"I’m not disappointed by my boys – they’re perfect little men. Instead, I’m disappointed in myself" ... Rebecca Martin.
Realising I would never have a daughter was like being king hit. One minute I was cooing over my newest baby boy, then all I could see were stars, big blue ones, on his rug.
The pain was instant and physical. Panic and fear welled up. Hiding in the shower, I cried. Like a stereotypical girl.
I am one of those mothers few others envy – a mother of all boys. Three of them, in fact.
There are plenty of upsides. My boys are each two years apart, ready-made little mates with cupboards full of toys and clothes to hand down.
Our family is complete but my genes are howling loudly, angry at being the end of my matriarchal line. The hurt sits deep inside, hard and sharp like a piece of Lego.
The Google diagnosis: gender disappointment.
It’s been a surprise. I grew up the only girl with three brothers. Boys are great. I always wanted sons. I also wanted a girl but was perfectly happy when my youngest urchin was born. Three boys, fantastic, I thought. Two weeks later, as my oldest enjoyed a testosterone surge, reality crashed in.
Living in a house outnumbered by smashing, banging, racing males can be a lonely one.
I’m not disappointed by my boys – they’re perfect little men. Instead, I’m disappointed in myself, crying over my milk ducts about not getting a girl while friends are struggling to conceive. Meanwhile, a woman around the corner lost her youngest son, a three-year-old, to cancer. These are real tragedies. My problems are a luxury.
Judge me but judge yourself, too. It’s not fashionable to want boys these days, especially all boys. The ‘heir and a spare’ rule no longer applies. It seems everyone wants a blended family, heavy on girls.
I hear it every few days, from the pregnant friend who happily told me how she’d like three, but not three boys like me, to a woman in the park who just laughed at my brood. “Oh you poor thing,” she said. “Three boys!”
I smile, as you do. I’m not offended. I used to pity mothers of all boys (MOBs) too.
It’s no help that of all the parent-child relationships, mother and son is the least celebrated, the most criticised. Too close and you’ll create the much derided mummy’s boy; too distant and take your pick of personality disorders, it seems.
Modern guides on raising boys seem to suggest the best thing a mother can do is keep her sons warm and fed and then get out of the way so Dad can provide moral and ethical instructions.
Which leaves me where? The domestic help? All care and no responsibility?
Men suffer it too: most seem to want a son. I’ve watched fathers with all girls salivate longingly over my sons’ toys, have recognised the yearning on their faces.
I blame biology. Having children is less about the greater good, more about scratching the primeval itch to keep our genes afloat in the pool of life. Little wonder that mine are protesting that the purest form of me – a female – lucked out in the chromosome lottery.
Strangers can speak the truth, but parents can’t. To suggest any dissatisfaction about a child is sacrilege. It makes people very uncomfortable. Yet gender disappointment has nothing to do with the fierce love for the child you have – it’s about missing one you don’t.
Sufferers hide-out online. Forums are filled with stories of sad parents, usually women wanting a daughter. I’m not sure where the men go to grieve.
Advice on how to handle gender disappointment is vague and unsatisfactory. There’s no magic cure. Find out the gender before the birth to give you time to adjust; write a letter to the child you didn’t – or won’t – have; look to find activities both you and your child enjoy. Let yourself mourn what won’t be.
For me, that would be having a daughter who, even if a tomboy, would have been more 'same' than 'other'. A break in the testosterone circuit, someone who might remember to bring me clean undies in hospital, who might gather family members together for Christmas when I’m gone.
Yes, it’s a stereotype, but it’s one based in reality: my future family life is, to some degree, at the mercy of future daughter-in-laws.
Some put a good face on it, as there are plenty of MOB blogs trilling (a little too loudly) about living a world of all boys. “You get to be the only princess in the house,” cries one. “Making mud pies is actually fun,” says another.
But then there’s the deal-breaker. “Yes, boys are smelly, but farts really are funny.” No, they’re not. I’ve been chased out of more rooms than I care to remember by the stench of my brother’s ‘jokes’. The thought of the coming stink turns my stomach.
Treating this as a grieving process has helped. Acceptance is slowly creeping in. As one wise father of four told me, it doesn’t get easier, you just get used to it. The physical hurt has eased, ignored in the day-to-day chaos of caring for three little boys; joyous, noisy, beautiful and utterly charming little scamps.
I am still an outcast in my own home. Matchies, Lego and the mess drive me mad. You won’t find me on the floor playing trains, and I have a new and previously unrealised obsession for all things floral. I wear more make-up than I used to.
But I love my children endlessly and I’ll do my best to help them be the best little men they can.
Having a sister would have been good for them, although they won’t miss what they don’t know.
However, just quietly, I think I always will.