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Pick a Sex, Any Sex

Some couples will do anything to guarantee a boy or a girl.

By jeannesager |

Sonograms may be responsible for taking the big surprise out of the delivery room for millions of moms and dads, but an increasing number of parents already know what they’re going to have: They picked their baby’s sex before making the actual baby.

These days, women in the prime of health are voluntarily undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) for the added benefit of pre-implantation genetic determination (PGD). In the procedure, scientists test the woman’s embryos for genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, and determine a baby’s gender – with a 99.9 percent accuracy rate and a bill in the $14,000-range.

Thousands more opt for MicroSort, a centrifugal spinning of sperm that carries a 90 percent guarantee for families who want a girl, an 80 percent positive for moms and dads who yearn for a boy and a cost of $3,000. Families without that kind of cash lying around – neither PGD or MicroSort qualifies for most insurance plans – are turning to cheaper and far less reliable methods.

One popular resource is Dr. Landrum Shettles’ How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby. First published in the 1960s by an IVF researcher at Columbia University, the Shettles Method was largely discounted by a New England Journal of Medicine study published in the 1990s. But advocates of the system of timing sex to certain points in a woman’s ovulation cycle to produce the desired gender still claim a seventy-five percent success rate. Janie Glover of High Point, North Carolina, says it worked for her twice. Daughters Katherine and Reagan are seven and three. “I would have been happy with a boy as well, but I just like girls,” Glover said. “I really thought the Shettles Method was just worth a shot. If it worked – cool. If not, well, that would be okay too.”

Britt Jordan was desperate for a girl.

The California mom contacted a Europe-based company that told her the sperm and egg only come together when they’re “polar opposites.” Baby Choice promised an ovulation calendar that would tell her the days her body would “accept girl sperm.”

Jordan was so happy the day the sonogram confirmed her third child was female that she went online and wrote a glowing testimonial. “My family was laughing at me,” Jordan admitted. “My OB/GYN said I got lucky. But it wasn’t luck. The whole thing about polarity made sense to me.” The Jordans consider it $400 well spent. Daughter Haylee is now two, and the Jordan family is complete.

Texas mom Carrie Stallwitz wants more children, but her husband has said he’ll only consider it if they’re trying for a boy. “He’s a very ‘manly’ man and wants a boy to do ‘guy’ stuff with,” Stallwitz explained. “Both our daughters are very ‘girly’ right now.”

Their neighbors – a doctor in family practice and his wife – swear by a method that involves checking the basal body temperature and using a baking soda douche to alter the pH level of the vagina. Carrie’s husband is supposed to drink something caffeinated before sex, and they’re supposed to use certain positions and to make sure Carrie orgasms first. “I think it is a combo of every method and wives’ tale out there of how to conceive a boy,” she admits.

Old wives’ tales are just that – tales – but they prove attempts at sex determination have been around for generations. German hausfraus once allowed their husbands to bring an axe into the bed to guarantee a boy. Czarina Alexandra of Russia reportedly ate a high-protein diet prescribed by scientists at the Embryological Institute of Vienna in the early twentieth century in an attempt to give birth to a male heir. After giving birth to four girls, she finally got lucky – her fifth child was a boy.

Michelle, a New York mom who asked for her last name to be withheld to protect her son, feels having preference is natural. “I wanted a girl more than life itself,” she recalled. “Not that I wouldn’t have been happy with a boy,” she quickly added. When she had her daughter, she ascribed the position she and her husband used – missionary style – to her success. Their son is the couple’s second child, and Michelle has an explanation for that too: they did it doggy style, and they got a boy.

Reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Daniel Potter pooh-poohs such strategies. He has even less patience for the companies who promise a girl or boy via methods he calls “lacking in efficacy.”

The director of reproductive medicine and surgery at Anaheim Memorial Medical Center and director of the Huntington Reproduction Center in Laguna Hills, California, Potter says none of those methods have more than a 50/50 chance of producing the desired result, the same chance we all have of producing a girl or boy the old-fashioned way.

