What's it really like to have an all-girl or all-boy family? Northern Ireland families share their stories
Following the birth last week of singer and model Sophie Ellis-Bextor's fifth baby son, Stephanie Bell asks local families what it is like to have children of the same gender
Singer and model Sophie Ellis-Bextor gave birth to her fifth son last week and immediately hit out at claims that she wanted a girl.
In a tweet just hours after the birth, the star said she was in no way disappointed not to have had a baby girl.
The singer announced the arrival of her son Mickey on January 7 by posting a photograph on Instagram of her musician husband Richard Jones holding their new baby.
Slamming a report that claimed Sophie had "hinted" that she wanted a girl during her appearance on television programme Sunday Brunch the day before the birth, she tweeted: "I did nothing of the sort. I've only ever wanted whatever babies I've been lucky enough to have. X."
She has four other boys: Sonny (14), Kit (9), Ray (6) and Jesse (2).
Local parents who, like the singer, have an all-boy or all-girl family have rallied in support of the star.
Two local couples say they feel exactly like Sophie - very blessed to have their children and, given the choice, wouldn't change a thing.
Ruth Park (40), a full-time mum from Lurgan, and her husband Gareth (38), an electrician, have three girls - Katherine (11), Jessica (9) and Emily (4)
Ruth grew up in an all-girl household with five sisters. The couple always planned to have three children and the gap between their second and third daughter left them worried they were not able to conceive again.
When little Emily came along there was no question of pinning their hopes on having a boy as another child regardless of gender was the fulfilment of the couple's dreams.
Ruth says: "All my pregnancies were different. During the first one we chose not to find out whether I was having a boy or a girl and we were both convinced I was carrying a boy - and then Katherine was born and we were thrilled.
"The second time, I wanted to know but my husband didn't. I told no one that she was a girl and because I was the only one who knew I think that allowed me to bond with my daughter and connect with her before she was born.
"To us, three children was the golden number and we knew that three would be our house at capacity. We had decided that regardless of whether we had a girl or boy, our third child would make our family complete.
"There was a significant gap between the second and third which wasn't deliberate and we believe God blessed us and allowed things to happen and gave us another child."
As one of six girls, Ruth says the only experience of living with a male she had had in her life was her father and now her husband.
Growing up surrounded by girls, she knows just how unique a sister's love is and feels happy that her girls will get to experience it, too. She says that another joy of having an all-girl family has been indulging her love of girly clothes and accessories.
"I never knew what it was like to live with a brother so I didn't miss it," she adds.
"I know what it is like to have sisters and there is nothing as strong as that bond sisters share and my girls will have that.
"When the girls were babies I absolutely loved dressing them in pink and with matching outfits and I definitely could say I did it justice.
"They were like dolls to me. If I'd had a boy I probably wouldn't have known what to do.
"They all have very different personalities. The eldest is more outgoing and we live near her daddy's family farm and she loves the outdoor life.
"The middle girl is like a little princess and the youngest is just spoilt rotten.
"I think that mother/daughter bond exceeds anything else and if we'd had three boys, I imagine there would have been a lot more wellies and clothes lying about the place."
Just like the experience Sophie Ellis-Bextor had this week, Ruth says she too received insensitive comments from people about having an all-girl family.
And just like the singer stated in her Tweet, Ruth says she and her husband feel no disappointment - only joy - having been blessed with their children.
She adds: "People did say to me when number three came along that I would have to go again to get a boy. People don't think before they speak.
"To me I was thrilled that I had another daughter and she was healthy and a gift from God, and then people come out with something like that.
"Every child brings its own love and I wish Sophie all the best. She had four boys already and there must be a lot of blue in her home, and she will be looking forward to what her new child brings."
Her husband Gareth agrees. He says: "I've had the privilege of hearing these three words three times - 'it's a girl'. We have three happy and healthy girls and I wouldn't change it for the world."
Gerry O’Connor (65) and wife Kirby (47), who run GOC Estate Agents in Belfast, have three boys, Rory (13), Charlie (11) and seven-year-old Paddy
Gerry and Kirby O’Connor’s two youngest boys go to Inchmarlo, the private preparatory department of Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where their eldest son is also studying.
The school is famous for encouraging children to realise their talents, and Gerry, a former rugby player with Harlequins, is delighted that his first two boys have taken up the sport.
Youngest son Paddy is showing a talent for drama and singing, and recently appeared in his first school play.
Gerry admits that while it might have been nice to have had a daughter, he is devoted to his boys, while is delighted to be in the midst of a sports-mad, testosterone-filled home.
“People ask me all the time if I am disappointed that I didn’t have a girl and I always answer, ‘No, I am delighted that I have three healthy boys’,” she says.
“I honestly don’t feel I have missed out at all by not having a daughter. My sister has boys as well and girls are alien to me.
“Having all boys makes life easier. You can do things together and go to the same places. I get to hand things down, and Gerry takes them to rugby on a Saturday, which means I’m free every Saturday to do what I want.
“I think there is more harmony when you have children of the same gender.
“I had three very different pregnancies. During the first one, I did maybe think it could be a girl, but I never ever went again hoping it would be a girl. I’m just happy they are all healthy.”
Kirby was amazed to hear Sophie Ellis-Bextor had given birth on Monday after she watched her being interviewed on Sunday Brunch just hours earlier.
She was horrified that the singer had to take to social media to defend herself against the claims she was disappointed she didn’t have a girl.
“She looked amazing and didn’t look like she was ready to give birth,” Kirby says. “I really admire her, and she doesn’t look her age. I was 39 when I had my son, and I worried throughout the pregnancy. I am sure all she was thinking about was that her baby would be healthy.
“People can be cruel and just come out with things, but I really wish her well.”
Gerry agrees with his wife that having an all-boy household makes for an easier life.
His boys get on well together, although, like all siblings, they also have their moments.
He does confess that at one point he did hope for a daughter: “I suppose I probably did want a daughter, because I think you always expect it, but I am absolutely delighted with my three boys.
“They are all so different. The fact that they are all boys doesn’t make any difference — they all have their own wee personalities.
“All the boys have all gone to Inchmarlo, where they concentrate on music and the arts and singing as much as they do on their education, and they are encouraged to discover their talents.
“My two oldest are into rugby, and my youngest is into singing and acting.
“I played for Harlequins, so my former colleagues are aghast that my boys are Instonians. My eldest boy plays for the A team.
“I coached all three of them, and my two older boys got to see the All Blacks at the Aviva stadium in November — you should have seen the smiles on their faces. They were so lucky to experience that.
“For me, there is real joy in seeing the boys share my passion.”