True confessions of an ART single mom
OK, real talk: getting knocked up with donor sperm feels . . . weird.
First of all, there’s the donor selection process, which is a lot like online dating, but not at all like online dating. I mean, if you’re seeking a future mate online, what do you do? You choose a few dating websites, you read a bunch of profiles (which may or may not contain truthful information), and you try to imagine a future with each person.
If you’re seeking half the genetic makeup of your future kid, what do you do? You choose a few sperm banks, you read a bunch of their donor profiles (which may or may not contain truthful information), and you try to imagine a future baby with each person.
Owing to this dating-donor similarity, during the donor selection process for my kids, I kept wandering offtrack. Reading donor profiles, I’d be all, “OK, clean health history: check! Signs of intelligence: check! No signs of mental illness: check!” And then suddenly I’d find myself imagining inviting this dude to a barbecue or connecting him up with my artist friend because he’s an artist, too. And then I’d remind myself: not looking for a date; looking for a kid. And I’d start all over again.
The whole process was just . . . weird. And by “weird” I mean not at all like the “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage” narrative we chanted on the playground in elementary school.
So on my list of preconception things to do, right next to “Buy prenatal vitamins” and “Schedule a complete physical,” I added “Accept your circumstances.” No, my babies would not be conceived the old-fashioned way—from a passionate night of lovemaking. But honestly, how many babies are conceived the old-fashioned way these days? For so many partnered people who conceive intentionally, passionate lovemaking dies a slow death thanks to all the temperature taking, fertility monitoring, ovulation predicting, and optimum conception positioning—not to mention all the partnered people who conceive using some form of artificial reproductive technology (ART).
I came to accept that the conception of my future babies may (or may not) differ from others’, but one thing was for sure: my babies would be born out of and into love. And in the end, that seemed a heck of a lot more important than how sperm met egg.
But the weirdness didn’t end there. I’m a lesbian (not the weird part), and I hadn’t made contact with sperm in . . . a really long time. Thinking about inserting a stranger’s live, swimming genetic material into my baby maker felt . . . uncomfortable. This exchange is, according to the conventional model, meant to be performed intimately, from body to body, between two people who usually at least know each other’s names.
You don’t have to be a lesbian to be kinda grossed out by the whole live, swimming genetic-material thing, either. I’ve talked to women who have survived sexual abuse who want nothing to do with sperm ever again, but they want to conceive. I’ve talked to women who feel nauseated by the smell of sperm, but they want to conceive. No matter the source of the feeling-squirmy-about-sperm feeling, many women have to work through challenging emotional territory to say yes to the baby seed.
Being the hippie granola-head California girl I am, I believed it important to find a way to accept the sperm spiritually. I mean, how hard are sperm going to work for you if you’re mentally rejecting them the whole time they’re swimming? It helped me to think of the sperm less as sperm and more as a necessary ingredient. I practiced conception meditation, visualizing something along the lines of the cartoon we watched in fifth-grade health class. You know, the one with the sperm gliding along the fallopian tubes, like a pod of pink unicorn dolphins swimming toward the universal life force?
But it’s hard to maintain the whole spiritual-conception vibe when your baby-making process involves donning rubber gloves, plucking a vial out of a six-month deep freeze, defrosting the pink liquid inside, and doing the deed with a needle-less syringe. Even though I opted to conceive at home, not in a doctor’s office, the presence of science-lab equipment, like the nitrogen tank with vapor rising out of it at the foot of my bed, sorta killed the mood.
To many women, thinking about paying for sperm feels strange, too. In my prelesbian days, how many tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of sperm had been spilled, blocked, or interrupted on the path to my ovaries? How much time did I spend trying not to get pregnant? And now I’ve gotta pay for that stuff? An unexpected pivot, for sure.
But one aspect of sperm shopping and usage felt perfectly . . . natural: I wanted a baby. I wanted two babies, actually. I wanted not just babies, but the biological experience of growing them—pregnancy, birth, and nursing. And I wanted all that so badly that—like so many couples who struggle with infertility or women who want to become Solo Moms—I chose to undergo unconventional methods to conceive them.
When I finally released the old prescriptions about how conception should happen, when I got past my initial squirmy-about-sperm feeling, and when I learned to embrace the nitrogen tank, I settled into a place of gratitude. I sent gratitude to all the parents, doctors, social workers, and lawyers who preceded me, pioneering a medically safe and legally sound path for me to fulfill my dream of becoming a mom. And I sent gratitude to the anonymous sperm donor who provided the missing ingredient for two of the coolest kids on earth.
And by “sent,” I mean mentally. It’s not like I ordered up a bunch of fruit baskets or anything. After buying four vials of sperm at $300 a pop, who could afford such a thing?
Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.