I generally like sci-fi movies. We were watching Prometheus—which was made by Ridley Scott, the director who’d done Alien, something I hadn’t known when we chose it on Netflix. Slowly it became clear that the plot revolved around a similar premise to Alien, only with better visual effects: Women’s wombs would become inhabited—infected very believably—by monsters from another planet that would then proceed to eat them (not at all tidily) from the inside out.
This was a bad movie choice.
This was a catastrophic movie choice, actually.
The fact was that I had just had a stranger’s DNA injected into me. Up into my womb, a midwife had snaked a catheter into my uterus in order to squirt sperm that had gone through a cleaning process. I was waiting to see if it would take, whether an egg would meet one of those millions of sperm and begin to create an embryo. And I was watching the modern-day version of Alien. I was an idiot. And I was slowly becoming hysterical.
My partner and I had spent a considerable amount of money to make this evening happen. We’d spent more in actual hours and emotional currency than we’d spent in dollars, although I’m going to guess that we spent about two-thousand of those. I’m not going to get into the difficulty of deciding whether or not we wanted a baby—like many couples, we struggled with whether to try. But unlike most couples, we had extra hurdles to jump through as we bumbled toward my inevitable wandering-womb fit while watching Prometheus that night. As two women, we could try as much as we possibly wanted to (and, believe me, we did) but we were never going to “oops” accidentally get pregnant, as many of our friends had in the last couple of years. Instead, we spent months scanning sperm bank websites and slowly eliminating hundreds of potential donors, much as you would (and we each had) on an online dating site.
We’d narrowed it down to two men. And when I say men, I mean they were supposedly men but all we saw of them were little-boy pictures; we were never shown what they looked like when they donated. And they were both in their 20s, which was a little funny (yuck-funny, not ha-ha-funny) since we’re in our 30s—neither of us would sleep with a man so young at this point, so the idea of these young guys providing us with a child had its own particular ick factor.
One guy was some kind of Aryan god-child. Six-foot-three with blond hair and blue eyes, he was described by the staff at the sperm bank as one of their most popular and handsome donors. He was Polish and had a favorite poem that just about killed it for me: “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. This was the “artistic” part of his online form and he’d chosen the road most traveled by the least interesting people I’d ever met in his choice of poem.
But he was an insanely cute baby.
Then again, he was an Aryan whose grandfather had served in the Polish army.
The other man was Latino. From Guatemala, he was one-quarter Italian and had an interesting backstory. He had come to the U.S. as a child after his father, a lawyer, died in a car accident. His mother cleaned houses when she got here. He was in his mid-20s, but had higher-level academic ambitions. We could see from his answers that he was, unlike many of the online choices, not a douche. We felt he was kind. He wasn’t trying to be witty, he didn’t seem like the kind of bad date either of us had typically had in New York (trying too hard, obsessed with material things). He seemed like a kind young man who sold sperm because he needed money. He understood loss and striving; he was like us. He seemed like the kind of guy we could show to our son/daughter one day (on paper—he had specified no contact so, legally, we never would be able to do that).
Neither of us being Latino, we wondered if choosing him as a donor would add a layer to our parenting that would be too much to handle or somehow a bad choice for our child. Can we parent a part-Latino kid, we wondered? Is that irresponsible somehow, on his or her behalf?
As two women, we decided the odds were pretty much against us already—whether the kid had a darker skin color than us was hardly an issue compared to that. And we live among Latinos in New York City—we felt the culture was accessible in some ways, and we would ensure him/her exposure to Guatemalan things and, hopefully, Guatemala itself. We tossed these thoughts back and forth. We agonized. We looked online again.
We chose the Guatemalan donor.
I had spent months tracking my ovulation. I dipped sticks into my pee at places like the United Nations. At home, in the morning, at night, during the day, I peed on sticks and in small plastic cups. I was obsessed with figuring out when my eggs were dropping so that when we finally spent those thousands of dollars to have our Guatemalan sperm shipped, it could be injected at exactly the right moment.
“The day” was fast approaching, according to my many dipsticks. So we had the sperm shipped from across the country.
It arrived in a spaceship, packed in liquid nitrogen. The tank was a couple feet high and quite heavy. It sat in my office. I walked past it regularly during the day as I dipped even more sticks in pee and worked. I stared at it obsessively. I ignored it pointedly.
I began to despise it, this silver bullet containing my potential future him/her. Are you going to work, I asked it? Please work, I begged it. Please don’t, I pleaded.
