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Oh, boy! We finally have a girl!

She loved all her sons, but wanted a daughter. So she got science to help put the odds in her favor.

By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published August 6, 2006


WEST PALM BEACH - Dionisia Steig wanted the next baby to be a girl.

In fact, she wanted a girl so badly she did something more and more people are doing: She went to a West Palm Beach clinic to increase the odds of getting the sex she wanted.

For gynecologist Maureen Whelihan, Steig was a typical client - a yuppie with disposable income, who wanted what she wanted and was dead set on getting it. The only difference between Steig, now 42, and a lot of Whelihan's clients at Gametrics LTD was that Steig wanted a girl.

"Many of our clients are affluent U.S. citizens. But their roots are in other countries - India or somewhere in Asia, like the Middle East - and they want their sons," said Whelihan.

But not Steig.

Twelve years ago, at 30, she married Henry Steig, a podiatrist, who already had two grown sons from his first marriage. He retired and they moved from New Jersey to Boca Raton to raise a new family. Three boys later, desperate for a girl, Dionisia went to Gametrics, which her gynecologist mentioned when Steig said she longed for a daughter.

Gametrics is one of about 50 clinics in the United States that offer sex selection. Sixteen of these clinics in the Gametrics franchise, including Gametrics in Florida, use the Ericsson method of sorting sperm. Whelihan estimates that her clinic has done about 400 sex-selection procedures in the past 12 years.

Advocates of sex selection call it "family balancing." Critics call it "discrimination" and "medicine for the rich." The Web abounds with the opinions of both. In a recent online poll at BabyCenter.com, a baby information Web site with an advisory panel of dozens of university affiliated doctors, almost 10,000 people said they had tried some method of sex selection.

"Enough with the babies," Henry Steig, now 55, told his wife when she begged for a girl.

"When I said I was considering divorce, he gave in and paid the $784," Dionisia Steig said.

But her husband balked at going to the clinic himself to provide a sample of his genetic material. He finally agreed to cooperate at home, leaving Dionisia to ferry the goods to the clinic.

On a sunny spring morning 2½ years ago, Dionisia Steig sped 30 miles to the clinic in her SUV, with a plastic cup stuffed inside her shirt.

"If the sperm are kept warm, they live longer," she said.

Clinic staffers had warned her that she had to arrive with the sperm in 30 minutes.

Twenty-seven minutes later, Steig shoved the cup into the hands of nurse Kathy Lewis.

Lewis raced it down the hall to the lab where she poured the contents into a vial, added salt water to keep the sperm alive and spun them in a centrifuge to concentrate them.

Next, Lewis combined the solution with a viscous serum of human albumin, a blood by-product, and waited for the thinner and thicker fluids to separate.

The theory: The male-producing Y-sperm quickly swim out of the viscous fluid because they're lighter, while the heavier female-producing X-sperm stay in the thick liquid longer. MicroSort, another method, uses fluorescent dye and electrodes to sort the sperm individually.

Lewis then put a slide of the thick liquid under a microscope and counted the sperm, comparing them to a slide of the thin liquid. She found 30 times more sperm in the thin liquid, an indication that the Steigs would have waited quite a while for a girl if they had let nature take its course.

She quickly dumped the thin liquid and poured the thick liquid into more albumin, to get an even larger concentration of X-sperm. Gametrics claims its process will produce a girl three out of four times. The success rate for boys, they say, is slightly higher at 80 percent.

Meanwhile, Steig had raced back to Boca to pop waffles in the toaster for her boys' breakfast. She was just wiping the syrup off their mouths, when Lewis called and told her to come back for the insemination.

When she arrived, Steig went into an examining room and lay on a table that elevated her pelvis. Whelihan injected the X-enriched fluid into her cervix, while Steig prayed for a girl. She had already taken a small dose of the fertility drug Clomid, which stimulates the production of eggs. It has the additional effect of producing more girls than boys.

From start to finish, including the waffle breakfast and the drives back and forth, the whole process took about two hours. When Steig returned home, she watched the boys spit water on each other in the backyard pool and dreamed of the little girl she would have.

"I adore my boys, but I wanted a little girl and all of the gentleness that can mean," Dionisia Steig said.

Two weeks after the insemination, Steig knew she was pregnant. But, as the months passed, she refused to find out the sex of the child.

"I'd deal with it when I had the baby," she said.

In the meantime she talked to her mother repeatedly about carrying on the tradition of their mother-daughter relationship. And, she got her husband to pick a name.

He chose Victoria.

She and Henry were in the car with the boys, 7, 3 and 1, when the doctor called. She was five months pregnant and had just had an amniocentesis.

"The doctor says it's a boy," Henry told her.

An hour later, fighting back tears, Dionisia called the doctor and asked if she had really said the baby was a boy. The doctor replied that she had not mentioned the sex to Henry, only that the baby was healthy.

"But it's a girl," she blurted out.

"Get the hell out of here!" Steig screamed.

Steig drove straight to the Little Miss Priss Boutique in Boca Raton and picked out a pink frilly dress, lace-rimmed socks and a satin bow for her daughter's hair.

Victoria was born four months later - Victoria, who is not exactly what her mother expected.

"She is one tough little kid," says Steig.

At 20 months, the little girl yanks the satin bows out of her hair and unscrews her earrings to eat them. She punches her brothers who complain, "make Victoria stop."

Dionisia has given up on dolls. Her daughter pulls their hair out.

"She prefers little cars," says Steig. Last week, Victoria was tearing around the house when she tripped and chipped a front tooth.

"Just like the boys - she's aggressive and very active," says her mother.

Steig says she has thought a lot about Victoria and what this child has taught her: "You only have so much control. Your children are their own people, and there is no clear line between the sexes that makes them one way or another."

Despite this realization, Steig insists she sees one difference between her three sons and only daughter: "Victoria is much better with a ball than the boys were at her age."

Meg Laughlin can be reached at mlaughlin@sptimes.com.