Any media coverage focusing on views toward children is always bound to be both emotive and contentious. '8 Boys and Wanting a Girl' fit that description perfectly. Throughout Channel 4's hour-long show, I felt an emotional cocktail of disgust, confusion, empathy, sorrow and disbelief.
'8 boys and wanting a girl' follows the stories of four women: Michelle, pregnant with her fifth child and praying for it to be a girl; Wendy, who has resigned herself to eight boys; Nicola who, after four boys, managed to give birth to twin girls via PGD abroad, and Alison in the US who is undergoing her third round of PGD to bring a daughter into a home of four sons.
The first question that strikes is 'why?' Why the obsession with a girl? Each of the women interviewed express their desire for a baby girl with emotive language, such as 'I don't feel complete', and liken the inability to conceive a girl as equivalent to the feelings of infertile couples discovering they can't conceive at all. However, none can really express why they feel this way, and what it is about a daughter that they cannot find within their sons, apart from, perhaps, the enjoyment of the colour pink.
The programme highlights the lengths to which some will go to conceive a girl. The women can be seen meticulously monitoring their menstrual cycles, taking hoards of natural supplements and even douching (using lemon/lime juices to create a more acidic environment, apparently preferable for female sperm - carrying an X chromosome - to attach). As PET (Progress Educational Trust) advisor Dr Alan Thornhill points out, there is no proof that any of these methods work and women are placing their health at risk in their desperation for a daughter. In the end, the odds are always 50/50.
Two of the four women attempt to circumvent these natural odds by undertaking PGD. Alison could do so in her home country but, as sex selection is banned in the UK unless it relates to a gender specific disorder, Nicola had to travel to Spain to receive her fertility treatment. The show follows Nicola's triumph in her twin girls, and Alison's devastation as her third PGD attempt fails. Although Dr. Thornhill remarks that PGD is 'unpalatable', the real contentions of sex selection are left untouched. Unfortunately, prevalent issues such as gender imbalances, the prospect of 'designer babies' and the potential dangers of receiving fertility treatment abroad are largely ignored.
The most striking and distressing aspect of the show is the clear effect that these women's obsession is having on the rest of the family. Although the primary focus of the camera is the mothers, I can't help but feel these women are the primary focus of the entire family behind closed doors too.
Sadly, the featured husbands were clearly feeling to blame for their inability to give a baby girl; 'It's down to me, men determine the gender,' says Wendy's husband. Blame then led to punishment for Nicola's partner, who was not allowed to marry until he gave her a daughter. In addition, Alison's husband highlighted that the entire family suffers in the negativity of his wife's obsession and have all felt the pinch of the gaping $20,000 PGD hole in the family's finances.
The views of the existing sons are also pushed to one side by the programme. Watching Michelle burst into inconsolable tears upon finding out the gender of her fifth child is distressing, particularly as it is clear that this child was only conceived in the hope of it being a girl. The result - a beautiful, healthy and 'unwanted' baby boy. Similarly, Nicola doting over her twin girls is equally uncomfortable to watch. Where are her sons? Do they feel 'second best' to the prize girls? What is the psychological effect on the sons of mothers who desperately want girls? Again, these questions aren't explored. Although all the women stress that they do feel 'blessed' by their sons, it seems as though they are almost trying to convince themselves that they feel this way. 'If I could change my little boys into girls? Yes, I think I might', sums up the real feelings.
Although the issue of 'gender disappointment' disorder is mentioned, again, it is not fully explained or its validity fully investigated. It appears that throughout, the programme only really touches the surface of the real issues underpinning the feelings of these women and the effects of their desire for a daughter.
After watching the programme, a bitter taste remained. I couldn't help but feel as though these women should be thrilled and satisfied with the healthy boys they did have, rather than depressed by the daughters they didn't. If the feelings these women face really are the product of a deep-seated psychological disorder, gender disappointment, surely the best strategy is to attack the root cause and seek psychological help rather than bring more children into the world.