I am currently in a clinic in Thailand undergoing IVF (In vitro fertilisation) and PGD (Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis), a process that is outlawed in Britain and many other countries, but legal here. My eggs will be stimulated to grow, then retrieved, and my husband's female X-sperm will be injected to create a female embryo to be implanted at a later stage, if all goes to plan.
Since January I've been corresponding with a woman called Tanya, getting confused about timelines, when to take my birth control pill and all the supplements with their weird names. I am not infertile, I conceived two sons naturally, both relatively late and quickly. My first was delivered when I was 37.5 and my second aged 40. So I have my family - two healthy children and a husband, but when I turned 42 in April I knew that this was my last chance to have a much longed for baby girl.
There are probably other women just like me who feel their family is incomplete yet gender disappointment and gender preference is a silent taboo and not discussed. The reasons for a desired gender are complex and not at all straightforward in many cases.
Baba number 1 in the womb, (oil on canvas, 10x10 inches, 2010)
Being told the gender of my first-born was a shock followed by, 'Are you happy?' To which I nodded slowly, slightly dazed. Of course I feel ashamed at my initial reaction, but in that instance I became emotionally numb.
The disappointment stemmed from deep rooted-reasons. My mother was born in Pathuakali, Bangladesh after her twin brothers died, my grandmother grieved for those lost children, and she grew up feeling worthless as a girl and longed to be a boy. As for my late father he only wanted boys and faced his own gender disappointment when his young wife bore him three daughters in rapid succession. For years growing up I would have to endure people's taunts directed at my mother, 'Three girls and no son' they would cackle as if to be born a girl was lamentable. Then I endured multiple sexual assaults at the hands of men from my teens upwards, subsequently my relationship with men has never been straightforward, I don't dislike men, but I can't profess to fathom them at all, therefore how could I raise my son into a good, decent, kind man?
Baba number 2 in the womb (oil on canvas, 10x10 inches, 2013).
For five years I tried to work through my initial gender disappointment. Becoming desperate I spoke to numerous psychologists and psychiatrists about my feelings hoping that they could offer a miracle panacea, instead I was told it would pass, to be grateful, to cease talking about it, and to go away. My initially smooth pregnancy mutated into one punctuated with morbid depression from the third month on. Then I was faced with postpartum psychosis, which presented huge challenges and threatened to sabotage the bond I was trying to forge with my new-born. My answer was to draw my baby as he breastfed, to paint him, to make art with my son, immersing myself in his world of dinosaurs and creating a vast Lego town with spaceships, houses and castles to help us have adventures together.
Drawing of Senna (pen, pencil, pencil crayon and gouache on A3 paper, 2014)
To face exactly the same feelings when I found out the gender of my second child was devastating and shameful. The depression that ensued was deeper and I received very little help dealing with these emotions. After my second son was born knowing how to tackle the onset of postpartum psychosis, employing the same strategies, I willed myself to love him. The bond was not instantaneous, learning how to love both of them was a long process, but a profound connection is unequivocally there now. I love them more than anything, I fear and delight in them, they give me more cuddles and kisses than anyone could desire, and I want to raise them into confident, happy, benevolent, decent young men.
Drawing of Luca (pencil, pencil crayon, pen, acrylic ink on paper, 2014)
I thought the painful yearning for a daughter would eventually subside, but since I stopped breastfeeding the desire has returned with a vengeance. (In order to undergo IVF you have to stop breastfeeding). My husband has outwardly accepted my decision, but privately he's not keen, believing a third child would be too much of a strain for us, especially with my history of psychosis. So, I am embarking on this IVF/PGD journey alone. Paying for it all, too, which I am happy to do. He remains laconic if I broach the subject and is emphatic that implantation is unlikely to succeed. To be honest I would much rather conceive naturally, since I know I can, but the anxiety of having a third boy is just too much of a risk. I would not want to put that baby or myself through what I went through with my first two sons, it would be unfair on the child. And so I am compelled to do it this way.
I am writing this article for other women who are in the same position as I am and feel unsupported and isolated in their journey. These feel like the longest most critical two weeks of my life. The injections don't irk me, it's the uncertainty that is emotionally exhausting. The strain is visible, the tension palpable as we all sit in the plush waiting room waiting for our daily jabs.
Female infanticide is rife in China and India, especially, and gender preference has led to a huge imbalance in the population, which has serious socio-economic implications. I would never condone terminating a pregnancy due to the gender, and when I hear stories of discarded baby girls as if they are rubbish it sickens me to the core.
Preferring to be open about all of this, I have tentatively broached the subject of PGD with friends and sometimes even strangers. The reactions have varied from awkward silence to the accusation that I am practising eugenics. Others have said, 'Some woman can't conceive at all, count yourself lucky and be thankful for what you have'. Is it better than not to talk about it? Even if people don't approve of my actions, it's my body, I am taking control of my waning fertility and that's my fundamental right.
Growing up with three sisters I relate to women. It is my dream to give a girl everything that my boys have, to raise her as a strong, independent, fearless, young woman with a mind of her own, it has nothing to do with a hankering for pink or pretty dresses. Even if I fail I just need to know I tried.