Memoir: having a baby was the easiest decision I ever made. Finding the right sperm donor wasn’t quite so simple
Five years ago, my partner, Vanessa, and I decided to start a family. I’d always envisioned being a parent, but never imagined I’d carry a child. I considered myself a butch lesbian; getting pregnant—or worse, breastfeeding—didn’t fit with my self-image. When it came time to decide who would carry the baby, Vanessa and I didn’t even have to discuss it.
We waffled between choosing an anonymous donor and asking someone we knew. I wanted to go the anonymous route, mostly because I was afraid a known donor might agree to a “give and go” scenario, but change his mind and claim parental rights once the child was born. At the same time, an unknown donor scared the shit out of us. Sperm banks screen for diseases and medical conditions, but most information in a donor’s profile is self-reported and unverified. There is no way to know if it’s accurate.
We opted to ask a few friends—single men in their 20s. Some said no, some gave hesitant yeses, but all admitted they didn’t know how they’d feel once the baby was born. We moved on to older men with kids. One balked, afraid of the responsibility; another had just undergone a vasectomy. All told, we asked 10 men for their sperm, without any luck.
When we circled back to the idea of a sperm bank, I was relieved. In the back of my mind, I’d always been worried a known donor would have a stronger claim to my child than I would, since I wouldn’t be a genetic relative. When it came time to look through the catalogues, I figured the least I could do was select the profile.
I narrowed our search to five donors, including a tall Ukrainian with attached earlobes and an average-height Mexican with curly brown hair like mine. It costs $1,600 for every cycle you inseminate, so we decided to make the final decision by choosing the donor with the fastest swimmers—we dubbed it “Phelps sperm.” I called the sperm bank and asked for the motility rates for our five candidates. (Thinking about it now, I probably shouldn’t have made that call from my open-concept cubicle at work). Within a few hours, we had a winner: the tall Ukrainian, who described himself as a kind, funny, animal-loving perfectionist.
When we arrived at the clinic, a team of white-coated technicians thawed the sperm and prepared it for insemination. I asked our doctor if I could inject it into Vanessa with the syringe—it was important that I was the one getting her pregnant. After the deed was done, the doctor switched on the radio for us and left the room. As if by providence, the station was playing “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang; Vanessa and I waited until the door closed before we burst out laughing. The next morning, we returned to the clinic to inseminate again. We had no way of knowing whether it was the first or second squirt that took, but two weeks later, we found out Vanessa was pregnant. She felt queasy. I felt awesome.
Our son Cameron was born nine months later. It was the most emotional day of my life. A few minutes after the birth, he started having trouble breathing. I stood beside my son, talking to him, trying to comfort him. The pediatrician was annoyed. “Who’s the mother here?” he demanded. I had been a parent for less than five minutes and had already experienced sheer happiness, paralyzing fear and blatant homophobia. I froze, but Vanessa, bleeding on the delivery bed, had enough composure to answer him. “We both are,” she said. Within a few minutes, Cameron was breathing normally, Vanessa’s bleeding was under control and that doctor was out of our lives.
When Cameron was seven months old, we decided we wanted another baby. The only catch: Vanessa was about to start a new job and wouldn’t be able to carry again. This time, it was up to me. The more I thought about it, the less opposed I was to becoming pregnant. There was little to lose and so much to gain.
The process was even less romantic the second time around. We were visiting our families in Montreal when an at-home ovulation monitoring kit indicated my body was ready for action. I rushed back to Toronto on the overnight coach and arrived at the clinic the next morning. Once I was in my stirrups, I put Vanessa on speakerphone so she could “be there” for the insemination (we used the same donor as last time). When it was over, I walked to the bus station and headed back to Montreal. I’d been in Toronto for just a few hours but had managed to get myself knocked up.
This was my first pregnancy, but I’d been so involved with Vanessa’s that it felt like I’d done it before. I loved feeling the baby’s movements inside me and looking at my ballooning belly in the mirror. I couldn’t believe there was a person growing in my body. On December 15, 2010, Oliver, Cameron’s brother from another mother, was born. Being pregnant helped me move away from the butch persona I thought I needed and ultimately helped me embrace my womanhood. I even breastfed Oliver—something I could have never imagined doing a few years earlier. As for who will carry our third kid, it looks like it’ll come down to a coin toss.
A longer version of Maya Saibil’s essay will appear in the anthology A Family by Any Other Name, out this month from Touchwood Editions.
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