Interview

Family: I Am Baby

[original article published in the New Straits Times Malaysia on 31st March 2013. Written by Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal.]

Kate Middleton’s confession of wanting a baby boy at a St Patrick’s Day parade inspires Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal to ask the question: Is admitting gender hopes such a good idea for parents-to-be?

KATE wants a boy. Hubby William, meanwhile, seems to fancy the idea of a little bundle of pink. Avoiding the stock answer of “We don’t mind anything as long as the baby is healthy” to the common gender question, the lovely Duchess of Cambridge, who’s approximately 4½  months pregnant, apparently made the confession to Guardsman Lee Wheeler during a St Patrick’s Day parade.

But are they setting themselves up for “gender disappointment” by admitting this? Gender disappointment to put it simply, is the baby blues you get when you don’t get the sex of the baby that you’ve been harbouring. For some, this is no minor matter. Especially if you’ve had five daughters in a row and fancy a little boy to break the monotony of little Eves.

Ask mothers-to-be the question what gender they hope their newborn will be, most would likely say that they simply want a healthy baby. Even though they’re secretly wishing for a particular sex. When the ultrasound reveals the result and it’s not what they wish for, most would pretend to be thrilled, although inside, the heart is broken.

It’s a feeling that Katherine Asbery, author of Altered Dreams: Living With Gender Disappointment, knows well. She’d hoped that her second-born child would be a girl but instead, she had another boy. Before she got pregnant for the third and final time, she tried tactics that she found on the Internet to help her conceive a girl. She ate yoghurt to try to change her pH balance, and she made her husband take hot baths to alter his sperm. When she discovered that she’d be giving birth to another boy, she “cried and cried and cried,” she said. “Then I felt guilty.” Asbery isn’t alone.

I remember when I was pregnant with my third child after a succession of two daughters. I too gave out the stock answers to the stock questions but deep inside, I was hoping that by some miracle, the doctor saw wrong and that I’d be giving birth to a lusty boy. If only for my poor husband’s sake as I knew he’d been waiting long enough to have a male in the house that he could go fishing with one day. But I didn’t… and out came another bundle of beautiful pink, which must have been a disappointment to hubby. But bless him, he never said.

Gender disappointment is actually quite common and yet is often considered a taboo topic of conversation. Mothers (or fathers) may feel let down if they’ve been holding on to a specific fantasy of how things would turn out.

Disappointment is doubly hard to bear when you feel that you’ve let down certain members of the family who’ve pinned their expectations or hopes on what you’d have. Not only are you nursing your own sense of failure, the pressure is compounded because you’ve not been able to deliver a boy who can carry on the family name. This brings to mind the poor wives of England’s King Henry the VIII and their burden of having to provide a male heir for this Tudor tyrant. In the end, only Jane Seymour, his third wife acquiesced; two of his queens bore daughters, while the other three were childless.

GENDER DISAPPOINTMENT


It’s quite natural to secretly wish for one gender over another, says Jamilah Samian, CEO of Cool Mum Super Dad Academy and author of several parenting books, among them Cool Mum, Super Dad, and recently, The Groovy Guide to Gen Y and Z.

Humans are complex creatures and we desire and wish for a lot of things. “Our preferences are coloured partly by our personal experiences and perceptions, based on what we have felt, seen and heard,” begins Jamilah. “If you had a negative experience with little boys who were rascals growing up, e.g. you had brothers who were often a load of trouble, never clean up after themselves, who fought a lot with other boys, or your father was an abuser, you might never imagine yourself raising a boy. Plus if you had a sister or an aunt who was gentle and understanding, it’s quite natural for you to have reservations for boys and to favour girls over boys.”

However, the danger of having these preferences, advises this mother of five, is that “…you’re biased for a gender and against the other. You stereotype boys and girls, making judgments on the baby even before it’s born. This is why some cultures consider it taboo to have gender preferences. I don’t think it’s wrong per se to have gender preferences. What is wrong is to allow these preferences to negatively influence the way you treat your baby. Then it becomes an act of prejudice; something you’d want to avoid.”

ABILITY TO LOVE


Trust your ability to love, advises Diane Ross Glazer, a psychotherapist at Providence Tarzana Medical Centre in California. Whatever guilty feelings you may have will not last forever. “Gender disappointment typically only lasts until your child’s birth day, when you finally meet each other,” says Glazer. “In fact, oxytocin, the powerful hormone that your brain releases during labour, helps you fall in love with your baby.”

This is the very reason why some experts advise new parents-to-be not to try and find out what the gender of their baby is before it is born. This way, they say, you’ll be more likely to focus on your baby as an individual rather than on whether you got the gender that you wanted.

