It was 2011 and Kathryn Taylor was ready to get pregnant — with a boy. “I wanted a boy first mainly for my husband. I thought it would make him relate to the baby more, and just be more excited overall. I also wanted a boy first so he would protect his future siblings at school, and look out for them in general. Maybe it's silly, but that's how I felt at the time,” she says.
In fact, having a boy was so important to Taylor, who has a degree in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics from UCLA, that she started researching what variables affect whether an X or Y sperm fertilises an egg. She remembers rushing home from work each day to spend her free time obsessively scouring databases for scientific journal papers on the topic. It took her about seven months of digging to piece together her own method, one that she believes is better, easier to understand and implement, and works more successfully than anything else out there. After she had her pre-planned boy in 2012, followed by a pre-planned girl in 2014, friends and family started coming to her for advice.
“I didn’t set out to create a method,” says Taylor. “It really took a year and a half after conceiving my daughter for me to realise this book had to be written.”
That’s how a six-figure business called The Babydust Method was born.
“Several methods for influencing the sex of babies have been proposed over the years,” Taylor writes in the foreword to her 2016 e-book, The Babydust Method. “I will explain those methods in detail, why each of them is flawed, why *The Babydust Method* is highly effective, and how you can use this completely to more accurately choose the sex of your baby.”
Taylor modelled Babydust after Léonie McSweeney’s 2011 study, in which 99 participating couples in Nigeria monitored their ovulation, and then had sex consistent with the timing and frequency associated with the sex of the child they desired. For families that wanted a girl, intercourse was supposed to happen only once, two to three days before ovulation. For a boy, intercourse was supposed to happen twice, as close to ovulation as possible.
While both McSweeney and Babydust recommend intercourse once for a girl and twice for a boy, they differ in the way ovulation is measured. McSweeney had couples rely on cervical mucus testing; when the mucus was deemed “creamy,” then ovulation was assumed to have passed. Cervical mucus testing is inherently subjective, however, and can vary between women depending on the location of their cervix and other factors, including breastfeeding, antibiotics, a recent discontinuation of hormonal birth control, or fertility medications such as Clomid.
The Babydust Method addresses this by having women chart their luteinising hormone (which surges around 24 hours before ovulation) twice per day for at least three months before trying to conceive; the goal is to collect data and help women recognise the patterns in their cycle. “The morning test is the most important because you’ve been holding your urine the longest,” Taylor writes in her book. “The second test should be done in the evening before you go to bed. Testing at least twice a day is critical, because if you only test once a day, you may detect and record your LH surge much later than it actually occurred, or even worse, you could miss your surge completely.”
Which brings us to Taylor's second revenue stream: In addition to the book, she sells The Babydust Method ovulation tests on Amazon, which are larger and designed to be easier to read and more precise than regular ovulation strips. (“On some drugstore tests you’ll get a smiley face, and when you aren’t surging, you’ll get an empty circle,” she explains in the book. “You need to be able to see the subtle changes in the darkness of your result line in order to accurately predict ovulation for sex-selection.”) While Taylor describes herself as a stay-at-home mother who works on The Babydust Method in her spare time, she estimates that Babydust is on track to earn $100,000 this year from sales alone.
Six month ago, Taylor started a Babydust Facebook group, which has grown to over 11,000 members at the time of publishing. Several women voluntarily help moderate the closed group, but other than that, her business is a one-woman show. “You do NOT have to buy the Babydust book or the Babydust test strips on Amazon in order to join,” she writes in the description. “I'm just happy to help anyone who is interested in The Babydust Method! However, if you want more detailed information about how to chart, test for ovulation, and all the scientific evidence supporting this method (and disproving ALL the other available methods out there) then you'll have to read the book. I have to mention, I am not a doctor, and I cannot guarantee you'll conceive the sex of your choice. All I can do is help you better understand how to implement the method, and give you encouragement along the way.”
Rarely does the Facebook group get negative. In the rare instance of someone’s sex selection not working the way they had hoped, the group is supportive, offering kind words of encouragement and consolation. “You would think those ‘failed sway announcements’ would be a source of negativity,” says Taylor, “but really the ladies are posting to share their story in case it helps someone else.”
Heather Baldwin, 34, and her husband had three boys and were ready to try for another baby. They both knew they wanted a girl. Baldwin, a part-time hairdresser who lives outside Philadelphia, began doing some research online when she came across The Babydust Method book. “I read it in, like, one day,” she says. She joined the Facebook group and charted her ovulation cycle for two months before trying for a girl. She had intercourse just once, 2-3 days before expected ovulation, and now she’s expecting a baby girl this May.
“With my boys, I did everything [the method says] to do for a boy,” she says, referring to having sex every other day surrounding ovulation. If she hadn’t had a girl this time, she and her husband would have opted for a fifth kid: “I went into every pregnancy secretly hoping for a girl. I wanted that mother-daughter relationship. My husband feels the same way, which I think makes us different from many couples. A lot want to have that boy. My husband felt he wanted that daughter. I think we would have kept going.”
