Gender selection, I feel uneasy about it…

Gender selection, should parents be allowed to chose the gender of their children?

Should parents be allowed to select the gender of their children for social reasons

Kim and Kanye are having another baby and it’s a boy. There are reports, which of course have been denied, that Kim only had male embryos implanted during IVF. For those who aren’t familiar with Kim and Kanye, they have a daughter and the birth of a son will ‘gender balance’ their family.

I don’t much care for Kim and Kanye but the issue of gender-selection for social reasons has long sat uneasily with me. It’s taken me some time to put my finger on why exactly I don’t like the concept. As a mum of three boys, people expect that I’d like a daughter. Some people even have the nerve to ask if our littlest lad was an attempt to ‘get a girl’. If I am totally honest, I’ve never had a strong yearning or desire for a daughter. I guess starting from that basis I find gender selection, for non-medical reasons, a difficult concept.

Best interest of the child

Finally the penny dropped. Way back at Uni, I studied family law. To talk like a lawyer, a fundamental principle in Australian law is that all decisions concerning children should be in their ‘best interests’. Social gender selection seems to be done at the decision of a potential parent, based on their own desires. Maybe parents want to ‘gender balance’ their families like Kim and Kanye, maybe the father wants a son to play football with, perhaps the mother wants a daughter to take to ballet. But surely those reasons are not enough to engineer the sex of your child. It bothers me for a number of reasons.

Unconditional love

As a parent, we should give our children unconditional love. Isn’t that the true foundation of the parent/child relationship? To say we want a child but it must be a girl seems to make the love conditional on the child being a girl. I am sure that all parents love their children, but to think the child is less desired because of their sex is troublesome.

Gender stereotypes

You want a girl to shop with? New flash, not all girls like shopping! Boys can shop too. The same can be said about ballet, or dress ups, or tea parties. You want a boy to play soccer with? Girls can play soccer or cricket. Some boys don’t like sports. See a theme here? Just because a child is a particular gender does not mean that they’ll conform to your ideas about how a person of that particular gender should behave. Let’s not forget, implanting a ‘pink’ egg won’t guarantee a girl baby who loves pink. There’s more to a child’s identity than their genitals.

Be grateful

There are countless couples who struggle with infertility. There are women who endure multiple miscarriages. Some women never get the opportunity to become mothers. Sometimes we need to be grateful and happy for the children we are given, boy or girl.

Money, money, money

Gender selection for social reasons is not currently permitted in Australia. Couples are therefore travelling to the USA and Thailand, among other counties, to acquire the baby they want. This travel and procedure comes at a huge cost. I get that if you have money, it can buy most things. But a child isn’t a possession. It seems to me to ‘buy’, or more politely ‘select’, the sex of your child reeks of a sense of entitlement.

Social gender selection - life on Wallace

Gender disappointment

Apparently people who have children all of the same sex can suffer from ‘gender disappointment’ or even ‘gender depression’. Rather than a tinge of sadness when their second or third child are all the same gender, they get depressed. This perplexes me and strangely reminds me of a Rolling Stones song – ‘You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need’. Maybe, if you end up with three sons, or three daughters, there’s a reason for that. Who knows?

Where’s the harm

From an ethical perspective, some might ask where the harm is in allowing a family to chose the gender of their child. This brings me back to my concern about whether gender selection has the best interest of the child at its core. It’s possible if you really want a girl, after two or three sons, that guaranteeing a daughter is in the best interest of that child, as it satisfies the parent’s wants. Perhaps it avoids gender disappointment in the parent. But isn’t that about the parent? I worry about the pressure placed on a gender selected child to conform to stereotypical male or female behaviour. Those expectations certainly can’t be in the best interests of the child.

Some would say if parents have a child of a sex they don’t want, the child may not receive as much nurture as the preferred gender child might have received. I’m not convinced that is a legitimate argument for social gender selection. If a couple can’t give equal love or nurture to a boy as a girl, or vice vera, frankly I am not sure they should be parents!

Meet your baby

When I read about a woman sobbing at her ultrasound upon hearing that her second and third children were boys and contemplating aborting the third son, I shuddered. I love my sons unconditionally and without reservation. Not because they are boys but because they are my children. If I had another child, I am sure i would feel the same depth of love, irrespective of its ‘bits’.

It’s a tricky subject. To be clear, I think there’s a huge difference between kinda hoping your third child is a boy after two girls versus subjecting yourself to invasive medical procedures and incurring huge cost to guarantee the third child is a boy.

How do you feel about social gender selection?

19 thoughts on “Gender selection, I feel uneasy about it…

  1. As a mum of two boys and not knowing their gender before they were born, it was the greatest most lovely surprise to find out when they were born that ‘it’s a boy’! I love them for who they are regardless of their gender. And for the people who have asked me if we’ll try again ‘for a girl’ I smile and say ‘it doesn’t work that way’. Like you Claire I find gender selection odd. Creating another life is a miracle and the focus on gender sadly takes away from that.