A MINI ME


Mother-of-two Ida Baizura Bahar has been married to Feizal Razali for nine years. She recalls how much she was hoping that her first born would be a little girl. “I had always envisioned a healthy mother-daughter relationship. I love pink and girly stuff!” confides the senior lecturer in the Department of English at Universiti Putra Malaysia. “My husband didn’t mind so long as the baby was born healthy and perfect. I think my mum and sisters knew that I secretly wanted a girl as I always made it clear that I wanted to have a little Mini-Me around!”

And she did. Confides the bubbly 39-year-old, who gave birth to her second child, a son, two years ago: “I did observe the scientific way to get the gender I wanted i.e. for a girl, to have intercourse 10 days after the first day of my last period. Then I had to sleep on my right or left side after ejaculation, I can’t remember!”

Motherhood, says Ida, is everything to her. “I now understand my mother’s love, hope, anxiety, anguish, happiness, sadness, all emotions rolled into one. Motherhood has given me a definite sense of purpose in life. Whereas before, I obsessed more on clothes, shoes and handbags, now it’s all about the children.”

EVERY CHILD IS AN INDIVIDUAL


For new mother Rachell Gautz, a US expat who has been living in KL for the last three years, she also wished for a baby girl as her first-born. Her husband, an executive with British Petroleum, didn’t express a preference but was confident it was going to be a boy. “My reasons for wanting a girl were very shallow,” confides the 34-year-old. “For example, I always thought ‘girl things’ are so cute! Of course what mattered most to both of us was that we had a healthy baby.”

The couple opted not to find out the gender of their baby until it was born. Says Gautz: “I didn’t want to spend the pregnancy with a lot of preconceived ideas of what our baby would be like. That said, we did pick out names for both genders.”

Ultimately, a child’s gender isn’t the determining factor in their personality, adds Gautz. “Every child is an individual, and if you expect them to conform to your expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. What matters is your relationship with your child, no matter the gender.”

RESPECT THEIR STRENGTHS


Five-months-pregnant Choo Li-Hsian, a senior accounts manager in a public relations company, has been married to husband Srihari Iyer for three years. This is her first pregnancy and the couple is expecting twins!

“We were very happy to discover we were expecting as we’d been trying for about a year and a half before that,” confides the 40-year-old. “I was a little concerned at the beginning because of the risks associated with pregnancy at this age, and also with how to balance work and the pregnancy, as well as childcare after pregnancy. Thankfully, we’re coping with matters just fine now.”

Although the couple did carry out a scan to find out the gender of their baby (“because we’re carrying twins and I didn’t want any complications”), Choo doesn’t think that there are any particular advantages to finding out the gender of the baby early. “I guess aside from being able to pre-select some names in preparation for their arrival. In our case, we’re selecting both Indian and Chinese names to reflect their mixed heritage.”

Continuing, she says: “I don’t believe in the ‘boys should wear blue and own boy-like things; and girls should be dressed in pink and only play with dolls philosophy. I think in this day and age, this type of differentiation should no longer exist. Growing up in a family of three girls, I’ve never felt that my personal potential was limited by my gender. My husband also has been brought up to respect the strengths of both women and men.”

PARENTHOOD


Raising children, says Jamilah, is a humbling experience. “Daughters and sons are different by virtue of their gender. But how a person turns out is a multi-dimensional issue. It’s a function of genetic and environment. Much as we try to be fair, parents know it’s impossible to have the same feelings for all of their children. What’s important is to treat each child fairly, despite whatever you’re feeling.”

Parenthood means different things to different people. For Jamilah, it’s about “… raising children who will become positive agents for change in the world. It sounds simple but is never easy. Think of all the people who have left an imprint on people’s hearts and minds … They were once children. Were it not for the adults in their lives who were there for them, and guided them, they might not have turned out the way they did. Have this in mind when you’re raising your kids so it helps to see things in perspective.”

Dealing with gender disappointment

1.    Acknowledge your disappointment and be prepared to move on. Many parents are happy to discover that the disappointment melt away the minute they set eyes on the baby.

2. Reflect on your concerns. What’s the reason for your gender preference? Even if you wished for a girl and got one, she might not grow up into the person you imagine her to be.

3. Do a reality check. We tend to stereotype girls and boys, but there are girls who are soccer captains and not into wearing dainty dresses or baking cakes and cookies. Similarly, some boys hate typical boys stuff and are better at striking and sustaining a conversation than girls. At the end of the day, the baby will still grow up to be an individual with unique personality traits.

4. Talk it through with a non-judgemental person. It helps to learn that you are not the only one to go through such emotions. Talking things through might help you sort out your feelings.

5. Seek professional help if you still feel disappointed after the baby has been born for several months.

Beware the danger of gender disappointment.

Read more: FAMILY: I am baby – Sunday Life & Times – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/life-times/sunday-life-times/family-i-am-baby-1.244814#ixzz2PXixtdqI

About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 543 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

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