On the way to the private gender scan for our third baby, I felt that I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised if this little person growing inside me was a boy.
I felt like I knew they were going to tell us he was a boy, and if they said girl it would be a HUGE surprise.
Despite not finding out until they were born for my first two boys, we were finding out at 16 weeks this time. This was our last baby, and I knew I wanted time to process what our family’s final line up would be before our baby arrived. I knew I didn’t want those feelings crowding the early days with my new baby.
We were all there for the scan when the sonographer announced that he was indeed, a boy. It’s a lovely memory to have, the moment we were told, all together as a family, that our new member was a boy.
Our third boy.
Before we started out on this whole baby-making journey, I knew I wanted a large family, and I always imagined I’d have a mix of both boys and girls in there. Because I knew we wanted three, I just assumed and imagined that mix would happen one way or another. I’ve never had any strong feelings as to whether I’m carrying girls or boys, apart from the very first few weeks with my eldest two boys, when I just had an inkling that they were girls. Especially Arlo, I knew he was a girl when I found out about being pregnant with him. With Rory, I think it’s more because people were telling me “It’ll be a girl this time, I just know it!”
And yes, I would love / would have loved to have a girl. Not because I want to buy girly clothes or any smaller reason like that. I am not a girly girl. It’s a more primal reason than that – the desire and intrigue to see a part of yourself reflected in the same gender as yourself.
Our girl has had a name since my pregnancy with Arlo. She isn’t an abstract concept. She is a very real idea. Someone Sam and I had both been imagining for over five years now.
I had a feeling that I would have to process some things if our final family line up was all-boy, but truthfully, I wasn’t quite prepared for the torrent of emotion that followed, in phases, over the next few months.
And so began this strange process of, well, processing.
For the first day I was just excited to know.
And then I kept getting hit by silly realisations. Like “I’ll never get to see Sam do a father of the bride speech!” (the groom’s family traditionally don’t really have a role in the speeches do they?) And I really mean silly, because who knows what’s going to happen in the future – daughters can decide not to get married, or not to have wedding speeches.
Feeling guilty that I shouldn’t be feeling this way, when all that matters is a healthy baby, when some people can’t have children, when some people would love to have three or more children. But knowing that all of that doesn’t actually change the thoughts I’ve had. And so the guilt continues.
When asked, saying that we haven’t found out yet, because I was still processing. Not being ready to tell acquaintances until I can do it with a genuine excited smile on my face.
Looking at large families with all the same sex children and wondering “Did you too go through this process?”
Feeling a sad reminder of the pregnancies we’ve lost whenever I hear a comment that we “keep making boys”. Because this isn’t three boys in a row, this is three boys and three unknowns in between.
I wasn’t able to shake the feeling that we are disappointing all the people who had already commented that they would like to see us have a girl.
Feeling, irrationally or not, that people wouldn’t be as excited about a third boy announcement.
Even typically stoic Sam felt this to some extent, but a positive side effect was that it actually made us pretty protective and bonded with our little guy – how could anyone think his news wasn’t just as special?
The comments were one of the worst aspects. OH MY GOD the comments.
There is really no other response other than “congratulations!” Or “how exciting!” That is appropriate. Because anything else implies that you think my family isn’t perfect.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been told that we are “one member away from having a five-a-side team”.
Consolidatory comments from parents of both: “Boys are easier, anyway, trust me”, or “It’s all the same, really”. Well, that just reminds me that I can’t qualify that opinion from my own personal experience, so it’s a bit of a conversation dead-end.
Then there are the comments where it seems the person is desperate for you to admit some kind of deep disappointment that this baby is not a girl. “Oh, I bet you wanted a girl?” Perhaps if we were two glasses down at the pub, I might happily chat about some of the feelings going through my head at the time of writing this. But not during a passing moment at the supermarket. Not in front of my children.
“Three boys?? Don’t look too sad about it! You can always keep trying”.
When the response to the eager “Did you find out??” is just “…Oh”.
These comments, especially when your emotions are still raw, or perhaps there’s been a rift (for a short while, Sam couldn’t understand that I really was looking forward to our baby, the different set of emotions I was processing was running alongside all that stuff, not competing with it) these comments can be really cutting.
I think the term gender disappointment is a really misleading term for the feelings I experienced, and the horrible wording is just another excuse to pile more guilt on yourself. I want to make very clear that there was never any disappointment at all.
Before you find out whether you have a girl or a boy at birth or at a scan, you are imagining two options, running side by side. When you find out, you are saying goodbye to the other option. The option that never was, but still felt like it almost could have been. For 20 (or 16 in our case) weeks. Saying goodbye can be something that happens in the blink of an eye, or it can be a process. For me, having children of all the same sex, that process has become a little longer each time.
It’s come as a surprise to have these feelings, however fleeting some of them have been. I wasn’t expecting my stronger reaction this time round, to say the least. It’s something that I think only parents of three or more all boy or all girl families might understand. It’s also something that I think we naturally try and keep quiet about, suppress and move on.
I think people don’t mention these feelings much because it’s so easy to misunderstand and assume that you don’t fiercely love the child you have, or assume that you are seriously hung up about it forever. Neither of which is the case for me. I am not sobbing into my cornflakes every morning that I don’t have a girl, our boy is THE person who was meant to come into our family, and I’ve loved him since the moment I knew he was growing inside me. I definitely have not ever wished to swap one of my boys for a girl.
I’ve written this partly to vent for myself, and partly in the hopes that it might act as a comfort for anyone feeling similar. Those first weeks after we found out were a confusing time for me, and all the while I was beating myself up for feeling anything other than extremely lucky and excited for our new arrival. I didn’t know of anyone else who had felt this way.
As with all things you feel like you shouldn’t be saying out loud, I tried to bury the feelings. But it was only when I gave myself time to fully acknowledge everything I’d tried to bury, that I found I had given myself what I needed to move forward.
Almost immediately after that, the image of three boys, three brothers surfaced to the forefront of my mind. I could let myself imagine all the good things. The image of two boys and a little sister suddenly became something that seemed so alien, something that never was ‘our’ family,
For anyone who might be feeling those horribly conflicting and confusing emotions, feeling guilty that they might be feeling ‘gender disappointment’ even though that term is woefully inadequate, I promise that it doesn’t last forever. By the end of my pregnancy, it had well and truly cleared and made way for me to fully concentrate on looking forward to meeting our baby boy.
In fact, perhaps because he was my third and adjusting to a newborn was familiar territory, perhaps because I felt defensive and protective over him being “another boy” in other people’s eyes, whatever the reason, I fell in love with him from the very first moment – something that had taken a little longer with my other two children.
Yes, the large family I imagined back when we started making our family was one with a mix of boys and girls. The reality is different. But it’s equally as lovely.