momready archives

Girl Crazy

Posted by Elisa Taub
Girl Crazy

by Virginia Gilbert

Here I am on my back with my feet in the stirrups, this time with a new twist. To keep several million elite female sperm from oozing out of me, the nurse has slanted the examining table so the blood rushes to my head and the doctor has packed my vagina with a plastic-coated sponge. Now alone in a small antiseptic room, I feel like a Thanksgiving turkey that has been stuffed, trussed and left to baste.

I wonder: how did this come to pass, that I would agree to have the Y-bearing sperm flushed from my husband’s ejaculate solely in the hope of conceiving a girl? This was not how my son was created. Wistfully, I remember that impromptu morning romp, the surge of excitement I felt when we opted not to use a condom.

Now I want a second child not just to complete my family, but also to take another spin of the reproductive roulette wheel, wallow in anticipation as I wait to learn what kind of person that once-in-a-blue-moon meeting of egg and sperm will yield. My husband, however, worships logic and strategic planning.. His consent comes with this caveat: sperm-spinning. Oddly, my he-man husband is convinced we all would be better off with another female in the family and he insists on stacking the deck.

Subjecting myself to this invasive weirdness when I’m apparently able to get pregnant unassisted seems brazen and foolish. Will God smite us between the eyes because we futzed with natural selection? What long-term consequences might affect a kid conceived with sperm that has been shaken and stirred within an inch of its life? I want to do the right thing. But the right thing, for me, also involves having another child. And as sure as I am that I would love a second son, when I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I crave the experience of raising a daughter.

The most feasible sex selection method for us is the Ericsson Albumin Method and the closest licensed fertility clinic for this procedure is 50 miles away, nestled in a medical-office strip mall. The tests we take on our initial visit confirm that my hormones are top-notch and my husband’s little people can swim. One of the doctors brags that his three children are sperm-spun success stories. When I ask how his wife felt about the process, he shrugs and says they’re now divorced.

My husband asks the doctors a steady stream of questions. I withdraw; this science experiment is too Brave New World for my taste. Didn’t I learn growing up that that life is often most worth living when you don’t get your own way, that something larger than oneself resides in the gap between expectation and result. By closing that gap, wouldn’t I drain the magic out of life and become less human?

I tell my husband sperm-spinning is out. I have ideals! I have principles! I’m too breathless marching up the bio-ethical high road to feel the loss of my second-child dream. Then a relative’s birth announcement arrives. I gaze, not at the new baby boy, but at his curly-haired older sister, and think: I want to browse racks of tiny overpriced dresses and revisit Eloise and schlep my pink-tutued darling to and from ballet class! Why should I settle for the vagaries of life when I can empower myself?

I start peeing on a stick. When the second blue line indicates I’ve “surged”—meaning I will ovulate in the next 24-48 hours—I phone the fertility clinic and am told to come in pronto. I whisk my son to preschool, then hightail it to my husband’s office, to retrieve a fresh “sample.” We place the tiny Tupperware container in a discreet gray velveteen bag. The sample must be delivered within an hour. I zoom down the freeway.

I carry the bag reverently, like a package from the king, into the clinic. The receptionist hands me a form. “You need to indicate what you want. Male or Female?” Sheepishly, I put an “X” by Female. I might as well be ordering an in-flight dinner: beef stroganoff or chicken parmagiano? As I hand back the form, she informs me that the “sperm wash” will take two-and-a-half hours so I plant myself at a Formica booth in a sandwich shop.

Later back at the clinic, I do the OB-GYN drill: undress from the waist down, cover my lower half with a sheet and lie on the table with my feet in the stirrups. The doctor enters the room, inserts the ultrasound probe into my vagina. The nurse hands him the pipette. The doctor tells me to relax, lowering the pipette towards my vagina. I stare at the ceiling and wonder what David is doing. Is he on the phone? Checking his e-mail? Stepping out to the corner deli for a pastrami and rye? I feel pangs of shame, anger, loneliness. That he is not here holding my hand seems terribly wrong. It’s one thing to be able to get pregnant without having sex, but your husband should at least be in the same room. The doctor removes the speculum and packs me with the sponge. “Good luck,” he says, walking out the door.

Over the next week I picture Jack helping his little sister cross the street or protecting her from over-eager suitors…until my period starts three days early. We repeat the process the following month, but this time I sense immediately that I haven’t been knocked up. An ethical dilemma rages inside my head. Submitting myself to this degrading, expensive rigamarole would be acceptable if I could get pregnant no other way. But is it justifiable solely to choose my child’s gender?

I embarked on my sperm-spinning journey to empower myself, but instead the experience has made me feel powerless. I watch myself reduced to a receptacle for laboratory-approved sperm. Physical intimacy now holds the same allure as a plate of mung beans. I am obsessed with a daughter who doesn’t even exist. I decide I cannot continue sperm-spinning and hold on to my conscience, my marriage or my marbles.

After I get my period again, I tell my husband the science experiment is over. My husband is disappointed, but comes up with Plan B: the Shettles Method, a technique which seems like an old wives tale but which many people swear by. To get a girl, we’re supposed to use the missionary position, then stop intercourse two days before ovulation. I’m not thrilled with this approach, but at least it involves sex.

After two months of menage-a-troix with Dr. Shettles, however, I still am not pregnant. My husband leaves town for a 10-week film shoot. I cross my fingers that I will not start perimenopause before his return.

Then, something unexpected happens: with Project Make-a-Girl on hold, I have thoughts that don’t involve swaddled-in-pink newborns. I am able to concentrate on the present. Here we are, me and my boy, eating hamburgers in a converted-train restaurant, holding hands as we walk to the park, trying to figure out why Madeline’s father sends flowers and candy but does not actually visit her post-appendectomy.

Who we are in relation to our family members is part of what shapes us. A child’s personality will be affected differently depending on where he is in the birth order, if he has brothers or sisters or both, or if he has any siblings at all. Why should the culture convince me that Jack will suffer if he’s an “only child” or that I will be unfulfilled if I never get to watch a daughter pas-de-chat her way across a recital hall?

For now, I do what I should have been doing the past several months: reveling in the heady love affair between my son and me. Each time he climbs into my lap, bounds to my bedside in the morning, wraps his arms around my neck for a goodnight hug and refuses to let me go, it takes my breath away. What a relief to feel sane again, no longer girl crazy--just crazy for this boy.