Chinese Couples Use Science to Make Sure Kids Are Born in Auspicious Period
LOS ANGELES—What does every aspiring dragon mother want? A dragon baby.
Monday begins the year of the dragon, considered the luckiest of the Chinese lunar years. Some Chinese and Chinese-Americans are so committed to welcoming a child this year that they are getting fertility treatments to boost their chances.
Evie Jeang, a 34-year-old Los Angeles lawyer, and her husband, Vincent Chen, 40, are one such couple. Ms. Jeang doesn't have known fertility issues but froze her eggs two years ago as "insurance" since she wasn't ready to have a child yet. The couple is now trying in-vitro fertilization to try to ensure they have a dragon baby.
If she isn't pregnant by March—or maybe April, says Ms. Jeang—then "it isn't meant to be." They will stop treatment and try again in a few years.
Assisted-reproduction clinics in the U.S., China and elsewhere are reporting a surge in demand tied to the year of the dragon. The Los Angeles-based Agency for Surrogacy Solutions and sister company Global IVF Inc. have seen a 250% increase in business from Chinese or Chinese-Americans so far in January, according to co-founders Kathryn Kaycoff-Manos and Lauri Berger de Brito.
They expect the trend to continue until mid-May, the time by which couples need to conceive in order to deliver a baby by Feb. 9, 2013. Any baby born after that will be a snake not a dragon.
Being aligned with cosmic forces is important in Chinese culture. The year of the dragon is supposed to be particularly fortunate for babies, marriages and businesses. Those born as dragons are "the strongest, smartest and the luckiest—supposedly," says Yibing Huang, a professor of Chinese literature and culture at Connecticut College. Mr. Huang has a dragon brother, though he himself is a sheep, a "mediator," he says.
Chinese often schedule important life events to take advantage of the luckiest times. A recent lunar year that spanned two springs spurred a spike in weddings. And even though births are trickier to plan, in 2000, the most recent year of the dragon, 202,000 more babies were born in Taiwan than a year earlier, according to the Taipei Times citing government statistics.
Ringing in the New Year
Now with improvements in fertility treatments—and more affluent families in China—couples are deciding not to leave their luck to chance. Some are traveling long distances to the U.S., where reproductive medicine is thought to be more successful though more expensive. One cycle of in-vitro fertilization, a procedure in which a woman's eggs are harvested, fertilized and placed back in her womb, costs upward of $10,000 in the U.S. compared to about $2,400 in China, according to the website IVFcost.net.
K. and G. Lam, a couple who live on the southern coast of China and both work in finance, have been trying to conceive naturally and through in-vitro fertilization for years in China without success. With the coming year of the dragon, they decided to "accelerate" their efforts to have a dragon boy by using a surrogate in the U.S., says Mr. Lam, 40. Surrogate mothers are illegal in China, as is picking the gender of the child.
As the Lams prepared to meet their surrogate at a clinic in Los Angeles one recent day, Ms. Lam was sober. "I'm putting my dreams in [her] hands," says Ms. Lam, 39.
During their first meeting with the woman, Shereen, Ms. Lam was so moved she cried. Shereen seemed kind, and though she isn't Chinese, the Lams say that doesn't matter. Any baby born during the year is a dragon baby, no matter where or to whom—and the child will be biologically theirs.
A lucky zodiac means "more hope for [the baby's] success," says Mr. Lam.
Robyn Perchik, owner of Beverly Hills Egg Donation in California, said a doctor told her about the coming year of the dragon, so she increased the clinic's database of donors of Chinese origin by targeting Chinese-language newspapers. The group has seen a 250% surge in contracts signed for those eggs in the past few months compared with a year earlier, says Ms. Perchik.
There has been an increase at some clinics in Asia as well. Chen Hsin-Fu, president of the Taiwanese Society for Reproductive Medicine in Taipei and a doctor at National Taiwan University Hospital, known for its expertise in fertility treatment, said the hospital has seen a 30% to 50% increase since May from patients all over Asia.
Many couples undergoing fertility treatment don't have a medical need for doing so. Ms. Berger de Brito says that 30% or so of Global IVF's current Chinese clients have no medical necessity, a percentage echoed by Lin Tseng-kai, head of the Artificial Reproductive Technology Center at Hsinchu Cathay General Hospital in Hsinchu, Taiwan. "It doesn't matter if you have an easy time or a hard time [getting pregnant], when it comes the dragon year they all want to have one," says Dr. Lin.
Ms. Jeang, the Los Angeles lawyer, grew up in Taiwan until the sixth grade surrounded by family who believed intensely in astrology and went to psychics. She had a two-year engagement before getting married because her mother told her that it would be more auspicious if the wedding took place after she turned 30.
Being born a dragon should be good for the baby but also for her husband, she says. She has been told that a baby born the following year, which would be a snake, wouldn't get along well with him. In fact, taking her husband's pig sign into account, if she doesn't have a baby this year, she should wait five more years before giving birth. The couple hasn't decided if they would wait that long, as Ms. Jeang would be 40 by then.
Her Asian-American husband "thinks I'm crazy, but he just wants to have kids," she says.