Are you hoping to have a son or a daughter and are worried about Gender Disappointment?

Part One – Dr Lindsay McMillan, Clinical Psychologist, opens up conversation around the more common experience of parents holding a preference or desire for daughters or sons, which for some – if their preference does not come true – can lead to feelings of grief, sadness, anxiety or distress (parental gender disappointment).

Photo by eberhard 🖐 grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Is having a preference for a son or a daughter something you identify with, no matter the outcome?

Holding a desire to parent a son or a daughter is a topic rarely discussed openly by parents or professionals. However it is not uncommon at all for parents to have thoughts (or be asked by others) about whether they would like a girl or a boy.

Yet, the topic of Parental Gender Disappointment remains an unspoken, taboo, stigmatised parenthood experience for many.

Parental Gender Disappointment – the upset, pain, grief or distress felt when baby’s sex does not match a parent’s preference – is shrouded in stigma and often described as a taboo subject, not to be spoken about out loud. It is an experience often misunderstood by others which can lead to negative comments (‘You should just be happy to have a baby!’). Parents experiencing gender disappointment often worry about voicing aloud their own thoughts and feelings, painfully predicting a negative response from others which fuels the guilt and shame… and silence.

It all starts with a preference…

At the heart of gender disappointment lies a preference for baby’s sex.

After all if there was no preference, there wouldn’t be distress in relation to the sex of baby.

…but distress related to the sex of baby is not experienced by all.

Not all parents who have a preference for the sex of their baby will later feel some level of distress. Some will go on to have a baby of their desired sex.

Let’s do the maths…

Say, 100 parents have a preference for a son and for ease, let’s assume there is a 50/50 split in boys and girls. 50 parents would have their son and not identify with GD. 50 parents would have a daughter and may experience some level of upset that their preference has not been attained – gender disappointment.


Let’s say, another 100 parents have a preference for a daughter

And for ease, we’ll assume again there is a 50/50 split in boys and girls

50 parents would have their daughter and not identify with GD.

50 parents would have a son and may experience some level of upset that their preference has not been attained – gender disappointment.


So now we have 100 parents who have a baby of their desired sex

and 100 parents who may identify with the experience of gender disappointment

but all 200 parents would recognise that they had a preference for their baby’s sex.

Do you think that it would be easier to acknowledge gender disappointment if we first talked more openly about parents having a preference for the sex of their baby?

The Gender Disappointment Psychologist, Dr Lindsay McMillan, is looking to her right. She has long brown hair and is wearing a dark dress with red flowers and green leaves on it.

With over 16 years experience of working with adults, families and parents, the last 9 years as a qualified Clinical Psychologist, Dr Lindsay helps Mums and Dads (individually or as couples) navigate complex emotions, life experiences and challenges to emotional wellbeing, at any parenthood stage.

She is proud to be a Champion for Make Birth Better, an organisation dedicated to reducing the life-changing impact of birth and perinatal trauma as well as to be a ‘HG-Friendly Practitioner’ for the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support.

Dr Lindsay holds a specialist interest in supporting parents with Gender Disappointment – when baby is not the sex, or gender, very much hoped for.

Clinical Psychologists are trained and experienced in delivering a variety of evidence-based psychological therapies and so largely one approach or a more integrative approach, drawing on ideas from different therapies, can be used to suit your personal needs and goals.

You can find me writing about Parental Gender Disappointment on Instagram @theGDpsychologist and my blog, here on www.mcmillanpsychology.com. I can also be found on Instagram @mcmillanpsychology

Please note that theGDpsychologist blog is for psychoeducational purposes and is not the same as or to replace therapy. If you are struggling with your emotional wellbeing, please discuss with your health professional such as your GP, midwife or health visitor who can support you to access local NHS services.

If you would like to access private therapy, in person with Dr Lindsay (South Manchester, UK) or online, please email drlindsay@mcmillanpsychology.com for more information.

If you are a Health or Mental Health Professional who works with parents or parents-to-be and would like to think about how you can support those experiencing Parental Gender Disappointment, Dr Lindsay offers psychologically informed Consultation sessions. Please email drlindsay@mcmillanpsychology.com for more information.

