Gender disappointment: “Another little boy… I almost cried”

When you found out the sex of your baby, how did it make you feel? For some women the disappointment they experience on discovering their child isn’t their preferred gender can be devastating. So what’s behind their desire for one particular gender over another? And how can they achieve it? Kylie Matthews investigates.

First published by www.kidspot.com.au on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Mia*, 31, has always dreamed of having a little girl.  A self-described ‘girly-girl’, she says this desire stems from the close relationship she has shared throughout her life with her own mother.

“Baby girls are just so sweet and I love the idea of having a daughter because I’m so close to my mum,” she explains. “And being the mother of the bride and having a daughter that had a child, all those things, I’d love to have that as well.”

Mia is already mum to two young boys, aged three and four, who she absolutely adores but whom she says she sometimes struggles to relate to. “I just look at these two boofhead boys of mine and they’re just so foreign to me sometimes,” she explains. “I only ever had sisters so they’re the first little boys I been around and they’re so full on.”

 

Mia with son

Mia pictured with her eldest son, aged 4. Photo: Supplied.

The problem with gender expectations …

Dr Tereza Hendl is a philosopher and bioethicists currently employed as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at Sydney University. She believes that parental expectations of gender limit children’s opportunities to become who they are.

“[Some parents] assume that there are two types of children, boys and girls, and they are essentially different and offer different experiences to parents,” she says.

“Selecting children to fit into preconceived binary gender roles negatively affects children because the practice does not take a child’s individuality into account and can limit children’s possibilities to develop freely in gender nonconforming ways.”

“Another little boy … I almost cried”

Mia says she experienced gender disappointment when she learnt the sex of her second child. “After I found out that my second child was a boy, a part of me was so sad,” she says. “I just hoped and hoped that I was going to get that little girl and then it came up on the screen, another little boy, and I almost cried.”

But Mia says she did her best to move on quickly from the disappointment. “When he was born I was happy to have a healthy beautiful baby and so I started to convince myself that I would be happy with the two boys and moved on from the thought of having a girl,” she says.

But she says conceiving another child naturally, and taking the risk that it be another boy, is completely out of the question. “I would hate to feel differently towards that child if it was another boy,” she explains. “Of course, I would love him but I would hate to resent that child in any way because he wasn’t a girl. I would never want to put anyone in that situation – myself, my husband, my other kids, that child  – it just wouldn’t be right.”

Dr Hendl says research on sex selection for social reasons in the West shows that women with gender disappointment is mainly about parental expectations and gender stereotypes.

“Gender disappointment is not an actual recognised medical condition or a mental disorder,” she explains. “This term is used by some mothers to refer to the feeling of sadness about having a child of the ‘wrong sex’ … we need to ask why some mothers are disappointed when they have a child of a particular sex.”

Dr Hendl claims research on sex selection for social reasons in the West shows that women with gender disappointment assume that only girls can have strong relationships with their mothers, are necessarily more homely and family-orientated than boys while boys are more independent, adventurous and self-centred.

“These gender stereotypical beliefs often come into play before the child is born and has the opportunity to develop a personality,” she says. “In consequence, these stereotypes limit parents’ imagination and children’s opportunity to have the full scope of possibilities and relationships, unlimited by gender.”

 

miaand family

Mia’s beautiful family of four. Photo: Supplied.

“It was like setting off a bomb in me.”

Mia’s desire to have a little girl was recently sparked once again by a chance comment her husband made over a glass of wine. “Until about six months ago we were both pretty adamant we weren’t going to have another child because we had our children so close … it’s been a pretty full on few years, having two boys a year and a half apart,” she says.

“And then, about three or four months ago, my husband, who has since had a vasectomy, he goes, ‘I have to tell you something’. I went ‘OK, what?’ and he says ‘On a few occasions recently I’ve been thinking about how much I want a little girl’.

Mia says since then she’s been ‘consumed’ by the possibility and has done some significant research into how she can make it happen, discovering along the way the process of sex selection via IVF. “I googled it and found that you can’t do sex selection in Australia and there are only a few places around the world that do offer it.”

So will she, like thousands of other Australian families have done before her, invest in going overseas to Greece, the USA or UAE to make the dream of having a child of a preferred gender come true? Right now, Mia says she’s reluctant – not because of the substantial costs involved in making it happen but for the physical and emotional toll it may have on her and her young family.

“I think it’s such a huge thing to do to your body and then it’s in a foreign country, with foreign doctors, procedures and processes of doing things and you still don’t have a guarantee that it’s going to work,” she explains.

“Putting so much pressure on it and going overseas and then it might not work, I think it would be devastating. For us we’d have to bring our kids or leave them at home with our family and it’s just such an added pressure on everyone around you that I just don’t think I would do it for that reason. There’s just so many unknowns overseas.”

Possibility for change

Miassonsaged3and4

Mia’s sons, aged three and four years. Photo: Supplied.

In the meantime, Mia is waiting hopefully for the release this year of the much-anticipated review of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)‘s Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) guidelines. Among other things, the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) are currently reviewing Australia’s sex selection ban on the use of sex selection technology for non-medical reasons.

And if the ban isn’t lifted? “I think I’ll probably research a lot more into doing it overseas but I really hope it doesn’t come to that,” she says.

“Why can’t we do it here, for people like me and those with way more kids than I have that just keep trying naturally and putting so much financial and emotional pressure on themselves … I don’t understand why they haven’t let it happen yet.”

But Dr Hendl sees things very differently. “If the ban on sex selection is lifted in Australia, it will send out a message that creating children to fit stereotypical gender roles is acceptable and desirable,” she says. “In my view, in a democratic society, a child’s sex should not determine whether a chid is wanted or not.”

The Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) at the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) are currently reviewing Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) guidelines in clinical practice and are expected to release their decision some time this year.

*Mia’s name has been changed and the names and location of her family omitted at the interviewee’s request.

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