Would you choose your baby's sex?

'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.

 

34 comments

  • Whats wrong with having a boy?

    Commenter
    Sam
    Date and time
    June 28, 2013, 9:36AM
    • Err....did you read the article? This is hardly an anti-male article. Quite the opposite despite the ample material it could have run with using many cultures preference for boys.

      Commenter
      Tim the Toolman
      Date and time
      June 28, 2013, 10:52AM
  • I am currently pregnant with my first, and wanted a Boy more then anything. We were old at our 20 week scan that it was a girl, and i was extremely disappointed for about 3 days. Now, with only weeks to go, i can't wait to meet my little girl. If they had given me the choice i would have picked a boy first.. People who say that they have no preference and just want the child to be healthy are lying, everyone has a preference for the sex of each of their children.

    Commenter
    Jenna
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    June 28, 2013, 9:54AM
    • No Jenna, these people are not lying they just have a different perspective then you. I honestly had no preference for the sex of my baby, my father-in-law wanted it to be a boy, i think my husband secretly wished for a boy as well, i really did just want a healthy baby and luckily my daughter was born healthy and now at 9 months is a very happy baby. Now we are trying for another baby and again i honestly do not care one little bit whether this one is a boy or a girl. Women who claim child birth is not painful- they are the liars! lol

      Commenter
      whatever will be
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      June 28, 2013, 11:11AM
    • As Garfunkel and Oates sing in their hilarious song "Pregnant Women Are Smug" -

      "I can't wait to hear someone say
      "Don't care if it's brain dead
      Don't care if it's limbless
      If it has a penis" "

      Commenter
      LOL
      Date and time
      June 28, 2013, 11:17AM
    • No Jenna, all parents aren't lying. It's just you trying to justify the conditional feelings you have for your baby. Most parents like me wouldn't be able to understand your disappointment. I take from what you've written that you love this baby less because she's a girl and you would love a boy more. I didn't give a flying fruit-bat what I had with my three. Why care - a baby is a baby. The only thing a mother should worry about is whether the baby is born healthy. Anything more is just self-indulgence.

      Commenter
      GigaStar
      Date and time
      June 28, 2013, 1:56PM
  • But choosing gender is on par to selecting height and hair colour? I'd argue it's even more significant and at least as big a shift as selecting intelligence. I'm sure if those options were available there would be huge demand for them, too...

    I think it's normal to have a secret preference but any parents willing to go to these lengths (i.e. shelling out up to $30,000) needs either a reality check or psychiatric help. Every parent should be ecstatic that they have a healthy baby at all

    Commenter
    LauraGranger
    Date and time
    June 28, 2013, 9:56AM
    • "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. "

      The other way of looking at this is that 20 per cent of Australian, or one in 5, are for using IVF to choose a baby's sex. From the survey at the Sydney hospital a quarter of women who are undergoing IVF aren't opposed to being able to select the sex of their first born child. And half of the 150 women who are actually undergoing IVF are in favour of being able to select the sex of their second or third child.

      It may be a slightly more humane way of picking the sex of your child than the gender specific abortions in places like India and China but I think there are still a lot of ethical questions posed here.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      June 28, 2013, 10:10AM
      • I think it's fine for families that already have 2 kids of the same sex and want the opposite for a third. More importantly though, what's wrong with eugenics. I think eugenics is inevitable. You can't hold back technology/science advancement. If govts tries to ban it people will simply fly to those countries that don't. Just wish I was a bit younger so my own kids could benefit from it. Oh well, if wishes were penny's we'd all be millionaires. at least my grandkids likely will.

        Commenter
        JohnW
        Date and time
        June 28, 2013, 10:12AM
        • From my perspective the problem with eugenics is that it eliminates biological diversity. Its like all the farmers in an area planting the same type of potato. When a potato disease comes along that affects that type of potato, you lose all your potatoes. If every farmer had planted a different type of potato some of them might not be susceptible for that kind of disease. Same applies to people.

          Evolutionary success is about fitness for environment. If we use eugenics to select people/genes suitable for a certain environment we risk losing genes/traits that might be valuable when the environment changes. The more diversity we have in the population the more capacity we have to adapt,

          My problem with sex selection is that it seems to be based on gender stereotypes. People think if they are going to get a girl they are going to get a certain experience of parenting that is different to having a boy. That's a heavy burden for any child to live up to and what if they aren't the person you thought they were going to be?

          Commenter
          Ella
          Date and time
          June 28, 2013, 11:24AM

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