Writer and broadcaster

I’ve got two little boys and feel jealous of friends with baby girls. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I have two sons I love very much but I feel a huge sense of loss that I haven’t got a daughter. I know this is an emotive subject and I am afraid to approach anyone for fear of being judged. I understand that I should count myself lucky – I have two children when some people can’t have any, but my desire is deep rooted. 

I always thought I would have a child of each sex. When we had our older son we both wanted a daughter, but when he was born, all “girl” issues disappeared for us. My husband bonded with him (I feared he wouldn’t as he had said all along he had wanted a girl) and now they have an amazing relationship. We had a difficult start with him – he had heart surgery at seven months but is now a healthy little boy.  

Just over a year ago, our second son was born. This time we found out the sex and although my main concern was that I was carrying a healthy baby, I felt heartbroken that it wasn’t a girl. This passed (I think I convinced myself the scan could be wrong) but when I was induced, due to a condition, the first thing I asked was whether it was a boy and since then I haven’t got over it. We only wanted two children, so I know this is my family

I love my children. But I feel as if I am grieving for a child I will never know. This is affecting my friendships as I find it hard to see friends who have baby girls because I am jealous (a horrible feeling I can’t seem to shake), and I get upset for days when friends have girls. I feel as if I am inferior because I don’t have a daughter.

It’s OK to feel as you do. As the psychotherapist I consulted on your behalf, Dehra Mitchell, says: “It is far more common than most people think and there is huge shame around it.”

The very sad fact that some people can’t have children, or whose children aren’t healthy, isn’t your fault and doesn’t lessen what you feel. But ultimately it’s unconnected to your situation.

Mitchell and I both pick up on the fact that there was trauma around both your births/babies. Heart surgery at seven months is no small thing to deal with. Then there was your condition and induction when you already had a very young child.

 Your husband might be right that you may have unresolved depression, but I also think you could have post-traumatic stress disorder. This may or may not have anything to do with you wanting a girl (you may feel that if you had a daughter, this wouldn’t have happened, for instance), but it’s something you may want to allow yourself to acknowledge.

When you have had an ultimately healthy baby, but suffered any sort of issue or trauma (even as in your case, also about a baby you don’t have), there is a tendency for people to say “at least your baby is OK”. While that is true, it shuts down an exploration of how you feel – and then you feel guilty for even having those feelings. So you are right to choose who you talk to; some people don’t have the scope to discuss complicated feelings like this. Remember, though: that is their issue, not yours.

Mitchell thought it was great that you are happy with your boys. “Being able to talk about your disappointment is important, as is being able to mourn the ‘loss’ of a daughter.” Mitchell also wondered if you grew up thinking that girls were better or easier?

I wonder what you felt having a girl would bring to your life? Can you try to unravel it and work out where the threads lead back to? You mention your husband wanting girls and I wonder if that is relevant? Sometimes when we start to analyse what having a boy or a girl means, it’s based on other people’s experience.

I know you feel this awful shame about the lack of a daughter and don’t want to make people think you are in any way disappointed with your boys. But with friends that you can trust, you could try discussing this. You may be surprised by how people react with their own stories, and how you might defuse your own feelings by talking about them. However, if you don’t feel safe about doing this, don’t. Mitchell suggests going on to parenting websites and forums (as you correctly said in your longer letter, this is called “gender disappointment”) where you can be anonymous. She feels it is important for you to normalise how you feel and not to bottle it all up so it becomes obsessive.

I’d also go to a qualified counsellor (bacp.co.uk, ukcp.org.uk, aft.org.uk), to talk about this where you can be honest. With parenting, the sooner you can deal with issues of guilt, the faster you can start to parent confidently and enjoy what is right in front of you.


This column first appeared in The Guardian Family section, on 4 July 2014.