When a baby is born the first thing we ask: Is it a boy or a girl? But hundreds of babies are born each year with no obvious gender. For those kids immediate surgery to assign a sex was once the norm. Now some doctors are encouraging parents to wait and let the child decide.
Intersex conditions actually happen more than any of us may realize. An estimated one in every two thousand babies is born intersex. A baby with this condition was once called a hermaphrodite.
A Colorado Springs woman is sharing her story in hopes of bringing awareness to what she says can happen if doctors and parents decide on the wrong sex at a baby's birth.
Debbie Wuco is still getting used to life as a woman. "I'm very self conscious about myself when I’m in public," Wuco said.
That's because up until two years ago Debbie lived life as a man, as Andrew Wuco.
"Everyday of my life was like a nightmare. I knew what I was and I knew what I felt, but I knew I couldn't go back," Wuco said.
She says she was born with the anatomy of both sexes. An intersex baby she says her parents chose for her to be a boy, but Wuco says from an early age she knew something was wrong.
"I knew I was a girl at four years old and I couldn't understand why I couldn't play with the rest of the girls," Wuco said. "It wasn't until later, about 13 years old that I started watching boys real closely to see how they acted so that I could act just like them. I did a pretty good job. Nobody could tell that I was intersex," Wuco said.
Debbie, as Andrew, eventually got married.
"Every intersex person thinks if they become married it was normalize their life. They'll become a normal person in one gender," Wuco said. But even after marriage she says her feelings never went away.
"It was like a 27 year nightmare. I thought that with the way I looked there was nothing I could do. I was never going to look like a normal girl," Wuco said.
So she lived in secrecy, through a 27 year marriage, helping raise six kids. She takes us back to what life was like as Andrew.
"Andrew was a pretty tough guy. I pretty much held my ground. No one suspected who I was or what was going on," Wuco said.
Two and a half years ago she says she reached her breaking point, unable to hide who she was any longer. "Mentally my mind couldn't handle it anymore and I snapped. I couldn't cover up who I was anymore, it just came out. I couldn't control it anymore," Wuco said.
She left her family in California and moved to Colorado to begin a new life. She also began seeing Doctor Marci Bowers in Trinidad. Bowers is a world-famous physician, the first transsexual doctor to perform sex change surgeries.
"The rate of success that we have with changing genitalia for patients to match their gender feelings is greater than what I see for medical conditions like hysterectomy. It's truly an overwhelming, positively received surgery," Bowers said.
Bowers says intersex conditions are quite common and there is a large gray area when it comes to gender. "People think it's so black and white but really you can get such a range, the clitoris can grow so much at birth they think it's a penis," Bowers said.
And she says the choice of sex assignment, when done at birth by the parents or the doctor, is only right some of the time. "About two thirds of the time they get it right, but as much as a third of the time they actually assign the child incorrectly and there's a lot of unhappiness and displeasure," Bowers said.
She says that’s why it's best to wait and let the child decide. It's a trend that's happening more and more often and it's the reason Wuco is sharing her story.
"Wait for the babies to be able to say who they are. They are destroying lives, that's what they are doing," Wuco said.
Wuco isn't sure if she'll be able to have sex change surgery, due to the costs. In the meantime she's doing her best to get through each day, and find acceptance.