"Family Balancing": Should We Tinker With Nature?


The response to the news that I'm pregnant with a girl has been joy, as well as laughter: "Whoa, three girls? Now you have to try for a boy."

Do I?

After the misdiagnosed miscarriage, the hyperemesis, the bleeding, the leaking, and the general drama associated with this pregnancy, I hadn't given much thought to another pregnancy. In fact, a tubal ligation began to sound like a viable option to me.

But now this refrain—"Try for that boy!"—got me thinking. What if we were dead set on having a boy? Does the medical technology exist to guarantee our results, and would we have the gumption to use it?

I've discovered that—in addition to recommendations regarding the timing of sex, positions, and nutrition (which I plan to post about next week)—there are two main methods available at fertility clinics that could increase our odds of conceiving a boy: preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and sperm separation.

Undergoing PGD for a boy would consist of an IVF cycle in which any girl embryos we produce would be discarded.

Because we wouldn't be doing this for any medical reason (such as a hereditary trait only passed down through girls), and because I know what adorable people our female embryos make, this alternative depresses me.

But many of my neighbors are doing it. According to an article published this month in the San Jose Mercury News, some Asian immigrants are opting for PGD, in addition to terminating female embryos. An economist identified a 58% (not the usual rate of 51%) chance of having a son among Indian families that first had two girls . And it's been a boon for the local fertility clinics who offer sex-selective PGD.

In addition, at up to $18,000 a pop, PGD is significantly out of our price range.

Sperm separation
So, what about sperm separation instead? The most common method seems to be MicroSort. "Ysort"—which, using dyes and taking advantage of the weight different between X-chromosome girl sperm and Y-chromosome boy sperm—gives the boys something of an advantage.

But in order to undergo a sperm-separation procedure, we would have to consent to an intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedure, which would not only take the last shreds of romance out of the conception process, but would cost more than $5,000. In addition, our chances of conceiving a boy would only increase from 51% to 73%, according to MicroSort's literature.

These statistics were echoed by my doctor, who advised me to stick with what nature provided us, gender wise. Plus, conceiving via IUI with sorted sperm can take longer than conceiving naturally (for couples with no history of infertility), and we are quickly approaching our self-imposed "no babies after 40" deadline.

If we wanted to guarantee a fourth girl, this would be a much better stead. Apparently, Y-bearing sperm are easier to eradicate, so our odds would go from the usual 49% chance to an 88% chance of conceiving another twirling pink ballerina.

Next Page: Yes, you can get gender results before Week 18 [ pagebreak ]Faster gender results
I've also learned that I didn't need to wait until Week 18 to learn that our new little girl was on the way. There are two kinds of at-home testing options now available to impatient women, like me, using blood and urine.

The blood sampling tests such as the Baby Gender Mentor ($275, including lab fee) claim to test blood starting from the fifth week of pregnancy, but they remain controversial as their data has not been substantiated. Mothers' struggles with their "guarantee" are detailed in this Ingender blog post. Another blood test option is the $200 Pink or Blue test, which claims 95% reliability beginning in Week 7 of pregnancy.

A urine test, IntelliGender's Gender Prediction Test, can only claim 82% accuracy, but it's much cheaper ($35), and you can perform the test at home instead of sending your sample into a lab. Their test recommends waiting until the tenth week of pregnancy to test a sample.

On the off-chance I do get pregnant again, would I use these technologies to boost our chances of having a boy? Then, would I send my blood away to find out the sex in the first trimester?

These options were swirling in my head as my family left a local pizzeria last night. In the parking lot, I saw a pack of boys sword-fighting with sticks while their moms tried to referee. I watched my husband, who ferried our girls past the melee; I think we're going to be OK.