THE FATHER AS AN IDEA
I sat on my living room floor with all these anonymous donor profiles around me. I had spent hours earlier that day downloading them from the Cryobank Web site. I was trying to look them over before my best friend from college came over to help me. Well, not really help me—she was more there for moral support. I was both excited and nervous, having prepared for this evening for a long time. This evening was about a new beginning, and I went through a lot to get to this point. . . .
I really started seriously considering a donor when I discussed what to do with my therapist. I had heard about a workshop through my IIMO for single women considering motherhood. I didn’t know anything about support groups or I was clueless to the various options for going about having a child. I remember having a hard time getting there, which is not like me. I was late. I walked in, barely looking at anyone. We went around to do introductions and as soon as I started, I just started blubbering and crying and that was why I was reluctant to go to the meeting ’cause it was real heavy-duty. I was just crying and crying and crying. The anxiety was just all on the surface. It slipped out.
The room felt like it was closing in. I took a deep breath that I learned from my yoga class. I calmed down and tried again to talk. As I talked the women around the table were nodding at me and I heard myself saying, “I thought I would be happily married by this point in my life, not wrestling with the idea that I might not meet someone in time. I really have a very strong desire to have a
child. And it doesn’t stop. It just keeps growing.” Then I looked closely at the women who had just heard years of my life. They shared the feelings I had put to words. I could tell on their faces. I knew that admitting my preoccupation with having a baby was the first step to doing something about it. It seemed like I had entered a secret society. By then I had stopped crying and I felt my body relaxing—I felt relieved. This was a new world and I was applying for membership.
So I went to that workshop and got a lot of information. I scribbled down notes on a yellow legal pad I had taken with me from home about all sorts of things, from opinions on where to get the best sperm to which insurance plan I needed to switch to during my company’s open enrollment. And I kept all that information in my head until I needed it. But that workshop turned out to be very useful.
Still, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to use an anonymous donor. As I sat on the floor organizing the donor profiles, I recalled why the men I knew were not suitable as known donors. Two years earlier I had written a handful of letters to my best men friends. One was a childhood friend I’d grown up with, another I had met through a youth group and had briefly became my boyfriend, and the third was my sister’s husband—this letter I wrote to both my sister and Frank. I recalled each of their responses to my conditions for complete legal rights over the future child. The complexity of those conditions made the profiles spread out in front of me seem somehow less taxing because they lacked strings. Patrick, my childhood friend, responded that his family would want to be involved even though he was “cool” with my wanting nothing from him. I adored his mother and sister and I blew they would be lovingly involved; yet I feared just how involved they would become—I didn’t want them hovering around—and Patrick’s child would possibly injure my relationship to them. They were local while he had moved away. George, whom I had dated, was skeptical about my motives. He called to say that he did not want to reconnect with me, even if it had been years since we were a couple, and he really thought I would hit him up for child support. Since this was about a hypothetical child, there was no way to assure him to the contrary. And then finally, my sister’s husband, Frank, whom I had known for twenty years, had children of his own. He and my sister took my request seriously—as close as we are, I needed to put it all in writing. It felt easier than raising this directly. Frank thought the family relationships would just be too complicated. He said he loved me as his sister-in-law, but why mess with good family relationships? I was disappointed that there were strings attached in ways I hadn’t really considered. I knew there could be possible legal entanglements, but I just didn’t realize how many people this would involve. For example, I couldn’t concede having Patrick’s family involved, and he was the one who came the closest to being my known donor. I thought about asking a few more men, but that too seemed futile the more I thought about how a known donor might fit into my life. . ..
Back to the night with the profiles—I was really at a loss as to where to begin. I had almost fifty profiles. It was bizarre because all those profiles around me reminded me of the huge puzzles I always like to do on my floor, except this was about the kid I was about to have. The profiles were actually pretty detailed— they included information like identity release information, family medical histories, physical characteristics, education, occupation, and then there were short answer questions about hobbies, life goals, why they became donors, and their personality traits.
I didn’t know how to weigh the various pieces of information. Suddenly I thought about the internship I had done at a local college’s admissions office. Maybe I should come up with a formula for ranking the profiles. I thought to myself, “There must be a method.” I struggled with howto equate various medical histories and translate them into phenotypic realities. I highlighted the relevant information on each profile but I couldn’t find a common thread. Staring again at the profiles, I found myself rejecting profiles of men who were of different ethnic origins than my own. Short men and men with long, problematic medical histories also didn’t appeal to me. But still I was left with a stack of potential donors whom I couldn’t differentiate.1 I liked the idea of an identity release donor. At least the option to meet the donor would be available. Eighteen years was a long time to wait, but it had the potential to make him less abstract.
