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The Soapbox: Why Choosing Your Baby’s Sex Is Gambling On Gender Stereotypes

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There are many in Western society that seem to band together anytime the subject of sex-selective abortion in foreign countries comes up. It’s a tricky topic, especially for those of us who favor unfettered abortion access. Outrage and incomprehension over aborting female fetuses in favor of males is usually the default response, with many claiming the practice is misogynistic, and rightfully pointing out the negative impact it has on many countries, specifically in Asia.

But despite our alarm and discomfort surrounding sex-selective abortion, many in Western society have no issue doing all they can to conceive a specific sex. And while pregnancy screenings to rule out female fetuses abound outside the U.S., there has recently been a surge in the number of parents looking to do exactly the opposite within this country: going to great — and expensive — lengths to ensure that their newborn is a girl.

A recent post at Slate.com looked at the multi-billion dollar industry that caters to parents looking to select the sex of their baby. Moms and dads desperate for a girl can spend an average of $18,000 on various embryo manipulating techniques in hopes of selecting the gender of their future child. In the piece, titled “How To Buy ADaughter,” Slate chronicles the story of Megan Simpson, a mother of three boys who desperately wanted to become a “girl-mommy.” After four years of various attempts, and $40,000 later, Megan finally gave birth to a baby girl, one who would wear the pink, frilly clothes she had purchased in the hopes of one day having a daughter.

Simpsons reasons for wanting a girl were numerous, but much of it was based on her own background:

“She had grown up in a family of four sisters. She liked sewing, baking, and doing hair and makeup. She hoped one day to share these interests with a little girl whom she could dress in pink.”

And there’s the issue for me, and perhaps others who feel uncomfortable with sex-selecting embryos. My problem with “family balancing” (the term coined by doctors who specialize in this field to make sex-selection more palatable) is that at its base it comes down to gender stereotyping — which is not so far off from those who choose sex-selective abortions.

Basing our desires on stereotypes can be incredibly dangerous and potentially gravely disappointing. Had I been the daughter born to Ms. Simpson, she may have deemed her $40,000 spent a waste. Growing up I was less concerned with all things pink and frilly and more worried about whether my mom could patch my favorite jeans that continued to wear through at the knees. I played with Barbies, but most of them ended up with chopped hair and markered on tattoos. I look at my amazing, almost six-year-old son, and wonder what a family who spent $30,000 in hopes of a boy would think of him with his love for soccer, Legos, and … pedicured toenails.

While it is certainly within a person’s right to choose how they make a family, it’s also acceptable to call into question that choice, especially when there’s no guarantee that the child’s gender will fall in line with the selected, and apparently desired, sex. There is no magic mirror that will give us a glimpse into who our children will become as they grow older. Perhaps that baby you dressed in all blue and who only played with trucks, tools, and balls has a passion for ballet. And that girl for whom you ached? The one you planned tea parties and spa dates for would much prefer to be knee deep in dirt or nose-deep in a science experiment.

Or perhaps they’ll surprise you and be a wonderful mix, dabbling in both the pink and the blue — and toppling the carefully stacked boxes of gender stereotypes society likes to places children in.

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