Bonnie Martin, 34, and her husband also knew they wanted a girl. “My husband, Scott, every time he dreams about us having a baby, it’s always a girl with pigtails,” she says. “We’d both be happy as long as it's healthy. But if we could pick? Then we’d go for the girl.”
So when Martin, a full-time student at the University of Oklahoma College of Nursing, found the Babydust Facebook group, she joined and immediately knew it was a method she wanted to try out. After three months of charting her ovulation cycle, she and her husband had intercourse once, per the method, and are now expecting a baby girl in April.
To be clear, Taylor does not claim her method is failproof. But by her own count via the Facebook group and Amazon book reviews (where she’s gotten 4.9 out of 5 stars), she’s had a similar success rate to McSweeney: 113 successes with only seven failures of people being able to select the sex of their choosing. And despite the warnings that Babydust has a 94% success rate, and gentle reminders from Taylor that a child’s sex isn’t always the same as a child’s gender, her sales numbers suggest the illusion of control remains a lure for parents who want that one boy or one girl in their family pictures.
The medical establishment is less convinced. “There are some scientific ideas on how to improve your chances to get a boy and girl,” Dr. Elena Trukhacheva, President and Medical Director of Reproductive Medicine Institute in Chicago, Ill., explains. “But in real life it’s 50-50. These ideas are not going to take you farther than 50-50, and it’s not going to work for some couples.”
Trukhacheva compares Babydust to runners in a marathon. “The men will finish faster, women will be a little behind,” Trukhacheva says. “But there is so much variation. There is a woman who can run ahead of the crowd, and a man that falls behind. This happens to the sperm too; there is so much natural variation going on.”
Marcy Darnovsky, the executive director for the Center for Genetics and Society, echoes Taylor’s warning of conflating a child’s sex with their certain gender identity. “If you are investing a lot of time and effort to get a child of a particular biological sex, you probably have a pretty good idea of the gender-identity you want the child to have,” Darnovsky says. “You may not get that. You think you want a girl to go shopping with and play Barbie dolls, but what if she wants to play basketball? And then what do you do? You can’t send her back.”
“People defend [gender selection] as a matter of autonomy and a matter of choice,” Darnovsky adds. “But you’re looking at the autonomy and choice of the parent, not at the possible autonomy and choice of the child.”
Trukhacheva sees little harm in methods like Babydust, other than couples missing their opportunity to get pregnant in general: “You might be in a situation where you are trying to have a baby of a certain gender for six to 12 months and you were just wasting time. It’s more of an issue [if you’re trying] for a girl.” And of course, in a world of 50/50 odds, there are those couples who get pregnant with the a child of the sex they hadn’t been expecting.
Taylor feels that methods like Babydust are empowering for women. She argues that, worldwide, the inability to conceive a child of a specific sex has harrowing consequences. In countries like China, there are 33 million more men than women, and in India, gender-determination ultrasounds are illegal. In Afghanistan, if parents have too many daughters and no sons, they’ll pick a girl to raise as a boy. Even in a world where the traditional definitions of gender and the stereotypes that come along with them are changing by the day, for many parents, there’s something about having a child of a specific sex that can become all-consuming.
Taylor says Babydust can help families have the number of children they intend. The term “Gender disappointment” came up in several interviews for this story, and on the Babydust Facebook group, where parents feel less of an ability to bond with their fourth boy or fourth girl, and some mourn the loss of not having the daughter (or son) they wanted. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my sons. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’m not sad about having them. I’m just mourning the loss of the daughter I don’t have,” one member shares. “This is the only place I can honestly express/relate to other women with gender disappointment,” another writes. “I’m trying to prepare myself for having boy #2... I know whatever’s meant to be will be but I’ve prayed so hard and have done everything I could to sway the odds.”
But for Baldwin, pregnant with her fourth child and first girl, having those first three boys wasn’t a disappointment to her. “We had our boys when we were in our 20s. Deep down inside, I still had a chance [for a girl], so I wasn’t that devastated. Now that I am older, I would have taken this one a bit harder if it was a boy. Every baby is a blessing, but as I got older, I found myself yearning for that little girl that we didn’t have yet.”
At the end of the day, Baldwin, like thousands of other women around the globe, believes in Babydust. A quick scan of the most recent story in the group’s feed says it all: “After 4 boys, it’s a girl!” the woman writes. “I love this!! Gives me hope! I have 3 girls!” responds one commenter. “Boys are so amazing I have two of them and they are the joy of my life. I’d love to hear how you have been so successful at conceiving girls as I desire a baby girl so much,” writes another. “Congratulations so good to hear successful sways!! I’ll be dtd [doing the deed] tomorrow as I ovulated today so fingers crossed for me,” chimes in a third.
Taylor emails the news to me, too. “This morning’s success story was a boy after 4 girls! Love those :)” She has yet another success story to add to her tally. And while her method might make the medical professionals scoff, in more cases than not, at least in this corner of the internet, it seems to work.