Story transcripts

By Design

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reporter: Tara Brown
Producer: Sandra Cleary

Just imagine it. Seven kids and every one of them a boy. You'd give up trying for a girl wouldn't you?

Well not Andrew and Jodi McMahon. They wanted a daughter so badly they decided to have one more go.

But this time, there was no rolling the dice.

Andrew and Jodi headed overseas where it is legal to choose the sex of your baby.

Gender selection is banned in Australia and often condemned as a first step towards designer babies. But for the McMahons, it's nothing short of a miracle.

Story contacts:

For more information about Gender Selection, Dr. Daniel Potter and the Huntington Reproductive Centre in California, contact:

P: +1 949 287 5600

Or visit:

Full transcript:

TARA BROWN: Tumut, in country NSW, is a natural playground. A boys' own paradise. In fact, it's such a great place to bring up boys, Andrew and Jodi McMahon have had seven sons. There's nothing gentle about these boys, is there?

JODI: No, they're not gentle.

TARA BROWN: This remarkable, super-sized family is testosterone central. Meet 17-year-old Luke, 14-year-old Aydan, Josh – 13, Billy – 11, Cody – 7 and 2-year-old Declan. They are their own little army, aren't they?

JODI: Yes.

ANDREW: Come on. Go!

TARA BROWN: But even with this little army of men, something's been missing for 38-year-old Jodi and 42-year-old Andrew. They've tried and tried for that elusive daughter – even turning to natural remedies.’

ANDREW: We had tried all the myths and fables.

JODI: Yeah, we tried all those wives’ tales.

TARA BROWN: What are some of them?

JODI: There are the diets and it's a high-calcium sort of a diet. No salt. And then there was the really tight wearing of the underwear. For Andrew, not me.

TARA BROWN: But nothing worked. After Jodi discovered she was pregnant with her sixth son, her desperation for a daughter became overwhelming. When I found out I was having another boy, I was really upset. Did you expect to feel that way?

JODI: No. No.

TARA BROWN: You're getting upset now. Why's that?

JODI: I don't know. I shouldn't feel like that. You should be grateful and happy. But I did. A week in and I was good. It was good. It was fine.

TARA BROWN: Andrew, were you disappointed at all?

ANDREW: Not at all, no. They're all top kids.

TARA BROWN: Yeah, they are really top kids.

JODI: I wouldn't put any of them back. How many?

KIDS: One, two, three, four, five. Six, seven eight. Six, seven, eight.

TARA BROWN: Denied nature's helping hand, Jodi, a pet groomer and Andrew, a gym owner, turned to science – an incredible process called gender selection. Here's how it works. Like IVF, an embryo is created in a test tube. But gender selection goes one step further. A chromosomal check can tell if the embryo is a boy or a girl. Doctors then only transfer into the mother's womb the embryo of the chosen gender. The only problem – it's banned in Australia. You're the dream-maker.

DANIEL: Yeah, a little bit. I'm more of the facilitator. I think Jodi's the dream maker.

TARA BROWN: So 18 months they go they went to California to seek the help of Dr Daniel Potter from the Huntington Reproductive Centre.

DANIEL: Part of the reason for me being here is to help people connect with their destiny and she's been trying to have a daughter for like, the last I don't know how many kids, and at some point they said, "Look, I mean, we gotta do something to make this happen." So she's the one who flew out to the United States and went through this whole crazy, complicated process.

TARA BROWN: And this crazy, complicated process worked. Made in America – little Addison. Jodi and Andrew's first daughter was born in May last year.

JODI: It was just so different. It was just a dream come true. Like, it was just – I just had to keep pinching myself that it had happened really, I guess.

TARA BROWN: Again you're tearing up. Why is that?

JODI: Just happy. Just was really happy, I guess.

TARA BROWN: Clearly, these brothers love having a sister. But the family planning isn't over yet. As often happens with IVF, when Addison was created so was another embryo – another female, another potential life and technically Addison’s twin –frozen and stored in America. And now the McMahons are going back to get her. Do you think of this embryo as an embryo?

JODI: No, not really. I think of it as a sister because we say, “we're going to get our sister” to the boys. I called it a frosty, though, cause she's on ice.

TARA BROWN: Why are you guys going to America?

BOYS: Going to have a baby.

TARA BROWN: What sort of baby are you getting?

BOYS: A girl.

TARA BROWN: A girl. Do you know how you're going to get this little baby girl?

BOYS: I think they put an egg in mum. Fried egg?

TARA BROWN: A scrambled egg? From Tumut to Los Angeles, the whole family is going to get Frosty. This is no small journey at no small cost. Their priceless daughter and quest for another has so far set them back $50,000.

DANIEL: Why, hello. How are you?

JODI: Good.

DANIEL: Welcome.

JODI: Thank you.

DANIEL: So this is Addison.

JODI: Yes, this is Addison.

