Monday, 7 September 2015

Forget sex selection with IVF, try being grateful for a healthy baby

I THINK it’s disgraceful some parents are so desperate for a child of one particular sex that they are willing to go overseas for expensive and invasive IVF.

They call it family balancing. I call it vanity parenting, the wish to perfectly reproduce yourselves in your children.

Psychologists call it “gender disappointment”. It’s now a recognised disorder reflecting the anguish some people feel when they find out they are having a baby of the “wrong” sex.

What ever happened to people just being grateful for having a healthy child and leaving it at that?

I have friends who have desperately ill children who would give anything for a healthy child of either sex.

Illness is something that has a way of teaching us what’s really important in life. And being able to order a girl or a boy baby like a pepperoni pizza shouldn’t be important to anyone.

I have other friends who are in their early 40s and who are realising they may never bear children of their own. They’d also be happy for a healthy child of either sex.

So I am not very sympathetic to those who make baby-making more complicated than it needs to be for their own selfish ends.

Now, I should make it clear that I am talking about sex selection for family reasons, not for medical reasons.

There are some very good medical reasons why some couples want to choose the sex of their baby, such as a genetic predisposition to haemophilia or cystic fibrosis, which are more prevalent in one sex.

But wanting to choose the sex just because of a desire for a girl after a string of boys is simply ridiculous.

Despite that, the number of Australians travelling to the United States to select the sex of their baby via IVF has doubled in five years.

As I see it, being a male or a female is not a disability. Sure, you might want a certain mix of children, but to impose your superficial wants on nature seems to me to be somewhat immoral.

There is a big gap in my mind between vaguely wanting a boy or a girl, and making it a biological imperative.

Surely there is a slippery slope here: once we let people choose babies on the basis of sex, what’s to stop selection on the basis of hair colour or height or intelligence?

Alarmingly, the National Health and Medical Research Council is reviewing the guidelines that made this process illegal in this country in 2005.

What worries me is that a lot of the decisions to choose a boy or a girl are based on quite sexist notions of what children of each sex are like.

So a family have a number of boys and goes to the US seeking a girl because they think she is going to be more nurturing and less rough? What if she’s not? What then?

They can’t hand her back. It seems they may be setting themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment.

In any case, experts say that in this country, 80 per cent of families turn to experts because they want a girl, which is pretty offensive to boys.

For instance, an Adelaide woman has been in the media this week saying she was “depressed” when she found out she was pregnant for the third time with a son.

“Having a little girl was important to my husband and I wanted to have that mother-daughter bond,” she said.

The woman went on to have the boy, then went overseas to get help to conceive a girl, who is now 15 months.

“There isn’t anything missing any more,” she said.

I think that is very concerning. A mother of three healthy boys who still feels that is not enough is something that should be fixed with therapy, not a trip to a foreign IVF clinic.

Rather than indulge such feelings by making sex selection legal in Australia, the real motivation should be questioned.

Are they making decisions based on outdated stereotypes? Is there a racial or cultural aspect to their decision?

I worry, too, that making sex selection legal here will further legitimise those who abort a healthy foetus solely because it is the wrong sex.

It’s not common, but we know it does happen. A Victorian couple aborted twin boys a few years ago as they already had three sons.

They are now looking at treatment in the US. Tragically, they had previously lost a girl soon after birth and wanted another girl.

You would think that a couple who had been through that sort of tragedy would be grateful for another child of any sex. But no, in this age of gender disappointment, it seems not.

As I see it, the existence of a human being should be based on whether the child is wanted and can be cared for, not whether it is a boy or a girl.

There’s no certainty when it comes to sex selection, and there should never be. It’s one of the last great mysteries of parenthood and birth.

As I’ve said before, the stork might make deliveries, but he shouldn’t take orders.