This cyber-baby was half sitting in a canister in my office, and the rest would be up to my body. We called the midwife and scheduled two procedures in 24 hours, assuming my pee would continue to show hormones on schedule.
In an irritatingly complicated twist, my dipsticks showed that I had missed my chance for the month, despite it being early in my cycle. My midwife, a young, upbeat type, sent me for an early-morning ultrasound to confirm that the window was closed.
There were Georgia O’Keeffe paintings on the wall of the ultrasound office. Pastels in delicate petal washes of soft blues and pretty pinks soothed us like Muzak. And for some reason, besides my wife and me, there were only men in the waiting room.
We had an epiphany.
This was a sperm bank.
Our midwife had sent us to get an ultrasound of my eggs at a sperm bank. Which was fine, but… unexpected. As an office assistant led us up to the exam room we passed open doors that revealed dark rooms with skulking brown leather lounge chairs and stupidly large flat-screen TVs. There were piles of magazines everywhere. Jerk-off rooms.
My eggs and follicles, the technician told me, were excellent, unlike the faulty dipsticks. As in really young and avid for my age (late 30s), she implied. I had years of potential baby-making ahead of me, she said. Her reasoning was that she had women in their 50s—one was 57—who came daily for ultrasounds to check their eggs. I grew oddly depressed on that table.
My wife and I, armed with our new visions of my reproductive system and unpleasant memories of uncomfortable men who were anonymously donating sperm amid badly reproduced art, went home and, that night, tried to make a baby.
My midwife had gone to the same university as I did, only she was about ten years younger. It felt strange to be injected by someone I could have babysat at some point, yet who was an actual adult with specialized knowledge of how to get me pregnant. I trusted her.
But whatever she did hurt like hell.
She snaked her catheter up through my cervix while my wife held my hand and looked into my eyes and told me she loved me. We’d lit candles and played bossa nova. It was a cross between a romantic evening and a crappy gynecological exam.
When the midwife withdrew the catheter, she told me to stay lying back and kindly, genuinely wished us luck. I lay there while my wife wrote her a check for hundreds of dollars. I stared at shadows on the ceiling while Bebel Gilberto sung to me, my eggs, and my Guatemalan sperm.
Then we watched Prometheus.
Then I started to panic.
Then I cried.
I was terrified—I had a stranger’s DNA inside me what the motherfuck had I just done? Get it OUT. GET IT OUT.
It was bad. Really bad.
My wife told me we were pro-choice for a reason and that if I wanted to take the morning-after pill, she would support that. I loved her more than I ever had in all our years together in that moment. She was a lunatic liberal just like me who could barely fathom, like me, the complexity of what we had just done and was open to any and all options if it meant our happiness as a family. I considered it.
I considered aborting the baby we had just spent so much time, effort, and money trying to make.
I decided to sleep on it, with the 72-hour Plan-B countdown ticking.
I awoke much calmer and realized that, again, I sort of wanted this baby. Maybe we would call him Augustus. He might have dark eyes like us and start learning Spanish early. Or he would be a she and we’d call her Eve and hope that she was the starting point for a whole new civilization—one that was built on the love of two women who may not have been able to smash their bodies together to make a child, but managed to nonetheless.
Maybe it would be twins. Or intersex. Or a special-needs child. There were so many possibilities.
But in the end, there was none. The sperm did not take and we did not make a baby. We spent a few days debating whether to spend a few thousand more dollars and countless hours of dipsticks and stress for yet another month, and in the end we decided to give ourselves a break for a while. We rededicated ourselves to our work and our relationship and put baby-making aside for a bit. I unsubscribed to the sperm bank’s emails (which were always awkwardly arriving in my inbox) and we realized we were pretty okay with the decision to delay being, or maybe never be, parents.
It’s been a year since then and we’ve rarely brought it up. Occasionally we tell snippets of the more amusing bits to friends, although just the other day we wondered aloud whether a gay male friend of ours might make a good donor.
Sometimes I feel an immense loneliness as I hurtle toward 40 and think about how making an actual baby requires such a tremendous amount of effort and money; how we are saddled with so many more decisions and steps than heterosexual couples in this process. Sometimes, though, I feel like I dodged a screaming, baby-shaped bullet. Most of the time I feel incredibly lucky just to have my wife and her love and to know that we have the uncanny and privileged ability to make such huge decisions about the world’s oldest and most quintessential act—reproduction—in such a bizarrely advanced technological way.
For now though, we’re on hold, with birth control neatly built right in.