I was sure my first child was going to be a girl. For months I called her Emma during our regular (rather one-sided) chats, and when the doctor said "it's a boy," I looked at my baby and thought "who ARE you?"
Eventually my fascination with the pull of gender led me to write an article for the New York Times Magazine back in 1999, when both message boards and sex-selecting technology were in their (pardon the pun) infancy. I spent time on the growing number of sites where women gathered to discuss how to have a baby of a particular sex and to debate whether they would use a new method of sperm sorting that could up the odds of a boy or a girl to about 90 percent.
Earlier this week, Jasmeet Sidhu wrote an article for Slate (which we republished on HuffPost Parents) which looks at the next step in the conversation that was beginning all those years ago. In recent years it has become possible to up the odds that a child will be male or female to 100 percent. It is expensive -- nearly $20,000 a shot. And it is ethically controversial -- if parents start selecting for sex, then how far a jump is it before they start selecting for eye color, or beauty, or temperment or smarts?
The reaction to my article -- mostly by actual letters, mailed to the newspaper -- included outrage at the women I interviewed for the piece, for saying that the sex of their child mattered to them. There was outrage at me, too, for admitting disappointment, however brief (Evan is 21 now, and he will assure you I love him fiercely). I saw the same reaction in the comments this week to Sidhu's piece, and in between I watched it foment whenever a writer popped her head up to hint at any smidge of preference. Like Allison Slater Tate's piece about "Wanting Daughters, Getting Sons" for Motherlode, for instance. Or Devon Corneal's "You Can't Always Get What You Want," for HuffPost Parents.
It was out in force again yesterday when I had a dynamite conversation with Sidhu and a panel of thoughtful guests hosted by Nancy Redd on HuffPost Live about the question of Gender Selection. While we were taking a multifaceted look at questions of human longing, and stereotype, and the tendency of technology to outstrip our ability to control it, readers were distraught that a woman who had such thoughts was allowed to be a parent.
Which led me to wonder whether the anger so many of us aim at women who long for a daughter or a son doesn't, in a roundabout way, fuel what Sidhu describes as a growing industry to meet the need. The piece I wrote all those years ago was, in a way, my chance to wrestle publicly with something many women don't talk about, for fear of being seen as the bad mother I was concerned about being. And the result, for me at least, was that by facing down my thoughts, I also made my peace with them. Exploring the options, urges, assumptions and expectations led me someplace that I didn't expect -- something I wish for any parent. It led me to closure.
Wouldn't it be better to encourage this conversation among women, seeing it as an airing of the normal doubts and preference so many of us have, rather than shutting each other down?
As I wrote back then:
...if (sex selecting technolgy) had been an option for me five years ago, I might have used it for my second child. Which would mean there would be no Alex. How could there be no Alex?
I look over at him. He has finished with his frozen hot chocolate and is pretending to be Anakin Skywalker with Jennifer's boys. I try to picture Emma, but she fades. She has been fading a lot lately. No. I will not do this. I do not want it badly enough.
I started this journey thinking it would leave me feeling empty, as if an opportunity had passed, or energized, determined to seize an unexpected gift. Rather, I find myself content. The exploration alone has been liberating.
Reproductive technology is all about control. Controlling that which was always random. And now this technology, by its very existence, has given me an oblique but precious form of control. I can have my daughter if I want her. I am not too old; the technology exists. So the reason I have two boys is not that fate deprived me of a girl. The reason I have two boys is that I chose to. Microsort opened the door. I chose not to walk through it.