How to Thaw Your Unborn Children, Part 13

Frozen SpermIn the spring of 2006 I stood in the hallway of PS 261, an elementary school in Brooklyn, whispering into my cell phone with a representative from Xytex Cryo International, a sperm bank headquartered in Augusta, Georgia. It was my lunch break, I had a few minutes, and I had finally worked up the nerve.

“I’m — I’m interested in buying sperm and I was wondering how you go about the process.  Do I just give you my credit card information and you — you send the, the, um — stuff?”

“Yes, ma’m.  You tell us which donor samples you’re interested in and we tell you what’s available.”

The woman on the phone sounded like she was about eighteen years old. I remember thinking it was amazing that something so personal came down to a process no different than buying a pair of shoes over the phone.

“And — how much does it — what are the fees?

“Unwashed samples are three-hundred and fifty dollars.  Washed samples cost four-hundred and fifty.”

“You wash the sperm?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Yes, ma’m.  If you’re having an intra-uterine insemination it has to be washed.”

“How do you do that?” I asked, thinking of a book I’d read to the kids earlier in the week called Mrs. Wishy-Washy.  I could just see some woman built like a truck leaning over a washtub sponging down hundreds of oversized tadpoles.

“I don’t really know, ma’m.  But I can put you on with our lab technician. He can explain it to you.”

“No,” I said.  “That’s okay.”

A third grader was walking to the bathroom. She looked up at me and smiled adoringly. I felt like I was on the phone with some underground cartel dealing in the exportation of crystal meth.

“So I just order the stuff and you send it to me?”

“Depending on where you live.  We either send it to your physician or to your house. What state are you in?”

I panicked and hung up.

I’d spent a few months looking at donor profiles, but I’d never actually made a telephone call to speak about making any kind of purchase in real terms. It’s possible that I made that initial call as a way of proving to myself places like this really existed, that it was entirely conceivable (ha) to order your children from a Sears Catalogue of semen.  The idea does take some getting used to. I wondered if the young representative on the other end of the phone could tell that the same woman called every week or so to ask the same questions repeatedly.

“So..the stuff just gets frozen and sent out?”

“Yes, ma’m, after a six-month quarantine.”

I was at least a year away from actually trying to get pregnant. Lynn and I were still fighting about having children, and the argument always went the same way.  She wasn’t ready; I was born ready. She wanted more time to spend with just me, and I was afraid that by the time she’d had her fill of me exclusively I’d have grown a long beard and would be in active menopause. Also, we still weren’t living together properly. She was ninety minutes north of the city and I had moved to a one-bedroom in Park Slope. I often traveled during the week to be with her for dinner, but the trip was five hours round trip and unbelievably exhausting.  I often took the trip midweek anyway. I hated being alone in that apartment. I hated being alone generally.

Sometimes we fought for so long and hard on the phone or via text message that Lynn would write me a long email afterward telling me that she thought we should break up. Obviously I wanted a child more than she did. She wanted me to be happy. Perhaps I should get pregnant on my own if I wanted it this badly.

I always called her after these emails and said there was no way we were breaking up. If she wasn’t ready, then we would have to wait. If she didn’t want to have a child, ever, then I would do without. I loved her — what could I do?  I figured in the least I could torture her for several hours every day. Or spend time on my nights alone in Brooklyn reading sperm donor profiles, which, in case you are interested, can be a very preoccupying hobby if you really put your mind to it. First of all, there are over seven-hundred sperm banks in the United States, and all of them provide online access. This means you don’t have to talk to anyone to peruse the lists, nobody knows you’re looking to have a child in an unconventional way and, if you’re willing to spend a little bit of money, you can have access to an absolutely massive number of donor profiles. You can find out if a donor has musical interests or prefers sports, if he’s shy or extroverted, and what his career plans are. Most sperm donors donate while they’re in college.  Fellow lesbians and single moms looking for seed: be wary of the ones who are actively donating but long out of college. They’ve got to be weird.

I figured if Lynn wasn’t ready to have a child then at least I could line up some candidates while I was waiting. I looked up all the sperm banks in the United States and was surprised to find only one company that had a list of men (boys, really) who were willing to disclose adult photos of themselves. It is actually amazing to me that so many women don’t care about this. Most, if not all, sperm banks give out baby pictures, but how can you not want to see a grown-up photo of the man who will be contributing to your child’s genetics?  Little kids are always cute. They’re naturally chubby-cheeked and large-eyed and precious. Not so much for grownups. A grown-up picture of somebody can give you a lot more information beyond the obvious question of good or bad looks, too. Where is the photo taken, for example?  What are they wearing? What is their posture in the picture and how does the information they write about themselves match up with their image? There was a photo of this one guy that I looked at again and again. His ethnic background was Italian and Cherokee Indian, and in his photo he wasn’t wearing a shirt. He struck a dramatic pose that suggested he thought he was a total god. Any woman who didn’t choose his seed had to be crazy.  I thought he looked pretty stupid. Conceited, too. But his profile was nice enough, and his essay, if a little simple, seemed just fine.  Without the adult photo, he’d have been a viable candidate.  With the photo, he had to be an idiot.

* * * * * * * *

Since Lynn wasn’t ready for me to get pregnant in 2006, I showed sperm donor candidates to all my friends at work. Most people I know who have used a sperm bank chose their donors quietly and privately, but since I tend to make all my decisions by committee I figured this shouldn’t be any different.  Why not? It can’t hurt to gather as many opinions about a topic as you can before coming to your own conclusions.

