It's carnival time again and this week's topic is Donor Sperm.
I guess this is the post in which I reveal that I don't have sperm. It's true. ;) As much as I would have LOVED to have created Yogi in a moment that involved only my wife's body and my own, that was not possible for us. As is the case for many different kinds of families, we needed help. Supporting straight friends through the heartbreak of infertility I am struck with the curious gift we are given as gay couples. We KNOW from day one that we need help in creating our families. We don't lose years operating under the assumption that we should be able to do this thing on our own. Our bedrooms don't become the kind of anxious, hopeless spaces that they could were we able to create our families within them. We've certainly got our own set of obstacles, but at least those are not among them. I try to think about that when a well-meaning stranger tells me (for the millionth time), "He must have Daddy's eyes".
When my wife and I were getting serious about baby making we had a few conversations about sperm sharing with some very close friends. This couple were a part of our wedding and had recently had their first child. I will always wonder if things might have evolved differently had we made the ask before their daughter was born. As it was, all three of the women were gung-ho about the idea and the possibility of a new kind of family connection between us. He felt differently. I know that he would have done just about anything to help us, but fresh from the fierce Daddy love he was experiencing with his daughter he was concerned that he might not be able to play the kind of backseat role we wanted for him. He couldn't imagine it and we all had to respect that. We did respect that. I'm not sure I would feel any differently if I were in the same situation.
Once that door was closed, it was time to move on to the bank. The process of selecting a donor has got to be one of the strangest experiences a person can have. For starters, it primes all sorts of questions about nature and nurture. As a couple who puts a lot of stock in the value of nurture, I was surprised with the fervor with which we approached our options. After all, what does it mean to pick the "right" donor if we believe that nurture is where it's at? Anyone who has successfully donated sperm to a bank has undergone a fairly extensive screening process, at least from a medical perspective. This is not to say that every donor is the perfect specimen of health (whatever that is), but that as a consumer (yikes!) you are provided with considerably more information than many, many people have when they reproduce the old fashioned way.
The reason for mentioning that is to point out that you are pretty unlikely to get a dud or otherwise "bad/wrong" donor from the standpoint of nature. At least, this was our thinking. So, what you're left with is information about things like hair and eye color, height, weight, two generations of general family medical information (all self-report, humm....), and if you're willing to shell out some extra $$ (as if the whole thing weren't pricy enough), you can get a baby picture or Myers-Briggs typology. While we customized searches and honed in on what did and didn't matter to us, I tried to tell myself that this wasn't SO different from the largely unconscious process of attraction that we all go through. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.
Ultimately we used some perhaps quirky variables to narrow the field. In spite of the fact that my eyes are brown, I wanted a blue eyed donor because I loved the idea of our baby having eyes like my wife. Which he most definitely does. Yay! We picked height and weight parameters based loosely on how we imagined my male self (a fun exercise if you haven't considered it) and combed family medical history weeding out those with checks in what to us were particularly scary boxes like alcoholism and early heart disease. After this point, it was a gut game. We read through responses to questions like "What are your hobbies and talents" and "What are your life goals?" and set aside the ones with answers that we liked. I actually found myself going to bat for one donor because his favorite animals were monkeys and he liked pizza. The process is a weird one. We even scanned through the staff impressions looking for secret messages that would tell us "Don't pick this one!". There were weird conversations about things like what it might mean if the staff described a donor as "intriguing".
All of this got us down to two donors and we paid extra for their MBTI results in order to break the tie. It's hard for me to adequately explain how weird this is. No one knows whether personality is heritable and most psychologists consider the Myers-Brigss to be far from an ideal measure of personality, but for some reason being able to know an E from an I or a J from a P mattered to me. I can't really explain it. Lucky for us, we got two very different profiles and the choice was an easy one. We picked the donor with the profile that suggested (to me at least) that he would be a good fit for our family - sensitive and thoughtful, but also practical and outgoing.
Now that Yogi has arrived it's clear that whatever crazy roads we took to get here, this is precisely where we were meant to be. It wasn't possible to get him here without help, but this is our boy and we are his Mommies. The contribution that someone whom we will never know made to our family is one for which I am deeply grateful. I imagine myself to be in the minority here, but I think of his donation as a gift (for which I paid $, I know) that is both entirely personal and entirely impersonal. It is true that in spite of what I'd like to believe, this gift is not (technically) the gift of a loving universe but a donation from a person who is very real and who shares genetic material with my son that I do not. In this way, his role in our family is quite personal. But in every other way, his donation really had nothing to do with us at all.
The three of us became a family in that moment when the embryo that would become Yogi nestled into my wife's body while the two of us held hands and hoped. We loved that little boy into this world and that is an important piece of what makes us a family.
Click hereto read thoughts on the same topic by the ladies at That's A Lot of Essess.