Gathered in my sitting room were my husband, Reuben, my almost two-year-old daughter, Matilda, my parents and my siblings. Clutched in my hand was an envelope. In it was a slip of paper with a single word – the gender of my unborn child, who’d been deemed healthy at a 20-week scan earlier that day. Reuben and I had agreed to wait to read the results until the family were gathered later that evening.
‘Open it, open it,’ chanted my sister., ‘any guesses?’. ’I just want a healthy one,’ I trilled lamely.
What a liar I was – to myself and everyone in that room. I was hoping and praying for a boy. I’d even convinced myself I was carrying this baby differently from Tilda. Surely it was my longed-for son? I’d considered the possibility that it might be another girl, in which case I wanted to get my head around my disappointment long before her birth.
I tore open the envelope. ‘Girl’ it read and my heart sank as I rallied to give the outward impression of delight.
It turns out lots of mothers feel this way, with a quarter recently confessing to ‘gender disappointment’, with mothers often praying for girls (39%), and fathers for boys (18%).
In our case, I was the one holding out for a son. I’d grown up adoring my younger brother, have always been something of a tomboy and felt that Reuben, an ex-professional cricketer, would get a kick out of having a sporty mini-me. He genuinely didn’t mind either way, but I felt one of each would take the pressure off – I’d already had two miscarriages – one of twins before Tilda was born and a horrifying late miscarriage when she was almost one. All three lost babies had been girls (so why did I imagine I’d get a different result?) but, given that getting pregnant and carrying a baby to term was no picnic for me, if I had one of each I could stop at two and be content with my lot.
I was under no illusions that it was outrageous that I had a preference. Even among parents with straightforward pregnancies, I’d wager it’s a taboo subject to openly confess to wanting one gender or the other. But you know that family fantasy of yourself when you’re in your twenties? Mine included rambunctious boys, a house in the country and three children, at the very least.
But as I discovered, fantasies aren’t half as fulfilling as the reality. Bibi, now five, who I’d hoped would be my imagined son Theo, is seven shades of awesome. And as Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, the website that funded the research, said, ‘To avoid disappointment, see your children as individuals who can be anything they want.’ Bibi is feisty, clever, thoughtful – and funny, god, so funny. She’s a bit of a tomboy too, who loves a wrestle with her dad. Her ginormous personality more than fills that ludicrous boy-shaped hole, and my reproductive system, I’m happy to report, is in retirement.