She was met with devastating news: all of her embryos were found to be chromosomally abnormal. None were useable.
“I cried. And cried some more,” recalled Simpson. “All that money, the drugs, the travel, time off work. The money.”
Despite the financial and emotional setbacks, she wanted to try again, soon. Three months later, she was back in Laguna Hills, this time to try a more sophisticated sperm-sorting method plus in-vitro fertilization. She had taken out $15,000 on a line of credit to pay for the second attempt.
This time, the embryos were good to go.* An ultrasound was used to guide a catheter containing the embryos into her uterus. Six days later, Simpson took a pregnancy test. It was positive.
When she was 15 weeks pregnant, she asked a friend at work to once again sneak her into an after-hours ultrasound. Simpson was anxious, haunted by the memory of her last ultrasound.
But this time, it was different. She was pregnant with a girl.
After nearly four years and $40,000, Simpson’s dreams of being a “girl-mommy” were finally going to come true.
Simpson gave birth to her daughter during a home delivery in her bathtub in 2009. “The moment she was born, I asked if it was still a girl,” she recalled.
Simpson had to work six days a week right up until the delivery and months afterward to repay the loan she took.
“My husband and I stared at our daughter for that first year. She was worth every cent. Better than a new car, or a kitchen reno.”
Much of the evidence that Americans preferentially choose girls is anecdotal, as no larger body tracks gender selection procedures. But data from Google show that “how to have a girl” is searched three times as often in the United States as “how to have a boy.” Many fertility doctors say that girls are the goal for 80 percent of gender selection patients. A study published in 2009 by the online journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online found Caucasian-Americans preferentially select females through PGD 70 percent of the time. Those of Indian or Chinese descent largely chose boys.
So where does this preference come from? And with the sex-selection rhetoric in the United States centered around “family balancing,” a feel-good term that implies couples are rationally planning their families, is it still sexist to choose for girls?
For Jennifer Merrill Thompson, the reasons were simple. “I’m not into sports. I’m not into violent games. I’m not into a lot of things boys represent and boys do,” she said. Thompson is the author of Chasing the Gender Dream, a self-published book that documents her use of gender-selection technology to conceive her daughter.
Interviews with several women from the forums at in-gender.com and genderdreaming.com yielded the same stories: a yearning for female bonding. Relationships with their own mothers that defined what kind of mother they wanted to be to a daughter. A desire to engage in stereotypical female activities that they thought would be impossible with a baby boy.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says it’s concerned that gender selection is leading otherwise healthy women to undergo unnecessary medical procedures, and that fertility doctors might turn their attention away from treating infertility to pursue a more lucrative specialty. And the group points out the possible psychological harm to children born through gender selection. They fear these children would be pressured to live up to the stereotypes of the gender that was picked out and paid for by their parents.
“It’s high-tech eugenics,” said Marcy Darnovsky, director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a Berkeley, Calif. nonprofit focused on reproductive technologies. “If you’re going through the trouble and expense to select a child of a certain sex, you’re encouraging gender stereotypes that are damaging to women and girls. …What if you get a girl who wants to play basketball? You can’t send her back.”
Despite the objections from some medical ethicists, it seems that gender selection, like many aspects of fertility medicine, will remain legal and unregulated in the United States.
Reporting for this story was supported by the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University.
Correction, Sept. 17, 2012: This article originally stated that Megan Simpson underwent PGD twice, the second time successfully conceiving a girl. She used PGD once and then used a sperm-sorting technique plus in-vitro fertilization to conceive a girl. (Return.)