose from. 

But as my list went on, some of my reasons surprised me. Princess movies. Slumber parties. Mani-pedi dates. Matching dresses. Fixing her hair.

Fixing her hair?? I never even fixed my own hair. My high-school principal once said he knew it was picture day because I had my hair down that day. And matching dresses? I didn’t really like all those girly things, especially wearing dresses and doing my hair and putting on make up. I had always been a tomboy, too sophisticated or academic to like those things—right???

Somewhere in second grade, I cut my hair short and decided I was a tomboy because an adult had called me that and made it sound like a good thing. My mother hardly ever wore makeup, and I had always been praised for being so academic and practical. Being “high maintenance” was something akin to an insult in my mind.

I realized the reason I wanted a daughter so badly because I felt like I needed an excuse to do traditionally girly things. As if, “because I want to” wasn’t good enough.

Well, I wouldn’t ever have a girl to dress up, so I would dress myself. I went out and bought a headband and a dress and spun around in my living room like a child, swirling my skirts. My boys would have a girly mom, who likes pink and frilly dresses, and does her makeup.

When I started doing all the things I wanted to do for a daughter for myself, I stopped wanting a daughter so badly.

I could buy myself dresses. I could fix my own hair. 

And I realized another thing. 

While I wasn’t going to give my boys feminine names or dress them in frilly pink outfits, they could still watch princess movies with me. I could take them to get pedicures. They have feet, why shouldn’t they be allowed to take care of them? Why is “self-care” exclusively for girls? 

My son even played with one of my old baby dolls at one point, and I didn’t dissuade him from it. I think all boys should routinely be offered a baby doll to play with if we want them to grow up to be nurturing and involved fathers.

I turned on The Little Mermaid one day and surprise, surprise, my boys love it. We danced to the Encanto soundtrack everyday for two months. When my oldest spotted my bag of nail polish under the sink, we used the little bottles to learn colors. I dabbed the green and red and blue paint on his toes as he wiggled them happily. 

My gender disappointment and longing for a daughter was actually good for my sons.

If I had had a daughter instead of a second son, I would have probably left my oldest at home when I took my daughter to get pedicures. I would have probably told him no, he couldn’t have green toenails. Longing for a daughter allowed me to look at what gender norms I was blindly accepting and to determine if I wanted to pass those norms down to my sons. And being a #boymom forced me to realize I actually like girly things.

Light and Airy Amsterdam Photographer Sim Sawyers

Sim Sawyers is a Motherhood Photographer living in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with her husband and two little boys, whom she absolutely adores from head to toe. To read more about Sim, click here.

Her client closet allows her to play with gorgeous dresses everyday, click here to see her client closet.

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