When I met Maree Inggall in the foyer of her Sydney hotel, she had travelled from Melbourne to the clinic of Sydney IVF for the third time in as many months.[i] The purpose of the first visit was a general consultation. The second was for egg collection. This time she had had an embryo transferred and was hoping to be in the very earliest stage of pregnancy. Maree is a tall, strong woman, yet sitting in the hotel lounge she had shrunk under her woollen poncho. Her feelings of fragility were obvious as she spoke softly about her reasons for using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and for coming to Sydney to do so. Maree’s embryo had been screened for disease and for sex. She wanted a little girl.
To travel to Sydney was no easy organisational feat for a mother of three young boys. At home in Melbourne with their father were a five-year-old, a three-year-old and a baby. Jackson, Maree’s middle son, suffers from a rare and debilitating illness, type-two spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). She told me that some months before, Jackson had put his little head in his hands and, as though finally ready to accept the truth, said, “I can’t walk mummy, can I?” When I met with Maree she had recently bought Jackson a new yellow wheelchair. This enlarges his world, nourishing his curiosity in ways previously out of reach. But even to roll over in bed is too much to ask of Jackson’s weak muscles and his life is likely to be shorter than any mother could bear. He may survive into adolescence but no one’s making any promises. Already the family had faced several crises. One of the worst was a year earlier as Jackson battled pneumonia. Maree was nervous as we talked on the last day of July. The winter sun found its way between the tall buildings of Sydney’s CBD, while in Melbourne the weather was bleak. Maree feared the constant cold would pierce Jackson’s delicate body and take his life.
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