I’ll never forget the moment the nurse holding the ultrasound wand to my belly said the three words I’d waited my entire life to hear: “Meet your daughter.” I burst into tears of happiness, although I’d known I was having a girl ever since two lines appeared on the pregnancy test.
You see, I’d been in this ultrasound office before, when I’d sobbed with disappointment to discover I was having a second son … and then a third. This time my husband and I weren’t taking any chances. We had paid $50,000 and travelled 13,000 kilometres to make sure the baby growing inside me was female.
When I tell people that Jonathon and I travelled from our home in Mount Barker, South Australia, to California to have gender-selection treatment, I’m often met with judgment. The process involves harvesting a woman’s eggs, injecting each one individually with sperm, then growing the embryo from a single cell to around 130 cells, at which point it’s possible to tell whether the chromosomes are XX or XY. Only embryos of the desired sex are transferred to the uterus.
The technology – known as “pre-implantation genetic diagnosis”, or PGD – is illegal in Australia, unless it’s used to screen out hereditary disorders. As such, I’ve faced a backlash from even my closest friends. I’ve been criticised for “playing God”, messing with nature and being superficial. I know that, to a childless woman struggling with infertility, I might seem ungrateful because I already have three healthy sons. But unless you’ve experienced “gender disappointment”, you can’t understand how crippling it can be. My desire for a daughter caused me to spiral into depression and left me virtually housebound. Every time I went out, toddlers in pink seemed to taunt me.
I’m not alone in going to such lengths to have a daughter. Dr Daniel Potter, the US fertility specialist who treated us, has helped more than 1000 Australian couples “gender balance” their families. When we visited his clinic, HRC Fertility in Newport Beach, during our 16-day stay, we met 14 other Aussie couples in the waiting room, many of them too frightened to tell their friends or family why they were really visiting California.
Ever since I was little, my only goal in life was to have a daughter, and as an adult that desire only grew stronger. I come from a mixed-gender family with two older brothers and an older sister, and I saw the benefits of growing up with both perspectives. I also think society pushes the idea of the “perfect” family being two parents, with two children – one boy and one girl. I certainly thought so. I’m also close to my mother and always dreamed of having my own little mummy’s girl.
When I had my first son, Nathan, seven years ago, I wasn’t immediately disappointed because I just assumed – somewhat naively – that our next child would be a girl. But three years later, when I fell pregnant for the second time, I was in for a nasty reality check at the ultrasound. I know that every mother is meant to say, “I don’t care what the sex is as long as they’re healthy”, but I couldn’t hide my disappointment from my husband when the nurse said, “It’s a boy.” I’m sure she assumed my tears were caused by joy.
It’s hard to explain the heartbreak of “gender disappointment” and how it can consume you. Every gift – every blue babygrow and toy car – was a reminder of the fact my life wasn’t going the way I planned.
Almost immediately after my second son, Jordan, was born in 2010, I began to research natural ways to “persuade gender” during conception, from old wives tales to changing my diet and only having sex at certain times. I was amazed to discover online forums filled with women who shared my desire.
I fell pregnant again when Jordan was 14 months old. Then came the 16-week ultrasound and the words I’d been dreading, “It’s a boy.” During the pregnancy I became so depressed I considered having an abortion. That’s when I heard about Potter.
I booked a Skype consultation and discovered that gender-selection treatment at his clinic starts at $12,000 plus flights, accommodation and any extra drugs a mother needs. Before my third son, Brodie, was even born, we’d remortgaged our house and started saving.
As with any form of IVF, there is no certainty it will work. In the end, we had to make two trips to the US because during the first, in March 2013, we were heartbroken to hear I didn’t have any viable eggs. After that, I was totally shattered. On the flight home, all I could think was, “I’ve wasted so much time and so much money that should have been spent on my existing children.” But in a way, because we’d sacrificed so much already, that made it even harder to admit defeat, as it would all have been for nothing.
In August 2013, Jonathon and I flew to California for another round of treatment. I’ve been asked if I felt guilty leaving the boys behind, but I was just excited. I’d convinced myself that this time it would work.
I can’t describe the feeling when, a few weeks later, I got a positive reading on a pregnancy test. And I’ll always remember the first time I walked into a children’s clothing store and could browse the little girl’s section. My sons ran around picking up the pinkest, frilliest clothing they could find, while I stood in the middle of the store and sobbed. When my daughter, Emmerson, was born in April and I held her in my arms, it was like the final piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Gender selection must be legalised in Australia. As Potter argues, the technology exists so it should be available to everyone. It’s not about playing God, it’s about giving women reproductive freedom.