The final reason for preferring one gender over the other can be the result of a history of physical, emotional or sexual trauma, with childhood abuse being the most common.
“In the clinical setting, we hear of this more from mothers where their perpetrator has been male,” she says.
“The gender preference can be for a female infant as a male infant may be frightening to them and/or they may fear the male infant will grow into a perpetrator himself.
“For these women, having a male baby can be a trigger for past unresolved trauma, which requires psychotherapy.”
Dr Leigh says that there is a constellation of feelings around gender disappointment.
“They can feel shame, guilt, angry, robbed – feeling like parenting this child’s gender is not what they signed up for,” she says.
“They may isolate themselves or they may feel isolated in their parenthood journey.
“For parents with any history of loss, or difficulty in conceiving, these feelings are intensified as they tend to believe they shouldn’t complain but instead be grateful no matter what.”
Dr Leigh points out that an unintended consequence of gender disappointment may impact the parent-infant relationship.
“If a parent with gender disappointment is unable to bracket off their feelings while they are being with their baby, it may well impact their interactions,” she says.
“Babies need parents who are physically and emotionally available, who are attuned to their needs, sensitively meeting their needs and a capacity to delight in them.
“A parent who is preoccupied with their own feelings and state of disappointment will find it more difficult to be present and available to the needs of their little one.
“This, in turn, can affect their developing relationship.”
Dr Leigh says that it is important for parents to seek support so they can have a connected experience with their infant and enjoy their role as a parent.
How to get through gender disappointment
Dr Leigh emphasises that it is never too late to seek help, whether the parent is still pregnant, or their child is three years old.
“Thinking of the mental representation of the imagined baby and grieving the loss of that baby is important,” she says.
The first step, according to Dr Leigh, is to acknowledge the gender disappointment feelings and allow yourself to feel those feelings without judgment.
She says, the next step is to understand the reasons behind the desire for a particular gender.
The final step is to grieve the loss.
She recommends seeking help from a perinatal and infant psychologist who would be experienced in helping parents with gender disappointment.
When it comes to the couple, Dr Leigh highlights that while the shared experience might be comforting for parents both experiencing gender disappointment, it may be more difficult to help each other.
For couples where only one member is experiencing gender disappointment, she advises that, if possible, the non-grieving parent not be critical or dismissive but to accept the feelings of their partner as real and valid and to allow them to adjust to that disappointment.