'A survey of 150 women undergoing IVF at St George Private Hospital found that half approved of sex selection for their second or third unborn child.'

'A survey of 150 women undergoing IVF at St George Private Hospital found that half approved of sex selection for their second or third unborn child.' Photo: Getty images

Over the past decade, surveys have consistently shown that most Australians—80 per cent in fact—are against using IVF to choose a baby’s sex. 

But the times, as they say, might well be changing. Earlier this month, a survey of 150 women undergoing IVF at Sydney’s St George Private Hospital found that half approved of sex selection for their second or third unborn child. 

And then there’s the growing popularity of overseas IVF ‘sex-selection tours’ in which plucky Australian couples fork out anything from $12,000 to $30,000 to undergo treatment in Thailand, the United States or Cyprus, where gender selection is legal. 

The technology is available here to couples hoping to avoid a gender-linked genetic disorder, such as haemophilia and muscular dystrophy (that affect only boys), but that’s as far as it goes. As The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines states: ‘The Australian Health Ethics Committee believes that admission to life should not be conditional upon a child being a particular sex.’ 

Having jumped onboard the IVF express myself, and welcomed two healthy sons into the world, I admit to having a keen interest in the topic. Fertility treatment in Australia has come such a long way since Candice Reed—Australia’s first IVF baby—was born more than 30 years ago, and it stands to reason that IVF would move outside of the controlled environment of a laboratory to the anything-but-controlled setting of the family unit itself. 

From fears of it leading to a bias towards one gender, to the argument that it’s a ‘slippery slope’ towards eugenics (for record, ticking the gender box doesn’t feel to me to be on par with decisions over hair colour, height and intelligence)—sex selection provokes one heck of a knee-jerk reaction. 

But, as many well-regarded IVF practioners will quickly tell you, there’s nothing more insidious at work here than couples who already have two or three children of the same sex wishing to simply ‘balance’ their family. 

That sounds true enough, and yet somehow making a baby’s gender the…well…agenda leaves me uneasy. Exchange the word ‘balance’ for ‘control’, for instance, and the emotional charge suddenly ramps up, as was exemplified by the aforementioned Sydney hospital study, which also found that 75 per cent of the women surveyed remained opposed to using IVF to select the sex of first-borns. 

Of course, natural methods that supposedly favour one gender over another, such as eating specific foods, sexual positions and even timing intercourse to the cycles of the moon, have been around since time immemorial. 

But for those of us who believe that parenthood should be based on acceptance of the child for who they are—and are haunted by the fate of those unwanted embryos—social sex selection creates problems both elementary and alarming. 

As for me, I always thought that one day I’d have a daughter. I mean, what woman dreaming of motherhood doesn’t imagine having a daughter to either emulate or right the wrongs of the relationship she has or had with her own mother? 

This… what can I call it? …feeling? grew stronger while carrying my second child. But soon after welcoming (gratefully, after a fairly quick labour, I might add) my second son into the world I lost track of the commiserating looks and comments that went something like: “Well, you’ll just have to go back and try again”. 

Call me hyper-sensitive, but every fibre of my being (or was it each frayed nerve end?) railed against the assumption that an error had been made. 

Perhaps that’s why I find reports of mothers of sons weeping uncontrollably when presented with another healthy, male newborn so disturbing. Such stories fill me with a profound sadness—for the child, naturally—but also for the woman, whose love for her child must surely buckle under the weight of so much gender bias. 

If sex selection had been available to my husband and I would we have taken it up? Maybe. And, yes, today we may well have had that daughter I’d once dreamed of. But when I look into those lively blue eyes of my second-born son, and observe (or moreover referee) the burgeoning relationship between him and his big brother—one underscored by a bold, muscular, mysterious bond—that thought quickly and inexorably fades away. 

In our household, gender balance just doesn’t come into the equation. Yes, I’m well and truly outnumbered. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.