(Disclaimer: This was written pre-pandemic as I chronicled my pregnancy.)
I experienced “gender disappointment” when I was pregnant with my first. I had never heard of the term before.
Anytime someone asked me if I was hoping for a boy or a girl (which was pretty much every single time someone found out I was pregnant), I gave the obligatory answer: "I’d be happy with either! I just want a healthy baby.” I was not aware that this was not entirely true.
We found out we were having a boy at the 20 week scan. We were told that everything looked great and was developing normally. I should have felt overwhelming relief and gratitude but I was surprised and ashamed to discover that what I felt was disappointed.
From early on in our relationship, my husband had talked about wanting three daughters. “Little Leahs,” he would say wistfully. He has a knack with all children but there is a softness and sensitivity in him that I have always felt inherently suits him to be a #girldad.
As I heard the words, "It's a boy," I looked to my husband but his eyes did not meet mine. My breath caught as I panicked and went into catastrophic thinking: “He's not happy! He’s not going to love our baby!”
I remember forcing excitement in front of the technician. When we left the room and turned the corner out of the prenatal ward into the main hallway, I burst into tears.
I leaned into a window and sobbed. I couldn’t articulate why. I had a tidal wave of feelings. I felt disappointed. I felt bad that my husband felt disappointed. I felt worried he would reject the baby. I felt guilty.
I felt like we were already failing as parents.
When we got outside, I think in an effort to lighten things up, my husband joked, "Aw, I was really hoping to see that we were going to have twins!"
We didn’t really talk about all of this until much later, when Ryker was about three or four years old. By that point we of course wouldn’t change our child for anything, so it felt safe to discuss what we had felt when we first found out that he was going to be a boy. My husband said that yes, he had been a little disappointed initially, but that he had gotten over it within five minutes. He just had to switch mental gears from always having dreamt about having three daughters. He said that he started to think about the future football (read: soccer) professional we might have. When Ryker was born on the day the World Cup started, we dubbed him our World Cup Baby and thought maybe it was a sign that Daddy's dream might come true.
While my husband may have quickly accepted that we were going to have a boy, I had a much harder time. I obsessively read online about other parents who had been disappointed by the gender of the baby they were expecting. I couldn't believe that there was a name for it and entire forums on the topic. I read many stories of parents who had all boys and kept trying for a girl and vice versa. I looked up what I could do in the future to raise the odds of conceiving a girl. I looked up gender selection via IVF. I sat on our couch and cried because I wanted a girl and then I cried more for making my unborn baby feel unwanted.
I could not remotely relate to my friends who opted to keep their baby's gender a surprise. I thought how much worse it would have been if I hadn't found out in advance and then felt disappointed when the baby was born.
I thought about the story of my birth. When my mother had been pregnant with me, my parents had been told that I was going to be a boy. I don't know how exactly the doctors had gotten it wrong but my parents were elated: a first born son in a Korean family is a source of pride. They decided they would name me Leonardo, after Da Vinci. My dad is an artist, designer, and inventor and naturally admired this great man in history.
My parents would tell the story of how my dad had taken a baseball mitt and It's a Boy! cigars to the hospital when I was born. When I think about this I can’t help but visualize my dad standing near my mom’s feet, crouched in a catcher’s position, ready to catch me right into the mitt, his pocket full of the cigars he would soon be handing out in the waiting room. And then a moment of shock rippling through the delivery room as the doctor says, “It’s actually a…girl?!”
I prayed that the same thing would happen for us in reverse. Even after a subsequent scan would confirm that the baby I was carrying was most definitely a boy, I refused to believe it. I willed for him to be a girl all the way until the moment that he came out into the world.
I cannot even really explain what about having a boy felt so terrible in my mind. I remember saying meaningless things like, “Well I’m a girl so I would know how to raise a girl. I’m nervous about having to raise a boy.” As if I knew anything about raising any child! I remember dreading all things that were stereotypically boy things: toy trucks, dirt, and fart jokes. I don't know where any of this was coming from; it is not as if I have particularly liked stereotypically girl things either.
What I think in hindsight is that I would have freaked out either way because it was more a symbolic rejection of this new, huge unknown that I was stepping into. I wasn’t rejecting becoming a boy mom; I was rejecting becoming a mom at all, because I was utterly terrified. The news that we were expecting a boy just gave me something specific to feel terrified about.
After Ryker arrived, I went through several years of postpartum depression that was punctuated by panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and PTSD. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand and untangle what I experienced. I wonder if perhaps the depression started at this moment when we found out the baby's gender. A moment where I was unable to accept my reality, unable to see the bigger picture.
I did have glimmers of joy in those early months and years. I remember one night after I had put Ryker to bed and as I came out of his room, I saw one of his toy cars in the foyer. I remember this moment because I was surprised to discover that I felt affection for a toy that had once symbolized my misinformed sadness and disappointment. My child loved this toy so I, too, loved this toy.
When Ryker was in preschool, I became friends with moms who had two or even three boys. I found these women to be particularly cool: level-headed, relaxed, and an easy sense of humor. I started to feel pride in being a #boymom.
I am embarrassed that it took me so long to truly believe that there is no “better” or "easier" gender. I am amazed and inspired by the way our concept of gender identity is evolving. I feel at ease in my role as a #boymom and I think I am doing a good job with my son when it comes to encouraging him to be just as he wants to be. He has long hair and regularly wears pink and other stereotypically girl colors so he is often mistaken for a girl. When this happens, he is not offended but he does find it odd that people tend to make such an assumption. For years he has matter-of-factly said, "Boys can have long hair and girls can have short hair. There is no such thing as a boy color or a girl color. Everyone is allowed to be and like whatever they want!"
My child is not a set of stereotypes; he is his own unique person. Yes, he has a lot (a LOT) of energy, as many boy moms would probably attest to about their sons, but he also loves curling up in his bed and quietly reading until he can't keep his eyes open. Yes, he was obsessed with toy cars for several years but one day when he was around four and a half years old, he simply wasn’t interested in them anymore. We sent them all to his younger cousin and just like that, there were no more cars strewn about the foyer. That phase was over.
And that's the thing I'm learning as Ryker continues to grow up. I see more and more how fleeting all the moments are, the phases, the challenges, the hobbies... it’s all temporary. I can’t help but calculate that when he turns six in a few months, he will be 1/3 of the way to turning 18 years old.
With all this in mind, I am not fretting over whether my second is going to be a boy or a girl. It seems like such small potatoes. I am no longer terrified of having only sons. I think I’m a pretty great #boymom. The bond between mother and son is special, but I know this is true about the bond between any parent and their child.
What matters is that a special soul has chosen to be a part of our family.
Being my son’s mom has taught me this.