    1. I don’t get the ‘try again for a girl’ thing. Surely you need to want a third child, irrespective of whether that child is a he or she!

  2. Interesting… I think people project their desires inadvertently when commenting on your babes. I remember so many times people would ask if we were planning more children, and then stating “but you have the perfect pigeon pair” in having one of each. I still want more kids in our family, but I don’t actually want to have any more kids … but I wouldn’t be fussed on gender- how could I teach my kids gratitude if I only wanted one specific sex?

    “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” is a mantra in our place. Appropriate for kids and adults alike I say!

    1. You do get what you get! People do seem to think that a pigeon pair is the ideal family and thus you’d be mad to have more and mess with that. Why is that?!?

  3. I have 2 boys who I adore and would love a girl too but if we decide to have a 3rd it will be because we want another child regardless of gender. I personally feel gender selection should be for medical reasons and I have been lucky enough to not have fertility issues and would not choose to go through IVF if I didn’t need to.

    1. I absolutely understand having two boys and hoping the third might be a girl. As you say though, you have to want a third child and really its luck of the draw. Subjecting yourself to the invasion, expense and stress of IVF when there’s no medical need, to achieve a desired gender seems very extreme to me.

  4. Interesting blog post. I agree with everything you say, but I have a big but!! I did experience gender disappointment with my second son when we found out he was a boy. I have always wanted a girl (and a boy I might add) and always assumed I would have one. After finding out our first son was a boy (after being told he was a girl) I felt like I’d lost a baby girl. I grieved for the loss of my little girl and sadly packed away the girls clothes we had bought. The depth of emotion experienced during gender disappointment or depression isn’t logical. I KNOW all the arguments you stated and it actually just makes it worse to know all that (especially after going through IVF) and still feel sadness regarding the gender you don’t/won’t have. It’s not a rational emotion and for me I liken it to PMS where you know you’re feeling cranky/hormonal/whatever because of your period but you just can’t help it/can’t stop yourself which makes it all feel even worse. So whilst I agree that I’m not sure I could actually go ahead with gender selection I do feel sympathy for those that do.

    Please note – I love both my boys dearly, and nowadays would be thrilled if I was lucky enough to have three or four boys, I genuinely would. However it was a different story during my second pregnancy.

    1. Lise, you don’t have a big but! This was a tricky post to write because I firmly believe as women we should support each others decisions. I think your experience of gender disappointment was possibly made worse by being told that your eldest was a girl to later be told he was a boy. I’ve no doubt that the feelings of gender disappointment are real. But my concern is that feelings of gender disappointment shouldn’t justify gender selection via IVF. I’ve no doubt you love your boys and you’d love more if they came along!

  5. Lise, you summed up my story as well. I had gender disappointment with my second son and it really hit me like a tonne of bricks and was completely outside of my control. A lot of it had to do with outside influences and I had counselling because of it. I don’t agree with gender selection but gender disappointment is a real thing and trust me, it is not something anyone chooses to feel. In my instance it had to do with my mum having passed away in my early twenties and a craving to recreate that mother/daughter bond. I love my boys more than anything in the world and wouldn’t swap them for anything but I did have sadness to never have a girl. Having said that, I am happy with my boys and no longer feel that need for a daughter to complete my family. Once I understood where those feelings came from I was able to move on and not look back.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Haidee. If I’m frank about it, I’m not very close to my Mum and I was intimidated about parenting a little girl. It’s interesting how much of our thoughts and feelings stem from our ‘family of origin’.

  6. Eeek…it’s just not right. Our kids should be perfect in our eyes no matter the gender. I have two girls and got so many comments while pregnant that hopefully you get your pigeon pair etc, and even at 38 weeks when we knew it was definitely a girl, someone said well hopefully you get a boy anyway. Wow! We shouldn’t be interfering with the natural processes of gender. But I also can understand gender disappointment. I had a lot of fear near the end of our pregnancy we would have a boy. We lost a nephew tragically recently and I knew it would have been a tough thing for the whole family if it were a boy, but those are very unique circumstances. Normally a boy would have been an equally welcome addition. Just healthy is all I cared for otherwise.

    1. Oh Holly, I am sorry for your family’s loss. I agree that we ought not mess with the natural process of gender.

  7. This is such a tricky one isn’t it and I’m really not sure where I stand on it. Half of me agrees with you that these type of decisions need to be made with the best interests of the child in mind but then I figure if gender selection is available to you and you strongly desire a certain Sex, then why not be able to choose? But yes… something about it really doesn’t sit right either. See… I just can’t make up my mind on this one 😉

    1. It is an interesting thought, that if the technology is available people ought to be able to use it. When IVF first began people were very skeptical about it, but not anymore. I guess I feel it’s a slippery slope to designer babies.

  8. I don’t really agree with it either. I understand people who have 4 boys and desperately want a girl, but why? A child is a child to me, no matter the sex. People can never be satisfied sometimes. It really does frustrate me this whole gender selection.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!