It's A . . . Disappointment!

You wanted a boy and got a girl. You wanted a girl and got a boy. Other parents who've been there have some surprising insights to share.

I admit it. I would have liked a daughter. Not someone who would play with dolls (because I never had), but someone who would bring all her stuffed animals to a tea party. Someone whose hair I could comb, and whose hair I would let flow long and loose (because I never had). And--even though I'd been the organizing member of the "Tomboy Tree Club"--someone whom I could dress in all those gorgeous, lacy, frilly clothes. Pink ones.

What I have instead are two wonderful sons.

We all have an idea of how we want our family to be. We want that son to carry on the family name. We want that daughter to be our best friend when she grows up. We want that boy or girl because we've got the other and the "perfect family" has "one of each."

Despite the fact that just about everyone has feelings about what they'd like to have, talking openly about our hopes--and our disappointments--remains largely taboo. Part of the reason is that it's a luxury to think about gender at all. With so many couples struggling with infertility, or trying to cope after a wrenching loss or serious illness, how dare we admit that we're disappointed with a perfectly healthy baby? But parents who are willing to talk about their feelings--and how they worked through them--help the rest of us discover an interesting truth about gender preferences: they evaporate almost instantly when that child is born.


A Child of Her Heart

Plymouth mother of three Gail Milstein dreamed of a girl after her first son was born, in large part because of her close relationship with her mother.

"When I had a second boy, to be honest, I was upset," she admits, "primarily because it flew in the face of my expectations. I couldn't help thinking, 'Now it will be the boys and my husband. I'll be left out.'"

Compounding the disappointment, her close friend gave birth to a girl a few weeks later. "After talking to her, I hung up the phone and sobbed. I felt that what had happened to me had been a mistake."

In addition, she felt guilty and ungrateful for having negative feelings when she knew she had a beautiful, healthy child.

But something happened after second son Nate was born that surprised Milstein.

Her disappointment over not having produced a girl quickly turned to joy for the child she had. Over the course of the first year, Nate's personality emerged, and she began to marvel at the delightful child he was growing to be.

"Nate's different than the rest of us--very open, very easy, very affectionate," she says. "He completely captured my heart. I was valuing the wrong attributes. Your relationships with your children are only in a small way about their gender; the important thing is who they are as people.

"The doctor said, 'It's a boy,'" Milstein continues. "What he should have said was, 'It's Nate. You have Nate.'"

In the end, Milstein did "get her girl." After receiving the amniocentesis results for her third child, she called back the office to ask, "Are you sure you didn't make a mistake?" It was an unexpected treat for me." Still, Milstein says that she was already at peace with whatever the results would be. "Who our children are is about their soul," she says. "[And] that sort of unfolds."


Four of a Kind: Boys

Milstein's experience can also be viewed as a lesson in sex-role stereotyping. The qualities that are often attributed to girls, easygoing temperament, cooperative nature, as compared to the aggressive, loud, rough-and-tumble nature of boys, are just those, stereotypes.

Betsy Hedding, the mother of four boys, says that having four of the same sex has taught her that lesson well. While she believes there are "inherent differences" between the sexes, having so many of one gender allows her to see "how much variety there [actually] is."

Hedding, whose boys range in age from eight to fifteen, and who works at a junior high school, clearly loves kids, and loves to have her house full of them. As the boys enter adolescence, their household is becoming distinctly testosterone-heavy; she describes the mounds of sweat-drenched soccer clothes, the constantly emptying refrigerator, the male voices of her sons and their friends. "We even have a boy puppy," she notes with a laugh.

Hedding admits that she would have loved to have had a girl; she, too, enjoys a close relationship with her mother and sisters. "I had an ultrasound [with] my fourth and they said, 'We think it's a boy.' I cried. But it gave me enough time to resolve it."

Hedding does find opportunities to hang out with girls, from spending time with her nieces to serving as a confirmation guide for girls at her church.

"You are given what you're meant to have," she says. "Now, I can't imagine not having four sons. It's a novelty, but I can't imagine it otherwise."


Triple Play: Girls

Sometimes gender runs so strongly in an extended family that it becomes a running joke. As Lisa Heimer explains, "On both sides of our family, all the grandchildren have been girls--a total of ten." There's even a great-grandchild--who's female.

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