Friday, June 15, 2007
I never imagined myself shopping for sperm. Who does? It's not that I never imagined having children--no, that's not right--it's not that I ever imagined I'd never have children, so naturally the sperm I needed to have the children that were inevitable would find me, somehow. A dear friend, perhaps, would naturally live close enough to make the whim that is a child convenient and easy to express. Because children are whims. They are desires that become real in a flash. Or they are desires that don't, whereupon they become obsessions. I never wanted to be obsessed with having children. I was always too busy.
Honestly, I thought I would have one after tenure. It seemed so much harder to imagine how to get a child than how to get tenure, I thought I'd better concentrate on the one first and the other would follow. One didn't. Then real life became more of a problem, fortunately solved by the copious availability of student loans, which have, if you haven't noticed, been operating for some time to prop up the economy so we don't have a revolution. They are talking now about making student loans harder to get, which I hope they don't because then everyone who just keeps going back to school, like me, or just stays in school forever, like I did, will hit the job market, bomb out because, as we know, there are no jobs out there, figure out that there are no jobs, and join a terrorist cell. Then the shit will really hit the fan.
But back to sperm. The plain fact is, trying to have a successful career--or in my case, an unsuccessful career--means that those baby years sort of creep on by. Suddenly. you're almost 45, and back in school again, and there's just no way.
Enter GF. She's been thinking about kids for a while, and she's only 38. She feels fairly secure in her job. So why not get pregnant? Why not get a baby now?
Well, I'm still in school, for one. But isn't it better to be up all night for ten weeks straight when you're in school than when you're starting a job? You bet. There's never a good time, a perfect time, for a baby. Wait for the perfect time and it will never come.
So she'll carry the baby for the both of us. Cool. But then there's the matter of sperm. I first should say that it's very odd how many people will throw sperm at you when they hear you are thinking about getting pregnant. Really. It's like suddenly you're the girl (or boy) on their knees in the middle of the . . .well, you get the picture. Sorry about that if you're squeamish, but you really can't afford to be shy about sperm, if you want a baby. You've got to grab a jar, metaphorically speaking. SO yes, lots of people will offer you sperm. That's the good part.
The bad part, of course, is that they can get a little get mad if you don't want it. And it's not like you're rejecting only their sperm if you don't take it. Or even them. Or quashing their dreams of genetic eternity. No-- They will tell you that it is wrong to not let a baby know its father, if it is at all possible for a baby to know its father. They will demand to know how you could deprive a child of this. Then they will try to get you to take their sperm again.
I have a problem with this. See, I'm the father, in a manner of speaking. I don't want baby to have another one.
I don't mean I'm the father, really. What I mean is that I am the other parent. There are two parents, primary parents, and I'm one of them. So when people start screaming about the "father," by which they mean the sperm donor, I have to wonder what they think my role is in this whole thing. Housekeeper #2? Second Income Lady? Why in the world does the child need to know its sperm donor?
This is complicated by the fact that it turns out you CAN know your sperm donor father, if you want, when you're 18, if he said it's ok, and your mom paid extra for the sperm. Lots extra. And the weirdest part, is that we--me and GF-- actually went through a period where we thought this was a good idea. So, like, you're supposed to raise your daughter or son and tell them their whole life that they can meet their FATHER when they turn 18. And they build it up and you build it up and it takes on some kind of mythic significance no matter what you do, because let's face it, in this culture all that really matters to too many people is who your father is.
It seems weird. Like there's a shadowy person lurking around for the whole time you are raising your child, a fantasy person, a mystery and site of impossible desire.
I should know. I never knew my biological father. He and my mother divorced when I was a toddler, and he was permanently out of the picture by time I was five. But I know I loved him, I think a lot, and I know I longed for him, for somebody I belonged to, when my mother married a man who found me and my little sister annoying and inconvenient. I wanted someone whose flesh I shared, who would scoop me up and hug me close, unselfconsciously. The romantic ideal of a father. But lots of people have biological fathers they never feel close to, so this normative ideal is only that. I could talk about these things with a child, I think, and comfort them and make them think about all the different ways people make families.
I also know what it is like to have a family where your siblings don't like to bring up the issue of different fathers because it's painful for them to imagine you all aren't totally related to each other. Because they love you that much, and they need for family to be defined more than one way.
What I find interesting about all this is that when we decided to go with an anonymous bank closer to home, one where the children would never know their donor, having a sense, an intimate sense, of the donor became even more, rather than less, important for us. The short file where he talks about his favorite foods and the instruments he plays, where he draws a picture of a cat, becomes even more important to us, since it will be all we have of him if we choose him. These days we find ourself gravitating to the men who write lots down on these forms, who fill out every question, who seem to yearn to communicate something to the children they might have. The ones who have nothing to say we discard. One, our favorite, wrote in answer to the question about what he would want to communicate to us, the recipients of the sperm, "Teach your child the love of a good book, forgive them when they are precocious, and don't let them watch too much television. I hope that he or she brings great love into your home and a lifetime of joy and happiness." Another guy, also a favorite, wrote something similarly sweet and signed it "Love, Donor 220."
Does choosing an anonymous donor mean we don't want to know him? On the contrary--we find ourselves choosing the ones who we feel like we know best, donors who try to let us know who they were as much as possible within the confines of the form. And what is funny is that the things you think might be important--height, ancestry, hair color, skin tone, eye color--become much less important than personality.
It might be that the best thing that could happen to the category of father is that it expands to include mothers, co-parents, friends who participate in the child's life, sperm donors, and more. This could take away the "significance" of fatherhood in a way that would make it more significant and meaningful for families like mine (and, truth be told, like lots of other people's families).
In San Juan last weekend people dressed as sperm and danced in the streets to protest gay marriage and adoption. Hopefully people here could also dress as sperm for the opposite reason--to celebrate gay marriage, adoption, and families of all kinds.
All of which is to say Happy Father's Day--to all the donors, participants, and recipients, adoptors, and mentors for children born, becoming, and yet to come.