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How couples can choose their baby's gender before conception

Health & Science

IVF varies from Sh450,000-Sh600,000. [Courtesy]

There are many theories that potential parents have the ability to influence the sex of their future babies.

The ancient times also had a myriad of sex determination. Philosopher Aristotle said the male is characterized by an abundance of the superior element fire, whereas the female has an abundance of water, and is therefore rather cold.

However, Aristotle criticized the theories that the sex of the embryo was determined by the side of the womb in which it developed, whereas Anaxagoras (ca. 500-428 BC) thought the side of the father’s testis was the deciding factor.

Following this theory couples would tie the left or the right testicle in order to conceive a male or female offspring, respectively?.

Aristotle argued that in animals, embryos of both sexes can be found in the same side of the uterus, and that men with only one testis can father children of both sexes.

According to the LA Times, in 1959, scientists discovered that men control the sex of a baby since the Y chromosome controls sexual development: XX embryos are female, XY are male.

Ruth Chepkonga, a family life nurse at Mater Misericordiae Hospital argues it is very possible to determine the sex of a child. Ruth, who is also a natural family trainer says the trainings they offer instruct couples to study fertility signs.

“We teach couples how to identify fertility signs that are naturally given, it is not a counting or calendar method. It is based on menstrual cycle, the fertility signs are the mucous observation,” she adds

Ruth says the training is meant for couples who want to either get pregnant, do natural family planning or postponing a pregnancy and pre-sex selection.

Her sentiments are echoed by colleague, Grace Njoroge who explains the training on attaining preferred sex.

“For pre-sex selection, we monitor about three cycles then guide couples to check the fertile signs.”

Grace says that the sperm that produces a boy swims faster and dies within 24 hours and the ones that produce a girl take 3-5 days.

“We teach coulpes about the fertile window and how to check the cervical mucous. After monitoring three cycles, we will know around what time ovulation happens and we look out for the peak, which is the last day of the fertile mucous. Ovulation occurs around the peak or 24-48 hours after the peak, so a woman can conceive a boy around the peak since the Y sperms swim faster,” adds Grace. 

Grace says that couples who want to conceive a girl are encourage to have sexual intercourse from the first day of the fertile mucous, which is the first day of the fertile phase.

“We advise them to have sex on the first day of the fertile mucous and to stop until the fertile phase is over, even if ovulation happens 2-3 days later there is a high possibility of producing a girl since the sperms that produce a boy would be dead,” she argues.

However, a health systems executive and consultant, Junior F. Mukudi says there are several myths surrounding the choosing of the sex of a baby, but none has proven successful.

“I would say in a natural or rather unassisted pregnancy, the odds of having a baby of either sex is fairly even. This extends also to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which there is a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), where a single sperm is implanted in the egg through ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection),” says Mukudi.

Obstetrician/Gynaecologist and fertility Specialist Dr. Kireki Omanwa also has doubts about the natural ways.

“There are two ways to determine the sex of a child, but the first one is just hypothesis. If you want to have a baby boy, then you time the intercourse just before or on ovulation because it is estimated that the sperm caring the Y genes have a short life span. However, we can’t say that for certain, it is a theory,” says Dr. Kireki adding “in order for us to be 100 per cent sure, we will have to get a certain number of couples and recommend they plan their intercourse,”.

Dr. Kireki says the most viable is IVF.

“Three to five days after the creation of embryos, we do a biopsy and remove some cells, freeze the embryos and wait for the results of the biopsy. Once the results are out, we will know which embryos are XX for a girl and XY for a boy and confirm they are okay for transplant because some of them may be missing some chromosomes or having extra chromosomes.”

Once they have the information, Dr. Kireki says the patient is prepared for the transplant of the frozen embryo by giving her medication, “and once the lining of the uterus is ready, the transfer of the preferred embryo is done.” With this, he says there’s a 99.9% chance that they will get the preferred sex.

Dr. Kireki shares the period between the collection of eggs and the transfer takes longer locally. What takes 24 hours in other countries will take two weeks in Kenya.

IVF varies from Sh450,000-Sh600,000. The biopsy to determine sex ranges from Sh300,000-Sh450,000, the cost of freezing the embryos on a yearly basis varies from Sh60,000-Sh100,000. The implantation of the frozen embryo is between Sh200,000-Sh250,000.

How many eggs are collected and what happens to leftover embryos?

“The larger the number of embryos created the better. This increases the chances of having embryos and a lot of times, the preferred gender,” adds Dr. Kireki. 

If the embryos left are still good the couple can give a written consent they get discarded, or donate them for research of diseases such as sickle cell. 

The second option is to donate the embryos to needy couples.

The challenges of the procedure

Apart from the high cost, Dr. Kireki says that it is not guaranteed that once the transfer is done there will be an implantation.

“We can determine the gender, but we cannot guarantee the couple will have the baby because there can be a number of complications like miscarriage or the embryo might fail to implant,” he concludes.

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