Potter has just completed work on Family Balancing: How to Choose the Gender of Your Next Child, expected to hit bookshelves in October. The book lists Micro-Sort and PGD as parents’ best options.

Potter has a lot of compassion for parents who want to choose their baby’s sex.

“Most of the women who come to me, this is their third or fourth pregnancy, and for them, this is it.” His mother cried at the birth of her third child – another boy.

“For a high percentage of women, when they’re growing up, they have a lot of thoughts about parenting and what they’re going to be like. The baby they see in that image, often of a little girl, this baby, this image in their mind, lives in their subconscious just like a human child,” he said. “When you have to let go of that image, that dream, it is a mourning process.”

Today, Potter helps women like his mom.

“Most of the women who come to me, this is their third or fourth pregnancy, and for them, this is it,” he said. “I explain to them that there’s a 50/50 change they’ll get the gender they want for free. But they want to have one more pregnancy, and that’s it.”

Maureen and her husband already had two little boys when they paid more than $5,000 for MicroSort in 2000. After his sperm was spun in a centrifuge to separate X- and Y-chromosome-bearing swimmers by the miniscule difference in the mass of the DNA, the desired product was injected into Maureen’s uterine cavity through a catheter. She got pregnant with twins on her first try – a boy and the girl she’d always wanted.

Most fertility practitioners advocate IVF with MicroSort because it ups the chances of a successful pregnancy, but the couple wasn’t comfortable with the destruction of the “unwanted” male embryos the process could create. Using intrauterine insemination, the only thing destroyed was some of Maureen’s husband’s sperm.

“In any pregnancy, only one in a billion sperm survives to make a baby anyway, so ethically we found no harm in discarding unwanted sperm,” she said.

Reproductive public health educator Evelina Sterling, PhD, worries couples using these methods for sex selection are playing right into the hands of right-wing lawmakers.

Is sex selection playing into the hands of right-wing lawmakers? And she’s not playing Chicken Little. Georgia, where she lives, is one of a list of states that have tried to have the rights of the zygote paramount to the rights of its parents. If such a law were to pass, it could be tantamount to a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun introduced what he calls the Sanctity of Human Life Act to the House (H.R. 4157) last November in an attempt to make the federal government recognize “each human life begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, at which time every human has all legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” He’s earned fifty-five co-sponsors in the House – including six other Georgia Republicans and Republican Congressmen in nineteen other states and Puerto Rico.

“That kind of bad connotation of using these treatments for gender selection purposes affects access to fertility treatment as a whole as an unintended consequence,” Sterling said.

Careful not to condemn the process as a whole, Sterling said she’s yet to see enough research. “I don’t think the ethics and social implications have caught up with the science,” she said.

California psychotherapist Tina Tessina, PhD., author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, said there are a lot of issues parents ignore when they tie expectations to a child’s sex.

“I can understand, if parents already have a child of one gender, why they might want a child of the other gender,” Tessina said. “However, gender does not determine personality or parent-child connection. So, parents who put a great deal of store in expectations about gender may turn out to be disappointed.”

“Disappointment could add to post-partum depression, and interfere with bonding,” she continued. “It really depends on the emotional maturity of the parent, but this kind of trying to control the baby’s gender – rather than just being glad it’s a healthy baby – indicates some lack of emotional maturity anyway.”

It’s not a popular topic with some moms either.

“Should a child’s gender be selected like a brand of flour off the grocery store shelf?” pondered Genevieve Hinson, mom of two boys.

“I wanted a girl,” she recalled, “When I say wanted, I was hyper-focused on it. All I could think about were the pink aisles at Target and the cute dresses. I wanted a mother-daughter relationship to share same-sex experiences and milestones with – wanted it so bad I already had a girl name picked out and nursery themes in mind.”

But when she discovered her soon-to-be adopted child was a boy, Hinson found herself strangely elated. Looking to adopt again, she’s refused to select a gender on the adoption forms: “To pick the sex of a child is just too designer-baby for me. What’s next? Eye color and height?”

