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Excitedly anticipating the birth of child No. 3 in the fall, Rose Costa can’t wait to pick out some pretty clothes for her long-awaited little girl.
To say that Costa is passionate about having a daughter is an understatement — the 36-year-old and her husband, Vincent, 37, have spent $100,000 on seven attempts at in vitro fertilization (IVF) to guarantee a daughter after having had two sons.
“You feel incomplete as a mother until you have a girl,” says the four-months-pregnant computer database developer.
Costa’s decision to pick her baby’s gender is part of the controversial trend of “family balancing” — determining the sex of an embryo at the lab-dish stage before it is transferred into the woman’s uterus.
Last month, Us Weekly claimed that Kim Kardashian chose a boy as part of her IVF procedure to treat fertility issues. Though she denied the report, proud husband Kanye West will now have a son as well as a daughter, 2-year-old North, by the end of the year.
Whether or not the couple underwent the $15,000 to $25,000 process for IVF with sex selection, the speculation fueled the debate about whether the screening is ethically sound or a slippery slope toward designer babies.
“It’s the entitlement mentality in overdrive,” says Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, an organization that opposes the practice. (Though more than 160,000 IVF procedures were performed in the US in 2012, the percentage driven by sex selection, which isn’t legally regulated, is unknown.)
“Children are being made to order like Prada handbags.”
Countering the argument are so-called gender specialists, like Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg of the Fertility Institutes, who estimates around 85 percent of his IVF clients visit his Manhattan and Los Angeles offices purely for sex selection. The majority are American, but a large percentage travel from countries like the UK, France, China and India, where the option is banned.
“Most of them don’t have fertility problems — they want to guarantee a boy or girl,” reveals Steinberg, who has seen a 250 percent increase in demand for his services over the past five years. “It doesn’t matter if it’s their first or fourth baby — we take all comers.”
Costa conceived her sons, Gabriel, 15, and Igor, 13, naturally, but decided on IVF for her third child because she didn’t want to risk the chance of another boy. “All my life, I wanted to be the mother of a daughter,” says the brunette from Frisco, Texas. “I love my boys very much and wouldn’t change them for the world, but having a girl is really important to me.”
She first researched the options when Igor was 5 years old. “However, we wanted to be financially independent before we went ahead with the procedure,” explains the Brazilian native.
After a full cycle of IVF, the resulting embryos are chromosomally tested to determine their gender, as well as certain genetic conditions such as muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome, in a procedure called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD. Only the developing embryos of the desired sex are placed back in the mother’s womb. The remaining ones can either be frozen for future use, donated to other would-be parents, released for stem-cell research or, depending on the couple’s wishes, destroyed.
To Costa’s disappointment, all five embryos from her first PGD cycle turned out to be male. “I was very upset,” recalls the mom, who later donated the embryos to the clinic. “It wasn’t the outcome I expected.”
Undeterred, she had another $16,000 attempt at PGD at a fertility clinic in Dallas in May 2013 and was delighted to find out she was expecting a girl. Sadly, she miscarried at just seven weeks.
It’s the entitlement mentality in overdrive. Children are being made to order like Prada handbags.
“It was devastating,” she says. But instead of calling it quits, she was even more determined to try again. “My will to have a daughter and my husband’s support were fundamental,” adds Costa, explaining how the couple used contraception to prevent a natural pregnancy with a boy.
The family had to make some “lifestyle changes” so they could afford the treatments, such as cutting their vacations from three to one per year and putting plans on hold for a pool and patio extension.
Then, after a further four unsuccessful cycles of PGD between November 2013 and October 2014 at clinics in Mexico and Dallas, Costa was elated to discover she was pregnant with a girl in January 2015 after treatment at Fertility Specialists of Texas in Dallas. (Her final two attempts at IVF were covered by her company’s health insurance, but she had to pay $4,000 each time for PGD.)
“I’m extremely excited, but I’m taking things one day at a time,” says Costa, who has nevertheless decided on the name Olivia for her newborn. “Vincent and my sons are thrilled for me because they know how much I’ve longed for this moment.”
While he didn’t treat Costa, Manhattan-based specialist Dr. Joel Batzofin, of New York Fertility Services, has faced similar demands from hundreds of patients in the city. They currently include two Indian families — one desperately wanting a boy and another hoping for a girl.
“I’ve never had a problem with gender selection,” says Batzofin, who has been offering PGD for the past eight years. “It’s not illegal and it’s not harming anyone.
“If someone comes to me, even for a first-time pregnancy, then God bless them.”
He says around 10 percent of his clients ask for gender selection, particularly gay men using donor eggs, their own sperm and a surrogate.
“Oftentimes, it’s the first-time pregnancies when people are the most passionate about it,” he continues. “The gay guys tend to want boys.”
He religiously logs the requested genders and insists that the data stays at around 50-50, boys and girls. “If people think there is going to be a major imbalance in either direction, they’re going to be disappointed,” he says.
When The Post raised the issue with other respected fertility centers that offer “family balancing,” such as NYU Langone and Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, the doctors claimed there is never an imbalance. Problems have arisen in areas of the world such as China and India, where boys are deemed to be the more desirable sex. As a precaution, the practice is banned in these countries, but parents often travel overseas to get around the laws.
The New York medics’ logs bring little comfort to bioethicist Jennifer Lahl, who wants to see the US fall in line with most parts of Europe and ban PGD for gender selection. “It’s playing God,” she says. “It comes from selfish people thinking: ‘We’re going to have perfect children on our own terms, when and how we want them.’
“And what about the pressure on the child, to grow up a certain way and live up to all those expectations?”
These are questions that one expectant Manhattan mother is keen to address. Speaking on condition of anonymity because she has kept it secret from family and friends, she defends her decision to undergo fertility treatment for a girl after having two boys.
“It doesn’t matter to me if this baby ends up bisexual or not feminine at all,” says the 40-year-old, who had two rounds of IVF with PGD with Steinberg late last year and earlier this summer. Each cycle cost $25,000.
“But there are better connectors between a mother and daughter, and I want to experience that,” she continues.
“It’s less about buying girlie outfits and more about the bond. Having more women in the family creates a special relationship in the home and it’s good for the mother’s mentality.”
I’ve never had a problem with gender selection. It’s not illegal and it’s not harming anyone.
The stay-at-home mom, who will only say she is married to a successful businessman and that her oldest son is in preschool, is now eight weeks pregnant with the girl of her dreams.
Still, she doesn’t identify with the term “designer baby,” and is adamant that she would not be interested in another technique Steinberg has on offer — selecting the child’s eye color.
The option, available to patients in New York and Los Angeles, is done in Mexico because there was an outcry when Steinberg first offered choice of eye color through PGD in the US in 2009.
He recalls the case in early 2014 of a Manhattan man who came to him after his wife had died, because the couple had frozen embryos in storage from a round of IVF.
“He wanted to know if we could screen the embryos because he wanted a baby [via surrogate] with the same blue eyes as his late wife,” says Steinberg. “The staffers were in tears when he told us.”
In the end, the grieving dad pulled the plug on the process, shortly before the chromosomal analysis was due to take place in Guadalajara. “Wife No. 2 came along quicker than he thought,” shrugs the doctor.
• Preimplantation genetic diagnosis or PGD (alternatively called preimplantation genetic screening or PGS) is the genetic screening of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF).
• The procedure costs about $4,000, and is in addition to the $15,000 to $20,000 for IVF.
• The chromosomal test checks for certain genetic conditions, such as muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome. Gender can also be determined and, in some cases, even eye color.
• Only embryos of the desired sex are placed back in the womb; the rest can be saved, donated or destroyed.