I had a hunch scrolling through human men to purchase wouldn’t be as carefree as perusing the J. Crew website for new fall boots. Upon first glance two things were clear: 1) Human men were far more expensive than boots 2) There was no return policy or lifetime guarantee on these guys. I didn’t even want to shop for sperm in the first place. Ideally, I wanted to conceive a baby from both my wife’s and my DNA, a baby who would be an amalgamation of our best and worst parts. At this point in history my longing was merely a medical pipe dream, so here we were shopping for sperm online.
Before the process officially started, Alissa assured me selecting sperm would be fine.
“It’s what we have to do in order to get the end result we want. Lots of people have to go through this process,”she said. “There isn’t one way to make a family,” she continued in her optimistic pump-up speech. Alissa insisted I was overthinking the situation and was frustrated with my uncertainty about the life-altering endeavor we were starting. Attempting to soothe my nerves, she promised me the baby would love watching Bravo TV and would appreciate the nuances between various black and white cookies, as these are valuable life skills you can teach a child and are not genetically coded.
The process of picking out sperm was shockingly akin to online dating. You paid a company a specified amount of money per month in order to view profiles and click buttons that could effectively change the trajectory of your life. Our fertility center sent us a short list of cryobanks and highlighted their endorsement based off ethical standards and reported patient satisfaction. Trusting the experts, we logged onto the website and were greeted by a home page emblazoned with pictures of smiling children conceived through successful IUI and IVF. Their bright faces reassured me, and a sudden yearning pulsed through my chest. Alissa anxiously typed in our credit card information, and with a flash of the screen we were granted access to the donor section. The page filled with seemingly endless rows of baby pictures belonging to donors of every race, ethnicity, and skin tone imaginable. After a mere 60 seconds of clicking boxes it was painfully apparent picking out sperm was overwhelming, and not in fact fine.
“I told you this was weird,” I said, deflated. For once, being right provided no ego boost or endorphin rush. Alissa felt heavyhearted about rummaging through the never-ending pages of strange men. The breadth of information you could ascertain about each donor was staggering, and it could be even more dizzying for an additional $100.00, which we didn’t pay, because frankly hearing a sound clip of the donor’s voice or reading his haiku defining his spirituality would have sent us into a mental paralysis.
After hardly five minutes of searching, Alissa shut the computer screen with a firm hand. “I’m sorry,” I said, wishing I could make it easier. I watched my wife’s enthusiasm dissolve into a puddle of heartbreak. It was the first time the weight of our situation hit her.
“I want our baby,” Alissa said snuggled into my neck later that night in bed. “This feels like a science experiment, and I don’t want anys perm.” I giggled at the obviousness of two lesbians renouncing sperm altogether. It was maddening, feeling out of control over how our life was unfolding. Alissa is especially keen on maneuvering through life with her personal precision and found the act of surrendering almost unmanageable.
Six days later, after we finished sitting an emotional shiva, we hunkered down and began a serious comb through of choices. We started checking relevant filters based on what felt essential for our family. Aside from overall health, Alissa declared ensuring that profiles possessed adult photographs was the most crucial filter to check. She refused to even glance at a profile not containing an adult photo. While most children can be perceived as cute, this is obviously not the case for adults, and it was a risk she wouldn’t take. She found it wildly suspicious if a donor hadn’t submitted at least three recent photos of himself.
According to everyone, Alissa and I have similar physical qualities, so choosing a male donor resembling me turned out to be a male resembling her. Ten years of being stopped and asked, “Are you guys sisters?” was finally paying off. It has continuously struck me odd the sheer volume of people who choose to ask us this question. Whether we sit soaking with our feet in pedicure tubs or sucking down lattes at a cafe, grown adults have routinely felt more than comfortable asking us if we’re related. Most recently, we were walking our dog in search of gelato when a man in a moving truck stopped his attempt at parallel parking to stick his head out the driver side window and loudly announce, “You girls look like sisters!” in a thick Jersey accent. Adults seem to have a deep compulsion to label everyone. Generally, we don’t respond to these statements, but on occasion one of us will chime in “No, this is my wife,” out of a need to be seen for who we are. We used to throw in, “Just sorority sisters!” but that’s too long and old of a story at this point.
We began sifting through our narrowed choices of men who all possessed goofy, sentence-long names like, “blue eyes on the beach,” “surfs up, smiles out,” and my favorite, “clowning around with purpose.” Only five men remained. It was essentially the fastest ever episode of The Bachelorette, where no one received a rose. It didn’t feel good to be choosing a donor for our future child like a Tinder date. We both simply wanted a kind, smart, attractive donor. Neither one of us was interested in creating a designer baby, in spite of the myriad options making it seem like we should.
By this point in our search, the crop of men we sorted through were similar: brown hair, brown eyes, Jew(ish), seemed to love their mothers, and didn’t appear be complete psychopaths, although this was difficult to gauge. I guess we’ll have to wait 20 years to see if we correctly sorted that piece out. For a moment, we became hung up on the medical family histories, realizing some of our favored contenders had blemishes on their records. We realized, however, if we were able to physically conceive a child, we would bring together a storm of serious medical and mental health issues, so suddenly these blips didn’t seem so alarming.
I found myself exceedingly preoccupied with the “about me” section filled out by donors. One perspective candidate seemed like a possibility, but then wrote the most adventurous moment he experienced was hunting for black bears, which was a hard pass for me. Upon further inspection, he answered “Who would you have lunch with dead or alive?” by stating: “My girlfriend.” Zero points for imagination. Next.
We inspected a wannabe filmmaker whose favorite childhood memory was of his mother and him reading Harry Potter, which was heartwarming, but then he listed his ideal lunch date as Bill Maher, stating that he loved politics and thought he was a “cool guy.” Next. A close contender was a chunky baby with a toothless grin who morphed into a sexy ripped surfer with dazzling eyes. After seeing his pictures, Alissa grew momentarily obsessed with the idea of our child growing up to be athletic, despite sports and athleticism never being a core value in our family. Under proudest accomplish he listed: “recent improvements in boxing.” Snooze. Also, he looked like a Hitler youth from certain angles. Next.
When we found him, we knew. We both attempted to play it cool, mentioned we should keep searching, but it was obvious. We knew the same way it was clear in college we belonged to one another, in spite of us spending a few years trying to escape it. He felt unavoidable and cosmic. His personal essay melted my insides with its sincerity and gentleness. While we decided to keep details about the donor private, I will divulge he wanted to have lunch un-ironically with Mr. Rogers, and staring at his childhood photos made an egg drop from my ovary.
I texted Alissa at work the next day and told her I’d spent the morning staring at baby pictures of him and fantasizing about what our own baby’s smile would look like. She sent back a flutter of hearts to my phone. Suddenly, nothing about this conception felt artificial or overly scientific. It felt a lot like love, which I think is what making a baby is supposed to be anyways.