When we think about having children in the future, we always think about how many we want to have, what their names will be, and what gender they would. Despite the fact that we probably haven’t all met the father of our children, we also think about what we want them to look like. We want our kids to be tall, smart, attractive, and healthy; we want them to have traits that will help them succeed in life. Perhaps it’s this wishful thinking that leads humans to try different strange techniques that might just allow us to control these traits in our children.
Obviously, we can look for a partner that has some of the traits that we are looking for, a rule that numerous species have followed. We all know that the birds with the most beautiful feathers, or the most beautiful call will be a priority when it comes to mating, and the same rule applies to humans. We often have a preference for the people who have the traits we are looking for in our children.
Once we’ve found the perfect mate, another issue arises; what happens if there are complications with having children? Since the 1500’s, probably even earlier, women were reading books written by ill-advised men (such as monks, as Randi Hutter Epstein writes in Get Me Out) that gave women ways that were meant to simplify the birthing process. This allowed these so-called ‘authors’ to practically pick and choose what women ate, drank, or did, for doing the wrong thing could result in an inability to have children, which men thought was the only use for women, as they were thought of simply as “…baby making vessels.” (Page 10). For example, Catherine de Medici asked a folk healer why she could not get pregnant. She was directed to “…drink mare’s urine and to soak her ‘source of life’ (vagina?) in a sack of cow’s manure mixed with ground stag’s antlers.” (Page 7.) This did not work, however, but it just goes to show that a woman as prominent as the noblewoman Catherine de Medici would follow the myths of a folk healer and drink horse urine.
Since women were considered just ‘baby-making machines’back then, families generally preferred to have boys rather than girls. Boys could work, make money, and inherit money and land from their parents, keeping good fortune within their family. Girls were much more trouble, as they couldn’t make money for the family, and the parents had to work hard at marrying them off. Even though the probability of having a boy or a girl is 50/50, everyone still wanted to increase their chances of having a son. One guidebook wrote that “…red wine tainted with pulverized rabbit’s womb for him; (and) red wine with desiccated rabbit’s testicles for her…” (Page 6.) would surely result in them having a son.
Many years later, in 1941, women were still to blame for complications during the the pregnancy process. From conception to the hospital, if anything went wrong, it must have been the woman. A woman named Sylvia wanted to have children. She started visiting a psychiatrist who told her that in her heart, she didn’t actually want to have children, and this caused her tubes to be blocked. I personally believe that psychology is a science, however when there is no evidence to prove that your brain is directly linked to a woman’s production of eggs, it must not be true.
Even today, sperm banks allow us to pick and choose the traits we want in our children. There is no longer a need for dating or social conventions, you simply need a picture and a list of traits, then you’ve found a match. There are specialized sperm banks that let you choose especially athletic or smart donors, or you could look for a donor with blue eyes, or green. We seem to insist that we would love our children no matter what, so why do we need to choose their genders or hair color before they’re even born? I am not at all against sperm banks as they help many people have children, however it is important to realize that sperm banks should not be used to design the perfect baby. Perhaps these methods allow us to control (or think we are in control) of the uncontrollable, or it’s simply an extension of the underlying fear that our children will not be able to make their futures as bright as we want for them, and looking for genes that live up to our ideals reassures us that our kids will be okay in the future.