DANIEL: Well, welcome. Welcome to you, back where you were made.

TARA BROWN: For Jodi, Dr Potter is a hero, but he thinks she's the one with all the courage.

DANIEL: Because if it wasn't for Jodi's tenacity and seeking this out and making this happen, you know, this little individual wouldn't exist. Right? So this is where your baby is.

JODI: Yeah. This is the IVF laboratory.

TARA BROWN: They call this the nursery, home to 10,000 frozen embryos.

DANIEL: So, this is Frosty's home...

TARA BROWN: But Jodi and Andrew are interested in just one. So here she is. She is at the tip of this tube right here. Submerged in liquid nitrogen. So do you guys want to say anything to her?

ANDREW: Couldn’t you have gotten something better than an old coffee cup?

TARA BROWN: Tomorrow, if all goes well, Frosty will be one step closer to life.

DANIEL: If the embryo survives thaw and we transfer it, the embryo will have about an 80% chance of attaching.

TARA BROWN: So you're close but it's not 100%?

JODI: No. Addison wasn't 100% either.

TARA BROWN: But there was no chance of their daughter being conceived using this controversial procedure in Australia. It was stopped by the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2005. And the Council’s Dr Sandra Hacker wants it to remain off limits. What is it that's unethical about gender selection?

SANDRA: I think that it's essentially about commodifying a child. That “I want a child that is this particular sort of child” and what's to stop the parents saying, "well, I can now choose a girl and I'd like one with blonde hair and blue eyes and to be very intelligent." And the issues of selection can be seen at some level as a slippery slope.

TARA BROWN: Is it fair to deny a couple that is only interested in gender selection because of the hypothetical what ifs of blue eyes, blonde hair, whatever?

SANDRA: Well, I don't think the slippery slope argument is the only one here and that the right to passage into life shouldn't be dependent on whether you're a male or a female.

DANIEL: This is not like, you know, in China, where they perform gender selection through infanticide.

TARA BROWN: Dr Potter sees about 15 Australian couples a month who he says simply want to balance their big families, whether they want boys or girls. But for much of the world, that choice is outlawed –considered the first step to gender imbalance. Considering that this technology is banned in many parts of the world, does that make you guy it is wild, wild west?

DANIEL: No. This is not the Wild, Wild West. What you're seeing here is the future. I mean, you guys are in the past. You guys are the Wild, Wild West. This is the future. This is the way adults behave.

TARA BROWN: Doesn't get much better from here, could you?

JODI: Not really.

TARA BROWN: For Jodi and Andrew, all they want is another healthy baby girl and they're just hours away from trying to make that happen. How are you feeling?

JODI: Pretty relaxed but just a little bit nervous.

TARA BROWN: What are you nervous about?

JODI: That it won't work.

TARA BROWN: How are you feeling Andrew?

ANDREW: Excited, yeah.

TARA BROWN: This is D-Day.

ANDREW: Yeah. The day of no return.

TARA BROWN: Are you ready to be pregnant again?

JODI: I don't know. Yeah, always ready.

TARA BROWN: Always ready?

JODI: Yeah.

DANIEL: So I have incredible news.

JODI: Excellent.

DANIEL: So we have one perfect embryo, which is just awesome.

JODI: Yes.

DANIEL: This is the uterus right here. We're going to be putting the embryo in.

TARA BROWN: This is the moment of potential life and it only takes a moment for Dr Potter to transfer Frosty to Jodi's womb.

DANIEL: So Frosty’s in, that little dot. Going to hold the catheter still for just a moment. Now we're going to withdraw it. There we go. That's it.

TARA BROWN: That's it. Now, all their hopes rest on this little embryo surviving.

DANIEL: Good luck.

JODI: Thank you. If we can bring this one back to visit, we will.

DANIEL: I can't wait.

TARA BROWN: Are you feeling pregnant?

JODI: Not quite.

TARA BROWN: But technically you are, aren't you?

JODI: Yeah.

TARA BROWN: Talk about an unromantic way of making a baby.

JODI: It is, isn't it?

ANDREW: Yeah, I think I prefer the roses and the box of chocolates. Soft music. Couple of cigarettes.

TARA BROWN: For Jodi and Andrew, their fate will unfold over the next nine months. They've played with science – now it's up to Mother Nature to deliver their precious second daughter. Are you going to explain to Addison how she came into this world and if you're lucky enough with Frosty, will you explain to her how she came into the world?


JODI: Yeah. We'll tell her how she came about.

ANDREW: She's still part of us and she came from a part of us. It's just the way she was mixed together, I suppose.

TARA BROWN: And you will give her another name, won't you?

JODI: Yeah, I think we might.

TARA BROWN: As we go to air, the great news is that Jodi is now eight weeks pregnant. As for a new name for Frosty, Andrew and Jodie are still working on it.

Search the site

7.30 pm Sunday