By Alexandra Whittaker
Apr 05, 2018 @ 3:15 pm
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Getty Images, khloekardashian/Instagram

When pregnant celebrities reveal whether they're having a baby girl or boy, it's almost always with a cheerful photo. The announcement might feature light pink or baby boy blue balloons. The background could be accompanied by delicate ballet shoes or a tiny football jersey. And it's almost never tinged with disappointment from the parents, at least publicly.

But Khloé Kardashian was different. The reality TV star aired her baby's sex announcement and subsequent fallout on national television for all to witness on her show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and it caught some fans off guard. When Kardashian's sister Kylie Jenner revealed that Khloé would be having a baby girl in the spring, Khloé was palpably disappointed.

Instead of playing the role of "permanently delighted expectant mother" like we've come to expect from stars, Khloé seemed at a loss. She didn't mask her upset reaction over not having a boy, instead reaffirming to her mom Kris Jenner (and thousands of viewers at home) that she was indeed startled.

"I'm really hoping Kylie's gonna say she's lying and like I'm really having a boy," she admitted.

VIDEO: Khloé Kardashian Celebrates Baby Shower

On the surface, Khloé's initial disappointment with a child's sex might seem arbitrary, or even self-absorbed. Why does she feel disappointed over an aspect of her child that can't be controlled? Why was she so attached to having a boy in the first place? What does that say about her?

But it's complicated, and mom shaming is not the way to demystify it. In reality, Khloé's reaction is actually more common than you might expect.

The real issue at hand—called "gender disappointment"—is actually quite normal. Dr. Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at UCSF and author of The Male Brain and The Female Brain, told Today that as many as 1 in 5 women have at least a little disappointment when they discover the sex of the child they are carrying. That means that almost 20 percent of biological moms feel disappointment and subsequent guilt over wanting their child to be one sex, and having things pan out differently.

Dr. Brizendine put it into layman's terms when she said that in some places, it can be "extremely common." “We assume gender disappointment is quite a hidden experience, yet extremely common especially in certain cultures,” she said.

In most cases, the reaction to it is also predictable. 

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“When a mom finds out she’s having the opposite gender desired, she starts telling herself little stories about why this gender is going to be a good thing. Like how, if they’re having a boy and they wanted a girl, they get to avoid the dreaded teenage years” said Dr. Brizendine. “It’s called active reframing and it starts immediately. If there is any real disappointment, it often barely rises to the surface and the woman doesn’t even realize it’s there.”

Is feeling disappointed wrong? Some might think so. But even then, the feeling of loss in so many parents after expectations change is valid, whether warranted or not. Joyce Venis, psychiatric nurse and author of Postpartum Depression Demystified, explained to Parents that the guilt people feel over not being initially happy with their baby's sex can be overwhelming.

"Many women make sure they dry their eyes, fix their makeup, and plant a smile on their face before they leave the ultrasound room," she said. "Feelings aren't good or bad or right or wrong—they're just feelings."

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There's not evidence that the disappointment is greater when hoping for a boy (and having a girl), or hoping for a girl (and having a boy), but considering norms surrounding gender and sex, it's not really that outrageous that some parents would have corresponding fears and feelings.

"A lot of it is fear—stuff like, 'I don't know how to play baseball, so how can I teach my son?'" Venis said. "You don't have to know, and you don't have to like playing with Barbie dolls to raise a girl. You will learn what you need to as you go along."

Keep that in mind before mom shaming next time.