Gender disappointment might be taboo, but it's more common than we can admit.
Ever since Facebook created the concept of the online mums group, thousands of different groups have been created to discuss different aspects of being a parent, right through from conception to the teenage years.
The ones I've been a member of, have been incredibly helpful to me throughout my 3 pregnancies and beyond, such as the Hyperemesis Gravidarum group that I turned to when suffering horrific morning sickness, and Study Mum, a group of mums who are all juggling university while looking after kids.
One of the groups I came across while social media trawling was a group for mums specifically focused on trying to conceive a particular gender. Most of them already had kids and were hoping to have the opposite gender of what they already had. There were some women who wanted a boy, but the majority of mums in the group were desperate for a daughter, usually having their third or fourth child, willing to try anything to get a little girl.
I joined the group out of sheer curiosity, as my oldest daughter was 2 when I came across it, so I wasn't looking for advice. My curiosity didn't come from a place of judgement – rather the opposite. I'd hoped for a girl in my first pregnancy and felt content once I found out I was having one. Then, with my second and third pregnancies I didn't mind what the gender was. I could relate to the women and their need for a daughter.
I hadn't done anything specific to try and influence the gender in my first pregnancy. But the women in this Facebook group regularly exchanged tips on things that should be done, to possibly sway the chance of conceiving a girl. If someone was successful, all of the other mums wanted to know what she'd done, so they could do the same things.
Some of them did every single thing that was suggested, including changing their diet to alter their pH level to be less acidic or alkaline, or boosting certain hormones by taking supplements and eating certain foods. They were timing what day was most optimal to try, based on the Shettles Method that suggests girl sperm lasts longer than male sperm, charting their temperature and cervical mucus, and asking their partners to follow certain diets too.
I couldn't believe how dedicated some of them were to having a daughter. You could practically feel their longing through the screen.
You could also feel their disappointment through the screen, when the mums who were unsuccessful shared their "failed sway" results. Despite their efforts, disappointments were posted all the time, from mums who had tried everything, but were pregnant with a boy again. Those who knew they were having their last baby spoke of needing to grieve the child they would never have. The ability to find out gender through ultrasounds and NIPT testing very early in pregnancy now, meant that these mums struggled with these feelings for months, sometimes even longer.
Some of the mums in the group were saving up to travel overseas and do sex selection IVF, which is currently the most successful way to conceive a little girl, compared the other less scientific methods they had already tried. Sex selection IVF isn't legal in Australia, and costs upwards of $20,000 to do in other countries. Even then the process can't guarantee pregnancy – just ask anyone who has been through multiple rounds of unsuccessful IVF.
The only thing we can really do to help these mums that are suffering disappointment (as well as guilt for not being happy) is to allow them to talk openly about it. I thought the biggest benefit the Facebook group offered was not the conception tips, but by simply being a place where members could be honest that they had wanted a girl more than a boy.
All of the mums prefaced sharing their sadness with "I know I will love my baby boy no matter what, but..." before listing all of their reasons for wanting a girl. Almost every mum said, "I wanted to buy pretty dresses and take my daughter to ballet class. I wanted to help plan her wedding and have a special mother-daughter bond. And now I'll never have that."
It's true that dressing up little girls in bows and skirts is a lot of fun, as is watching them twirl themselves dizzy at baby ballet. But my little boy is just as amazing, and I'm looking forward to Thomas the Tank Engines and dinosaurs joining the piles of Barbies and tiaras in the play room. I feel exceptionally lucky that I am raising girls and a boy, and I understand why some mums would feel sad about not being able to experience both.
Hiding gender disappointment or leaving it to only be discussed in private groups where women aren't made to feel ashamed isn't enough. Gender disappointment may not be the same as the emotions women feel when they can't get pregnant, or lose a baby, but we can't just dismiss it. We need to give them permission to process their emotions before their baby is born. It doesn't have to be taboo anymore.