“If your child’s sex means that much to you, adopt.” “Messing with nature to guarantee your child’s sex is as selfish as it gets in my book,” said Meg Robustelli, a Connecticut mom with an eighteen-month-old daughter. “If your child’s sex means that much to you, adopt,” she suggests.

That’s what Jen Galbraith and her husband will be doing. The Newport, Pennsylvania, couple is jumping through hoops to adopt two boys. “Not only can gender be selected, but hair and eye color, interests, etc.,” Galbraith said.

“To me, knowing there are 1,500 kids in Pennsylvania up for adoption, and 100,000 nationwide – and people don’t even consider that option, instead spending thousands on gender selection or fertility treatments for a custom baby – is really sad.”

But even Galbraith has a gender preference. “I’d hate to be stuck with a girl since I’m a tomboy and not girly at all,” she said.

And that’s where doctors like Dr. Peyman Saadat, medical director at the Tyler Medical Clinic in Beverly Hills find their calling.

Tyler markets itself as an affordable option for infertility treatments, but its main website boasts a link titled “Sex Selection, Sex Selection with PGD Info,” and Saadat estimates six or seven women walk in the door each month to specifically request PGD. Half of them are there because they want to pick the gender of their child.

Requests are often cultural – Potter’s practice is accustomed to patients flying in from China, a country known for its stringent population control laws and preference for male offspring. They’re also coming from Norway, New Zealand and spots in between, where the desire for girls is high. PGD is currently illegal in a number of countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Saadat said making this science available prevents the sex-selective abortions (SSA) the United Nations Population Fund blames for at least sixty million “missing girls” in Asia.

One woman paid $10,000 so her little boys would finally have a sister. Although sex-selective abortion is taboo in America, the procedure is legal, and a recent study published by the National Academies of Science established evidence of “son-biased sex ration” among Americans of Chinese, Korean and Indian descent. The study, put together by Columbia University economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund, said this is a very small part of the population. A 2006 USA Today poll showed eighty-six percent of Americans support a sex-selective abortion ban.

Meanwhile, Huntington, the largest infertility clinic west of Chicago, has at least 1,000 women using the MicroSort process each year and another 1,000 opting for PGD. Ninety percent of those parents are hoping for a baby girl.

To Potter and to parents who’ve made the baby they wanted – the way they wanted – it’s just more proof that science can give women control over their own bodies.

But it’s the rare topic that’s brought together the extreme right and extreme left – one fighting for embryos left behind by PGD and the other alleging this technology will one day be used to curtail women’s reproductive rights.

“This is an important litmus test of whether people believe in reproductive freedom or not,” Potter said. “I think people should be able to choose for themselves. They’re the ones who have to live with the consequences of accessing this technology or not accessing this technology.”

Skye Emery would tell any mom in her boat to go for it. She had no medical reason for IVF, but she paid $10,000 to get the PGD guarantee that her little boys would finally have a sister. Instead they got two, and the Nevada family is now balanced.

She’s been stung by criticism for her choice, so much so that she thought long and hard before sharing her story. In the end, she decided she had nothing to hide. “The criticism has been that I’m playing God, but it’s not like I’m picking characteristics, hair color, eye color, personality. I didn’t have to leave gender to chance,” she said. “But we were just making a baby.”

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About jeannesager

jeannesager

jeannesager

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer and photographer living in upstate New York with her husband and daughter, Jillian. She maintains a blog of her award-winning columns at jeannesager.blogspot.com.

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24 thoughts on “Pick a Sex, Any Sex

  1. WSP says:

    Guess what, parents? You might be able to afford to choose a gender, but you can’t choose who your child is in the end. A mother doesn’t want a girl because she herself is a tomboy? Ugh. That’s just pathetic.I pity the poor boy who is born to parents who only want a boy- he’d better live up to all the expectations of his parents, or they might send him back.I fully agree with the expert who said this kind of choosing indicates emotional immaturity. If you are that hung up on your own ideals, please, don’t be a parent at all!

