Toronto Star

Saturday, August 7, 1999

Baby girl power on the rise

By Judith O'Reilly and Lois Jones
Special to The Star

LONDON - Compared with deciding on a name, the question of sex is easy. A baby is either going to be a boy or a girl - and many people secretly have a preference.

When Linda Davies, a public relations consultant in London, became pregnant last year, she was reluctant to divulge her hopes, but now admits she wished for a daughter.

``You always have a daughter, but you can lose a son,'' she says. ``Boys get married and leave their mothers, while daughters grow closer to their mothers as they grow up.''

Surprisingly, her husband Grant Clark, a sports editor, had also set his heart on a girl.

``I grew up with two brothers, so I know how nasty little boys can be,'' he says. ``I haven't got a sister, so I think little girls are wonderful.''

When Davies had an ultrasound scan, the couple resisted any temptation to try to spot the baby's sex. Eleven weeks ago, nature provided the answer.

``It was an amazing moment when the nurses popped her on me and told me, `It's a girl,' '' says Davies. ``I said to Grant, `You've got the girl you wanted.' ''

Amy, their daughter, is thriving.

The couple is evidence of what some believe is a growing social trend: the preference of would-be parents for daughters.

``The sun is setting on sons these days,'' writer and mother Allison Pearson wrote in a recent issue of the magazine Having A Baby. ``Girls are hot, girls are desirable, girls are the future. Holy mother, girls are the new boys.''

Pearson maintains that the days of parents taking pride in a son and heir are over. In prenatal classes and maternity wards, she detects ``an almost panicky craving for girls.''

Once, only boys would do. They hunted, gathered, fought, inherited and hoped to impregnate their wives with chips off the old block. Now, the theory goes, boys can't spell, drop out of school, get into trouble and have lost the notion about how to be fathers.

``Many of the reasons why girls used to be unacceptable to society no longer exist,'' says Dorothy Einon, child psychologist at University College, London. ``In addition, they are not usually going to be involved in crime or violence, they are still much less likely to die from an accident or illness, and the potential for heartbreak is much less these days.''

Economic and social attitudes have been transformed. Girls no longer have to be married off at great expense. And parents, Einon points out, are no longer worried about their reputations being besmirched by unmarried daughters becoming pregnant.

Any desire for baby girls remains just wishful thinking while nature is the arbiter of birth. But scientists are fast catching up. Professor Ian Craft of the London Gynecology and Fertility Centre, who admits he would have liked to have a daughter, believes that when the technology becomes available and accessible, parents will not hesitate to select the sex of their children.

``If kits could be made with an agent that you mixed with a semen sample, which could guarantee the result you wanted, I can't believe anyone would outlaw it,'' he says. ``And of course, people would buy it.''

A baby's gender is determined by the father. Each man produces two types of sperm: those carrying the X (female) chromosome and those carrying the Y (male) chromosome.

The London Gender Clinic offers a ``sorting'' service that involves dyeing sperm. Dr Peter Liu, its director, says European couples tend to want girls, whereas Asians and those from the Middle East want boys.

``It is the wives who tend to be more interested and who want a daughter, so that when she grows up, she is a companion,'' he says.

However, some experts remain skeptical of the technique's effectiveness and are concerned that the dye could harm the sperm's DNA.

In Great Britain, sex selection on social grounds is banned at in vitro fertilization clinics. Canadian clinics have been adhering to a voluntary moratorium since 1995 and expect legislation to be introduced in the fall.

So where does that leave the present rash of prospective parents hoping for girls?

They could resort to the technique of 18th-century French nobles, who bound their left testicles if they wanted a girl.

They could test the old wives' tale that sex in the evening produces boys and sex in the morning produces girls.

Or they could wait for a cold snap. A German researcher recently revealed that more boys are conceived after heat waves and more girls after cold spells.

All is not lost for the poor boys. There are still men who want enough sons for a football team and other parents who believe the emphasis on girls is an unwelcome, damaging fad.

``Parents are telling us it is good having a boy, but everyone else is saying it's a nightmare,'' says Chris Taggart, editor of Junior, a lifestyle magazine for parents.

Taggart, who has a 2-year-old son, believes families are being overly influenced by reports of under-achieving boys, who now lag behind girls in educational attainments in virtually every subject.

Jill Bellman, a freelance art director with a 16-week-old son, Piers, believes in the appeal of fun, energetic and mischievous boys.

``I've got a lot of male friends and I grew up with two elder brothers. Boys are black and white - you know where you are with them. There are no gray areas as there can be with girls. Also, Piers is the end of the line: He's the last of the Bellmans. I know it's a bit traditional, but it's good to carry on a family's name.''

Ultimately, it is health, not sex, that matters.

``Women can be reluctant to admit their secret desire, almost as if they are hedging their bets,'' says midwife Mary Cronk.

``But whatever happens, you want what you get. I may have secretly dreamt of a little girl with black curly hair but, when I had my little boy with straight fair hair, that was exactly what I wanted.''

LONDON SUNDAY TIMES

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