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.