  2. haha says:

    Oh man, you should have seen my Mom’s reaction when I wanted to wear a tux to prom instead of a dress. I’ve seen two year olds handle stress with more maturity. I’m the only girl of a bunch of boys and it’s clearly obvious to me that my Mom has a lot in common with the women mentioned in this article. She wanted a girly girl to dress in pink and shared womanly experiences with. Instead, she got me.I sincerely hope the woman who payed $10,000 for a girl also gets someone like me. It sounds like a life lesson she’s in need of.

  3. anon says:

    I agree with WSP, the ideals parents like this are asking for go far beyond just the sex of their baby. They have a stereotype of what that gender will be like, therefore wanting to choose the characteristics of their child – even if they say they are not. I am sure if personality trait pickers were available they would go with that too. Heck…why don’t they just go down to the discovery store and buy a robot.

  4. Marie Eve says:

    I think all those homemade and semi-scientific techniques are just bogus! Of course, parents for whom it didn’t work out will not write a testimony. Even with doing nothing, you still have a 50% chance of getting it right, people! It reminds me of all the dumb tricks everyone told me to use when I was trying to get pregnant for a while… When it finally worked, they all thought it was their thing that made the difference. No it was not, it was just pure and simple biology, and the odds that if you try long enough, it will probably end up working…

  5. BIGMAMA says:

    LOL @ Haha..My sister also had a gorgeous little girl, who instead of playing with barbies, insisted on telling everyone proudly “I’m not a girly girl!”…and proceeded to hang off monkey bars..lolI for one always wanted a girl. I mean I really wanted a girl. I just did not think I could have a great connection with a boy kid.Needless to say, I fell pregnant with my first child last year and was told I was having a girl. Boy, was I thrilled!All of a sudden my feelings changed. I was absolutely disgusted by the sight of pink & anything girly. I painted the nursery a turquoise color & bought a blue cot for my “girl”..Everyone thought I was losing my mind! Don’t get me wrong, I was still very happy to have a girl, but the typical princess stuff, turned me off big time.Anyway, fast forward to my 32 week ultrasound and what do you know…my baby was now a BOY! I was in a state of shock,but so happy to hear my baby was healthy. Either way, I think that is all you can hope for.Now my boy is 4 months old, and I can’t imagine my life without him! He is the coolest little fella and we get on famously.Looking back, I think how ridiculous I was being hoping for a girl. Letting God bless you with a lovely, healthy, happy child, is all that matters. Whatever package it comes in.Picking the gender, is just messing with nature IMO.

  6. chattydaddy says:

    I think it’s totally natural for parents to want to experience both having a son and having a daughter. It’s part of a very normal desire to experience the full gamut of human experience. I happen to have both a brother and sister, and I loved the richness and nuance of both relationships growing up. I also, as luck would have it, have a mother and father. The perspective of each sex is a little different from the other, and that’s part of the beautiful complexity of the world. I now have two sons, and I would love to have a daughter — isn’t that perfectly natural?Having a preference — and even doing something about it — doesn’t mean that you are not, or would not be, grateful for having a healthy child, irrespective of the sex. My wife and I will probably look into the options for making sure our third child is a girl … we may or may not do anything about it, we’ll see, but I think all this judgment is misplaced. Every time technology takes a step forward, luddites cry foul, claiming that we shouldn’t be interfering with the natural way of things. But a generation later — provided that the technology has no adverse consequences — it’s no longer an issue.

  7. Mme X says:

    We decided we didn’t want to know whether our baby was a boy or girl. When the ultrasound was done, we were just so happy to see that our baby appeared healthy and was growing as predicted that we weren’t concerned about anything else. Our child is a great kid, and I can’t imagine gender changing our opinion of this individual we are happy to be the parents of!

  8. botanist says:

    well, sometimes there are medical reasons for gender preference…

  9. Bubbles says:

    botanist, when is there ever a medical reason for gender preference.Which brings me to a peeve. Gender does not equal sex. (easy guide: Sex is what you have between your legs. Gender is what you want between your legs. Sexuality is who you want between your legs.)Personally, I wanted a girl because I want to raise a kick ass gamer girl, and we lucked out and got a girl. Are we raising her to be a girly girl? Hell no. The pink things she has have skulls on them, and I buy her little boy stuff just as much as, if not more than, little girl stuff. I can’t wait for some of those boys who are chosen because their dads are such “manly” men to turn out gay, if not at least a little femmy. My cousin’s husband is a football coach, his son? Loves playing with his sister’s bratz dolls. Picking sex is not what these people want. They want to choose a very distinct gendered personality.