Looking for help with Gender Disappointment? Meet Dr Lindsay

Dr Lindsay McMillan, UK Clinical Psychologist, shares the journey of her professional research and clinical interest in Parental Gender Disappointment.

Pre-motherhood, I had never really considered consciously what sex I wanted my future children to be. Or had I? Playing ‘mummies and babies’ as a child and having teenage conversations with friends about imagined future babies are probably within the life experiences of many of us. I remember a friend at university being certain that one day I would have two sons and that my initial reaction was to feel quite unsure. It left me wondering, did that mean I maybe wanted a daughter one day? But also then actually, what would it be like to raise a son? – Dr Lindsay

A psychological condition? 

11 years ago this month, in February 2010, I watched a documentary about Gender Disappointment. A Channel 4 Cutting Edge program called Eight Boys and Wanting A Girl presented stories from mothers in the UK and America who all very much wanted daughters and had attempted various ways to try to ensure their dream happened. What stood out for me however was the pain and upset the women in the program experienced. They were described as mothers who ‘suffer from a psychological condition called Gender Disappointment’.


The Psychology of Gender Disappointment

At this time I was training to become a Clinical Psychologist, working on an adult mental health team to support people experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. I began thinking about Gender Disappointment (GD) from a psychological perspective. In searching for published research on GD specifically, I could find none. I discovered a few online articles and news reports but no thorough, evidence-based understanding of what Gender Disappointment was and how it was experienced. I knew GD wasn’t considered a category in the psychiatric sense and it did not exist within the pages of the mental health diagnostic manuals. Yet I easily found lots of discussion online by mothers who talked about ‘suffering from Gender Disappointment’. These conversations of difficult emotions and thoughts in relation to their child’s sex were being more easily shared anonymously with strangers online than shared with others in real life. I decided that I wanted to study Gender Disappointment and so for the next two and a half years I dedicated my Doctoral research to this area.


The GD Psychologist

Post-qualification as a Clinical Psychologist I worked with parents, children and families and then in providing psychological consultation to professionals. The trials and tribulations of becoming and being a parent became a reality for me personally. I now have my own private practice, McMillan Psychology, where I focus on offering psychological therapeutic support to parents who want to improve their emotional wellbeing, particularly those who identify with the experience of Parental Gender Disappointment.

The parents I speak to and work with regarding GD have shown me that, 11 years on, not much has changed. Gender Disappointment remains largely experienced as a taboo topic, with huge amounts of shame, blame, shoulds and shouldn’ts, guilt, misunderstandings and judgement towards the self and from others. An area where (predominantly) mums are left feeling isolated and silenced, struggling to find useful and relatable support despite this experience having the potential to impact on mental health, emotional wellbeing, relationships and bonding.

I hope that my work as ‘the GD Psychologist’ will help normalise how common it is for parents to wish for sons or daughters and more importantly, how no one should have to try to cope alone with the difficulties which can arise if this doesn’t happen.


What if we had a space for conversation about Parental Gender Disappointment?

〰️ to round up information that is available about GD

〰️ to share psychological insights from my doctoral research

〰️ to explore other professionals’ research and writing

〰️ to raise awareness of personal experiences of GD for those who want to share their stories (this could be done anonymously)

〰️ engage with other psychologists and therapists who are helping parents explore GD in their work together

Is this something you or someone you know would find helpful? Can we create something supportive here together? I’d love to hear any thoughts you have or areas for content you’d like to see.

You can find me writing about Parental Gender Disappointment on Instagram @theGDpsychologist and my blog, here on www.mcmillanpsychology.com. I can also be found on Instagram @mcmillanpsychology

Please note that theGDpsychologist blog is for psychoeducational purposes and is not the same as or to replace therapy. If you are struggling with your mental health and emotional wellbeing, please discuss with your health professional such as your GP, midwife or health visitor. If you would find a talking therapy helpful, your GP can refer you to local NHS services.

If you would like to work online with Dr Lindsay, please go to www.mcmillanpsychology.com for more information or email directly drlindsay@mcmillanpsychology.com