I’ve dealt with a lot of strange, unnatural shit in four years of baby chasing, like fist-sized ovaries, daily embryo-status reports, and keepsake embryo photos from transfer-day. IVF is bizarre; an unholy alienation of nature from conception.
But nothing compares to the strangeness of sitting in front of a computer with your husband, trying to pick a sperm donor.
It must be kind of like putting out an ad for the guest star in a threesome: “Seeking anonymous healthy white male to fulfill lifetime fantasy of loving couple to conceive child. Must be handsome, fit, tall, healthy, smart, but not so sexy as to threaten manliness of husband. Will be compensated accordingly.”
We started out with a pretty short list. J and I decided to go with a local cryobank, one of two favorites identified by both my RE and my Favorite Nurse. We figured that if we’re looking for someone “like us,” then why not pick an East Coast guy? Then other criteria narrowed things further. We decided to pay extra for guys that are either in grad school or have a post-graduate degree.
And we only wanted white guys. We’re not looking for an exact J-match, but we want our kid to have enough physical “cover” that he/she won’t have to explain him/herself to friends, neighbors, etc. We’re not going to lie to the kid, and most of our friends already know, but we figured our kid should at least have a shot at privacy.
And then I got pickier—only guys 5’10” or taller need apply. After all, short is okay if you’re a girl, but why saddle a boy with that if you don’t have to? Sure, I know lots of short guys, but I bet most of them would love to be taller.
And while it wasn’t a dealbreaker, I really wanted to find a guy with blue eyes. Why? Because the physical feature I always hoped my kids would inherit from J was his blue, blue, blue eyes. I’m brown-eyed, but my mom is blue-eyed so there were even odds our kids would inherit this triat. Call me sentimental, but if I can have that 50-50 shot, even though they aren’t J’s blue eyes, I’ll take it.
And how do we decide on body type, anyway? J is pretty heavyset (nay, overweight), and I like the idea of having a kid who isn’t super-skinny. My little bro is thin as a rail and he hates it. But if it’s a girl, wouldn’t it be better to have her be naturally thin? After all, I constantly envy the women I know who don’t have to fight off weight gain all the time.
See how weird this is? Mind you, if a pregnant girl on the street asked me if I wanted to adopt her baby I would JUMP at the chance. I wouldn’t question her about the father’s height or her grandmother’s diabetes or her post-graduate education. But we have to choose someone, so we might as well choose the best. Right?
Shopping online for a donor is a lot like shopping for shoes at Zappos. First you sort by style, then by color, then you narrow things down by selecting only low-heeled shoes. Oh, and they have to be available in wide sizes. All of a sudden you’re down to three pages and you pick from those.
Eye color aside, our must-have criteria left us with about 35 guys to choose from. So on Sunday we started slogging through them, sorting about half of them into our “favorites” (see, just like Zappos!) and adding a few to a short list of superfaves. The free information is pretty sparse—there’s rudimentary medical info, a brief essay, and a couple of paragraphs of “staff impressions.” The essay consists of answers to six or seven questions about childhood memories, family member the guy is closest to, funniest story, where they want to travel, what they want to pass on to a child, and so on.
About halfway through J started to complain: “They’re all starting to blur together,” he said. “If I have to look at one more do-gooder who values integrity, admires his father, and wants to travel to Africa I’m going to shoot myself.”
Some of the essays really stood out. There’s the guy that put his overheating laptop in the freezer, then forgot about it until the following morning (and successfully revived it by putting it in the oven). The guy who’s strongest childhood memory involved selling the family farm, and who wrote a half-page on almost every question. The guy who won a car by living in it with four other people for a week. The guy who loves cats. The guy who grew up in communist Poland. And then there’s the guy who tried too hard to impress us with his knowledge of history/philosophy that we finally wrote him off as too pretentious.
At some point we stopped being able to talk about them, so the guys on our short list got nicknames: “car guy,” “laptop guy,” “hottie doctor guy.”
And then we started spending money. We bought a “complete profile” on three guys—for $70 a pop. J spent several hours yesterday going through the medicals, as well as seeing what’s in the “personal profile” information, and looking at the baby photos.
What’s there, you ask? A LOT of information. I haven’t even looked at the medical, but the personal profile includes favorites: favorite move, favorite band, favorite animal, favorite car. It includes hobbies and academics: SATs, ACTs, LSATs, GREs, as well as GPAs and honors for all of school. It includes a detailed identi-kit type description of every facial feature: size and shape of eyes, eyebrows, nose, cheekbones, lips, teeth, chin. And not-quite-so-detailed descriptions of physical features of parents, children, siblings, aunts and uncles.
Faced with this wealth of information last night I got completely freaked out. I had been so content with our short list, but now I wasn’t sure any were good enough. Three days ago I didn’t really care about looks; we were focused on brains and personality. But one look at the ugly-ass baby picture from my favorite guy and suddenly I wasn’t so into him. I looked back at the staff impressions of him. Did they say anything about his looks? Nope. Great bod, it said, and nice personality.
“Maybe your good looks will prevail,” J said, “but then again, maybe not.”
So last night I found myself going through the favorites again, pulling up guys where the staff had said they were good-looking. I bought five more personal profiles (we decided to go cheaper at $20 each and spend more when we narrowed it down), and found a few guys I was glad to add to our short list.
We also found ourselves leaning toward the guys with “average” features. We just want his face to be a blank slate—nothing too dominant that will overwhelm the features I have to offer. (How are my HS genetics lessons holding up?) And I pulled up a website that listed dominant and recessive gene traits for J to look at as he went through more medicals today.
I’m such a cliché. My favorite guy right now is a doctor, tall, built, blue-eyed, with killer academic credentials. “Good on paper,” as Carrie Bradshaw would say.
Other stuff we found mattered to us more than we would have thought:
1. Personal tastes. The guy who put down “Transformers” as his all-time favorite movies fell right off my list.
2. Religion. Not that we care if they are religious, but I really was happy to find a guy who was agnostic.
3. Children. I found myself much more into the guys who already have kids. I don’t know why, but it seems like they’re more likely to be doing the donor thing for the right reason, or at least with full recognition of the consequences. And I like a guy like that.
The bottom line is this. On the one hand, all of these guys are fine. They’re healthy, smart enough to make it out of undergrad, with kick-ass sperm.
But on the other hand, it seems so random to be making such a huge decision—choosing the biological father of our child—in such an arbitrary way. We’re just shopping in the closest store for what’s available this week. Just like buying new boots at Zappos. It’s surreal.
The thing is, we just couldn’t figure out any other way to do it. How much agonizing can you do? At some point you just have to point and say, “I’ll take that guy.”
Every night I ask J if he’s all right. Every night I ask him to tell me how he’s feeling. (He says he’s fine, blah, blah, blah). I tell him how strange, almost creepy, this is for me. I even told him once that I thought it would be even creepier if we were doing IUI (after all, at least all that will be going inside me are my own embryos, not some stranger’s sperm).
I haven’t told him that sometimes I feel like I’m betraying him. He doesn’t need to think of it that way.