I was so totally lost in my own thoughts, trying to figure out a system for finding the one “perfect donor,” that I didn’t hear the doorbell ring. Nina nearly scared the pants off me—she had let herself in with the emergency key and was standing in the doorway watching me. Nina was shocked by my floor covered in paper and immediately suggested a glass of wine. I thought of Nina as a sister— we were really close in college and now, ten years later, we still share the most intimate details. Nina was the first person I told about my plan to become a single mother. It was such a funny evening when we went through the profiles. I remember Nina picked up the profile lying nearest her, flipped to the questions, and she read out loud, “Why do you want to become a sperm donor?” And in a man’s voice—she could always do great voices—she read the answer, something like “I graduated Ivy League with honors in the top io percent of my class. My scores on the SAT and GRE correlate to an IQ of 160. My blood relatives are intelligent, athletic, and they tend to live long, healthy lives. I consider donating my sperm to be the greatest act of charity.”
I thought he sounded good, like my child would be really smart, but I remember Nina told me to get real. She told me, “Abby, your child would be a narcissistic basket case. What does an IQ score have to do with predicting your future child’s intelligence?” Then she flipped over the page and pointed out that on page one, there was information about his twin, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age eighteen. So that profile went in the trash. Nina was great to have there; she was catching things I totally had missed.
I remember another profile that cracked us up. There’s a question on the profiles asking about artistic abilities and one guy wrote, “Drawing: excellent (stick people).” I remember it made us laugh and we both loved that he had a
sense of humor. And his health was perfect; he was a yes identity release, so my kid could meet him. But he was black. While I had dated black men when we were younger, I didn’t know if I was prepared to have a mixed-race child alone.
Anyway, we kept going through profiles. Nina was being a goofball, grabbing profiles like she was a magician, all dramatic. There was another one, Dutch – Italian, six foot, medium build, green eyes, fair skin. He was a yes to meet the kid. I remember that one of his grandmothers was an alcoholic, but I didn’t really get turned off until I read some of his answers. A couple I remember: to why he became a sperm donor, he said, “The payoff wasn’t too bad.” And then I was reading to Nina what he said about his math ability, a favorite line of mine, something like “I moderately enjoy math but my skills are above normal if I moderately apply myself.” But his writing skill was below normal. Even though he was willing to meet the child and he was a good physical match, I wanted to toss him.
But honestly, none of the profiles really fit. No one grabbed me except the profile of the funny black man. And I couldn’t help but think, why couldn’t there be a funny white man who is more like me physically? I remember Nina’s response to my whining—she reminded me I wasn’t picking a boyfriend. She told me, “These aren’t guys. This is sperm you’re picking. Do you have to like the sperm? Or do we just go with physical information and medical histories ’cause you and I both know that humor isn’t genetic, right?’ ”
With Nina’s help, I finally was able to decide on an anonymous donor. I called the sperm bank to request donor number 180 and I bought enough vials of frozen sperm for ten tries. After inseminating for six months through my local HMO’s clinic, I became pregnant at the age of thirty-three. Occasionally during the pregnancy I thought about the anonymous donor and what he might be like, but those thoughts were fleeting. The profile reassured me that I had at least something to tell my kid about his father.
I’m a diary keeper and I kept one during my pregnancy. When you called me about this interview, I read it over. One of the things that I noticed is that I rarely mention the donor, short of the night that Nina and I chose him. I have a friend who’s pregnant right now, and I can’t help but wonder what her diary entries must look like as a married woman. It must be different to be drawn closer to a partner who will share the baby. I mean, I talked to friends and family about being excited when I was pregnant, but there was no one special and equally invested in this baby to share my feelings with.
But even without a partner, there were tons of people at the birth, and the first couple of weeks I was never alone in the house, between my mom and Nina and a few other friends. But after the initial rush of new motherhood, I knew I had to establish a routine for myself and the baby. It’s worked out okay. .. .
Sometimes I wonder, though. I look at my baby’s face and wonder about the sperm donor. Who does my son look like and who will he take after?