  10. Marcy Darnovsky says:

    Thanks for this article – you nailed the issues. For lots more on the concerns and qualms that sex selection raises, take a look at the collection of news articles and blog posts (including a pointer to this piece) here:http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/article.php?list=type&type=29 – Marcy DarnovskyCenter for Genetics and Society

  11. Bogie78 says:

    I understand wanting to have one gender over the other, but actually paying thousands of dollars to make sure that you conceive the “right gender child” is way too extreme in my opinion. As a mother of 2 boys, I’d be lying to say that I wouldn’t like to have a girl, but I’m not about to play God and take such extreme action. Children are blessings and all we can hope for is that they are healthy; their sex should not make a difference in the long run to the parents. There are so many couples who are unable to conceive a child, and then to hear that there are people out there throwing money around to make sure that they have a boy instead of a girl or vice versa, is disgusting.

  12. see1234 says:

    Hey Bubbles – any disease carried on the Y chromosome would be a medical reason for gender selection. Duchenne muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease to name a few.What I find fascinating is that the arguments against gender selection are identical to those against birth control back in the day. Accept what God gave you. Don’t try and control nature. If you can’t be happy with what you get, you shouldn’t be having kids…

  13. Mommm24 says:

    I am a mom of 4 boys, and I really want one more baby- hopefully a girl. When I heard about the Boy Gender Diet, I immediately bought it. Boygirldiet.com has proven clinical research that diet strongly effects gender of the next baby. I was on the diet for 2 months, I am now 8 weeks pregnant. I am so excited to have this baby, boy or girl…but I just know it’s a GIRL ;) I few more weeks for my ultrasound and I will know for sure!

  14. irish mom says:

    I am married to my husband for 6 years. we have 1 boy and 1 girl. I’m pregnant with our 3rd child and we just had a sonogram done and we are told we’re having a another boy! we are thrilled! my husband is thrilled because he wanted to have 3 boys. at least he has 2 :0) but i bought this diet that is stricly to concieve a boy from this website called http://www.boygirldiet.com i followed it religously. i’m just so happy that i gave my husband another boy! :0)

  15. blah blah blah says:

    my uncle, when his wife was preggy desperately wanted a boy. but alas, a beautiful baby girl was born and the next pregnancy; the same thing. does he love his daughters any less because they are not boys? no. he loves them like nothing else. people forget that there is such a thing as unconditional love

  16. Monique Rivera says:

    i think no matter wat you have you should be happy! you brought in an other life into this world! as long as there is 10 fingers and 10 toes is all that matters!!!:)

  17. felice says:

    We want a girl badly (I have one son). I am thinking about the Girl Diet- I found it at http://www.boygirldiet.com. Anyone try the Girl Diet yet???

  18. ychick says:

    If I knew that my husband or I carried a genetic disease that would likely affect the ability of our baby’s of one sex or the other to thrive and survive (ie: fragile X syndrome, to name one), you bet I’d be willing to dish out a few thousand dollars now. If that’s all it takes to avoid a debilitating situation, I think any loving parent would do the same for their child.

  19. Philinda says:

    Hot damn, looking prttey useful buddy.

  20. Amberlee says:

    Real brain power on display. Thanks for that anwser!

  21. Anonymous says:

    SO SUPID

  22. Anonymous says:

    dats me am a bad sharp guy i can sex a woman to call were she would not beg formore

  23. Anonymous says:

    Sex rules fuck her fuck her spueezecher tits

  24. Estpet says:

    Coming from a family of girls only (ten to be exact), I was desperate to conceive a little boy and add the Prince to the family at last. I tried a diet found at the website http://www.babygendersecrets.com/the-baby-boy-diet/
    and voila! the boy arrived to complete our family.

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