By Sola Ogundipe
Every man and woman wants a healthy baby, but do they want a boy or girl? Even without admitting it, we all have a preference. For instance, if you already have a boy, you’d probably like a girl, or vice versa.
The big question is whether you can actually determine the sex of your baby before birth? The answer is yes; thanks to modern Assisted Reproduction Techniques, ART.
There are various reasons why a couple may want a child of a particular gender, therefore choosing the sex of a baby during pregnancy and before birth is commonplace.
A recent survey revealed that about half of all Americans want their first child to be a boy. Among married couples surveyed, 47per cent said they would prefer to have a son first. Only 21 per cent of the respondents said they would like to have a daughter as their first child, and 32 per cent said they had no preference either way.
While the majority of couples want a son first, the reasons behind their gender preferences are varied. Most of the couples who want a boy—45 per cent—say they feel that having a son would be less hard work than a daughter.
On the other hand, a third says they want a boy because older sons are better at looking after their younger siblings.
Strong preference for sons
Another survey showed that in Africa and Asia, the preference for sons is strong and increasing. Further findings show that traditional family systems predict in advance the nature of these gender preferences, while religion does not, and that the magnitude of preferences is stronger for wealthier and more educated women.
Yet more research shows that once parents are closer to achieving their total desired number of children, the gender composition of children already born becomes an important determinant of whether they would have another child.
For instance, in a number of Asian or African settings, families with four or five or even six children are more likely to add another child if all of the children up to this point are girls rather than boys.
Under these conditions, sex selection can help couples maximize their chance of having a small family size of both sexes. So instead of trying repeatedly and hoping on chance, they would prefer a more certain method of selecting the sex of the child more so as economic and population parameters will suggest that families limit the number of children they have. It is perfectly normal to feel this way.
Medical reason vs Family Balancing
In the view of the Medical Director, Nordica Fertility Centre, Lagos, Abuja and Asaba, Dr Abayomi Ajayi, there are countries and societies that only allow sex selection for medical reasons in order to eliminate genetic diseases like Haemophila A and Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy that occur in males but are only carried or transferred by females. A family with a history of these conditions may want to have only female children.
Ajayi explained that opting for sex selection for family balancing is quite popular and could be done to help “balance” the family by having children of both sexes. For instance, families with all girls or all boys may wish to have the other gender to balance the family.
According to him, Nordica Fertility Centre Lagos, offers scientific and evidence-based sex selection that is backed by results in conjunction with a centre in Europe.
Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, PGD
Giving a rundown of sex selection techniques, he described Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, PGD, as the best scientific method at present for selecting the gender of a child.
“The best available is PGD. It is almost 100 per cent certain of selecting the desired sex. In PGD the woman first goes through a process of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) where her ovaries are stimulated using medications to produce eggs, the eggs are retrieved from her body using a special technique, they are fertilized using her partner’s sperms and the resulting embryos are biopsied (a small cell is removed from each) and analysed to determine the gender of the particular embryo. The embryos of the desired sex are then transferred into the woman’s womb with the hope they will attach to the uterine lining and grow into a viable pregnancy.
Ajayi described another method, Sperm Sorting/Microsort that involves the sperms being sorted using fluorescent technology into Y chromosome for the boy carrying sperms and X chromosome (girl) carrying sperms. The technology is based on the fact that the X chromosome is substantially
larger than the Y chromosome.
He said the process uses a fluorescent DNA stain that attaches to the DNA of each sperm and a sorter to identify and separate the sperms.
“That of a girl is 82 per cent. Not all couples are suitable for Microsort. The sperm count of the male partner must be within normal limits (at least 20 million sperms per ml with 50 per cent motility). Sperm samples are collected over a period and banked until a total of about 200 million sperms are collected. They are frozen and sent for sorting.
“The sorted samples are sent back usually within three to four weeks and depending on the desired gender, the appropriate sperm is used to inseminate the woman or to fertilise her egg during processes of assisted reproduction. For the chances for a boy is 73 – 81 per cent while that of a girl is 88-92 per cent.
Pros & cons
He however noted that in PGD, the embryos may be damaged during testing. “The desired sex may not be achieved as all the embryos produced in PGD may be of the sex being selected against. The Microsort method may also result in getting the undesired gender as it is not 100 per cent effective. “Because Microsort method is based on separating sperm according to how much DNA is in the sperm, if a sperm with extra or less DNA per chromosome (abnormal sperm) fertilizes an egg, it could cause a failure of pregnancy to occur or a high risk of miscarriage.”
Further, he stated: “PGD can alongside sex determination also check if the embryos are genetically normal so the chances of an abnormal embryo even if is of the desired gender being transferred into the woman’s womb is reduced significantly.”
In conclusion, sex selection can be done either for medical reasons or for family balancing. The various scientific methods of sex selection help to significantly improve the chance of couples having a child of the desired gender instead of relying on chance.
For the natural method, it is believed that the boy carrying sperms are faster but don’t last as long as the girl carrying sperms which are slower. “So if the woman wants a boy she should aim to have sex as close as possible to ovulation as the boy sperm will beat the girl sperm in the race to the egg. If she wants a girl, she needs to have sex two to four days before she ovulates. These methods have not been scientifically proven to work,” Ajayi stated.