The Boy-Girl Baby Blues
While every parent-to-be wants a happy, healthy baby, many can't deny they have a sex preference. Dealing with it is another matter entirely.
The reasons for preferring a certain sex vary. Some women say they want a daughter to continue the mother-daughter relationship that they treasure. Some feel that girls are easier than boys when they're younger, while others feel boys are preferable because they're easier when they're older. Some want one of each.
Sometimes it's because of expectations. Jane Covner, 53, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., comes from a family of just sisters, so she expected to have a girl. She only looked at girls' clothes, toys and other items. When she had an amniocentesis, she opted to find out the sex. To her surprise, she found out she was having a boy.
"I was surprised at how surprised I was," says Covner. "I just assumed I would have a girl, and it never crossed my mind I'd have a boy. I was stunned and somewhat disappointed. I knew nothing about boys."
Being informed gave Covner five months to get in the boy mood, look at boy clothes and adjust to the idea. She's been happy since her son's birth and has never since thought twice about wishing she had a girl.
"I've learned so much about boys: from every sport you can imagine to video games and action figures," she says. "I knew all the girl stuff, so this experience of learning more about a boy's world just made me a more well-rounded human being."
Finding out the sex ahead of time is one way to deal with possible disappointment. There are other ways to prepare, as Kevin Thays, 32, of Madison, Wis., and his wife are discovering. The couple is expecting another child and hoping to have a boy. But they have a unique reason: Their first child, a son, was stillborn from a cord accident two days after his due date. Their next child was a girl. While they say they will love the child - boy or girl - the same, they can't help but want a boy so that they can live out the dreams they had.
The Thays are preparing by imagining the baby as a boy or girl. They've come up with names they like for both. They've tried to imagine the moment of finding out and have placed a heavier emphasis on the good aspects - such as sharing a room, sister stuff, etc. - of another girl. This way, if it's a boy, they'll be pleasantly surprised. They're also focusing more on the health of the baby, so that sex doesn't override other aspects of the ultrasound, where they'll find out the sex.
"We have agreed that it's OK to feel disappointed, but it's not a disappointment about the baby, just about the dreams we have of raising a son," says Thays. "We've tried to separate those feelings a bit. That will help us to still be excited about the baby if it's another girl."
In the Wrong?
Parents who have a sex preference may feel like it's wrong. However, "Sex preference is more the rule than the exception, no matter what parents say," says Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco author and psychologist specializing in family issues. He says sex preference is only a problem in situations where the preference is so strong that the child gets neglected or devalued. This is a real problem in families or cultures where sons are strongly preferred.
When asked if it's normal to be disappointed upon finding out the sex, Coleman says, "Parents should assume that it's entirely normal and expect to be disappointed. However, they should work to understand the source of their disappointment."
One question to ask is: Are you afraid of how to parent the opposite sex? "For example, women who have been molested sometimes voice fears that they'll transfer their anxiety about men onto their sons or mishandle a boy's energy," says Coleman. "A man might fear that he wouldn't know how to relate to a baby girl and thus damage her in the process. Talking about these fears with your partner or friends can be helpful." If the anxieties are severe, he advises enlisting the help of a therapist.
Another question is: Do you hope to be a better mom or dad to your child than your parents were?
Coleman says to work to understand the source of your preference. A preference for one sex doesn't mean that you won't become attached to the other sex or that you'll be an ineffective parent. But if this feeling strongly persists after the first year and it is interfering with your parenting, he suggests seeking counseling.
If a couple is having another child in order to have another version of a deceased child, this is potentially problematic, Coleman says. The new child will be very different, even if he or she is the same sex. "Having another child could move them toward healing the loss of the first child, but hoping to have a boy to replace the other boy is problematic for both the parents and the child," he says.
Stacking the Odds
In an article for the San Francisco Chronicle, Coleman wrote that while the ability to select the sex is a recent scientific development, the desire has existed for centuries: "Aristotle advised couples that having sex in the south wind would produce a girl. Henry the VIII tried six wives in an attempt to produce a son. In ancient Greece, men thought a boy would result from having sex while lying on their right sides."
Unfortunately, there is no proven low-tech method to determine the sex. "There are many taboos and wives' tales on methods to influence gender selection," says Dr. Larry Barmat, a professor and attending physician in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Abington Memorial Hospital.
Some of the unsubstantiated reports include timing the interval of intercourse to ovulation or enhancing the distribution of X or Y chromosome-bearing sperm by having various gradient sperm washes. "Research studies that have looked genetically at these sperm have clearly shown that these methods are only 50 percent accurate, meaning they are inaccurate," says Dr. Barmat. "There is a method called flow cytometry that has been proven to enhance the probability of X-bearing sperm. There is controversy in the literature about the long-term ramifications of this technique, as the technician uses ultraviolet radiation," which can result in mutagenesis, or the damaging of DNA.
If a couple is desperate about choosing the sex, the high-tech route is the way to go. "The only reliable method to select gender is preimplantation genetic diagnosis," Dr. Barmat says. "This means that a patient has to undergo in-vitro fertilization and the resultant embryo is screened to look for male or female embryos."
Ultimately, it's having the child that's important. As Thays says, "We feel blessed with whatever we get and have also made the decision that whatever the baby is this time is what we're meant to have."
Assisted Sex Selection
High-Tech Ways to Choose Your Baby's Gender
In the 21st century, women no longer have to rely solely on the serendipitous meeting of egg and sperm to get the son or daughter they've always wanted. Recent strides in reproductive science have revolutionized human conception, giving us more choices and control than our grandmothers ever imagined. Now, for example, a woman with the time, money and inclination can boost her odds of conceiving a daughter by a staggering 92 percent.
But having more options can complicate life. Besides analyzing information on various high-tech gender selection methods, a woman must decide if she and her family can handle the accompanying financial and psychological stress - especially if they end up not getting the gender they want. The following "tour" through the new world of assisted sex selection is intended to guide women considering the process so they can make the choice that's right for them.
On the average, women younger than 40 require two attempts to conceive using the Ericsson Method. Ericsson maintains that "there are no known health risks for women using these procedures." However, it's worth noting that Clomid, like any drug, has potential side effects. A 1994 article in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that prolonged use of Clomid (12 or more menstrual cycles) might increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. And the book, The Couple's Guide to Fertility, states that even short-term Clomid use can cause hot flashes, migraines and decreased cervical mucus.
In recent years, Ericsson has noticed a distinct preference in the desire for girls. When asked why pink bundles of joy are so "trendy" now, he offers this intriguing explanation: "Those [women] of age to reproduce have a much different opinion of themselves and their position in society as did their mothers and grandmothers. Therefore, they are motivated to have daughters as they see a bright future for them. Many women state that they want the mother-daughter relationship that they had with their mothers. The era of wanting a first-born male is gone, not to return."