What about this one, I’d say, during a curriculum meeting or a professional development seminar at PS 261.  How about this guy, I’d ask the assistant principal, sliding my laptop across the faculty room table. It was kind of like I was trying to figure out what design of coat to buy, and I needed a second opinion. The variety of opinions I received was fascinating.

“Again with the sperm donors,” Felicia Pecoraro would say, in between grading state tests.  “Give me the computer.  Oh my god, you can’t pick that one.”

I showed my friend, Kris, some of the men I was considering, and she rejected every single one.

“He’s too normal looking,” she said.  “Get somebody weirder.”

I don’t want somebody weird, I told her. I want somebody who can make a kid that will have a chance in life.

“You’ll provide the normalcy,” Kris said.  “Choose a donor that has an unusual vibe or an odd talent or a unique character trait.”

“What about this one?” I said, pointing to the guy in a cowboy hat. “He looks like he might be a little wild.”

Yeah, wild, she said.  A wild Republican.

I wanted a sperm donor that had decent looks, an excellent mind, and most importantly, a good temperament.  Temperament is more important than people realize, I think. You can be brilliant and handsome, but if your disposition is lousy then the rest just falls to the wayside.

Kris clicked through a bunch of images for a while.  Eventually her face lit up. This one, she said, pointing the laptop at me. This is the one.

I looked at the screen.  Maybe I should stop asking for opinions, I thought.

Are you kidding me?” I said.  “He looks like he has a hard time getting up in the morning.”

“Yeah, but read the profile,” she said.  “He loves math.  He’s first generation Polish-Russian. He probably speaks two languages,” Kris went on.  She studied his picture some more and glanced at the notes.

“He’s an engineering major, and he loves science!” Kris exclaimed.  “Think about all the guys you’ve looked at so far.  Who is the one you want to talk to at the party?  The one with the ten-gallon hat, the one with no shirt, or this guy?  I want to hang out with this guy,” Kris said authoritatively. She pushed the laptop away from me.  “He looks like he has something to say.”

I thought about this.  It was true, I probably would like to hang out with the nerdy, brilliant science guy whose parents were from Russia.  He could tell me all about quantum physics and how to make a good pierogi.  I looked at Kris.

“But I don’t need someone to talk to at a party,” I said.  “I just want someone who can make a good kid.”

“You asked me who I would pick,” Kris said.  “That’s my choice and I’m sticking with it.”

I narrowed my list down to two men and called Leesie in San Francisco.

“Oh, Zoomie,” she said.  “They’re all fine.  It doesn’t matter. You love the kid you get.”

Leesie went on to tell me about a friend of hers who purposely didn’t pick Xytex Cryo International because they didn’t “retire” a donor until forty families had all the children they wanted, or they ran out of inventory, whichever came first.

“Why does she care about that?” I asked.

“Because when her kid grows up she doesn’t want him or her competing with five-hundred other children for the father’s attention,” Leesie said, as if this made perfect sense.

“Well that’s ridiculous,” I said.  “If you want your child to have a father you don’t go to the sperm bank.”

I hadn’t thought to ask Xytex about how many families could buy from one donor.  I didn’t care then and I don’t care now, although I think it’s interesting how many people think this is an important factor.

“Aren’t you worried,” people say to me, looking around carefully to make sure nobody is listening.  “That your child will grow up and unwittingly marry his half-sister?” (They do not use the word “unwittingly.”)

I can’t tell you how many people have brought this up to me as if it were a distinct reality. The chances of this happening are statistically nothing, even if it seems entirely feasible.  Besides, it’s not like we haven’t told Ray of his origins.  If he falls in love with someone who looks related to him, I’m sure they’ll drag some platelets to the lab.  As if.  Please.

In 2007, three years after we had been together, Lynn said she wanted to take a trip to Amsterdam over Christmas break. She wanted to go to the Van Gogh museum and see the Anne Frank house.  I wanted to get high.

“Let’s do it,” I said.  Then, with a confidence I hoped would frighten her into submission, I added, “And when we get back, I’m getting pregnant.”

Lynn sighed and shrugged.  “Fine,” she said.

I’ve missed you all!  Look for Part 14 next week right here on the blog…

Back to Part 12


  1. Dear Amy–

    Hooray! I’m so glad you’re “blogging” again. I’ve been getting cranky waiting. And I can’t wait to hear how this story turns out. Oh, I hope you get pregnant!


  2. Glad to see you’re back too. I love the book reviews, but this is the good stuff! I love the image of you sneaking a call to the sperm bank in the halls of 261. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t know each other well enough to be consulted about donors in a faculty meeting. It would’ve been so much more interesting than whatever discussion we were probably having about the merits of DRA over ECLAS2.

  3. I know. The suspense is killing me.

  4. Amy,
    Finally! And welcome back! And thank you. Can’t wait for the next part.

  5. Matt Wright says:

    Amy, you may know that I’m from Atlanta (that’s in Georgia). What you don’t know is that I, along with three friends, visited Xytex on more than once occasion in the early ’90s. They were in an office building about 10 minutes from the concrete campus of Georgia State University. After numerous attempts at getting the big paycheck for an accepted deposit, friend #1 was rejected for having low sperm count, friend #2 was rejected for reporting too many partners on his questionnaire and friend #3 had sperm with very low survival rates (apparently Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull does affect sperm performance). Without the support of the team, I lost my motivation to go into a cubicle-sized room with a backpack full of reading material and the handout that read “please don’t use the sample bag as a friction aid, your skin cells will contaminate the sample.” We never got our samples back, or followed up to be sure they were destroyed. I’m definitely nerdy … Ray? Girls?

    • So — did you also provide a sample? Or was it just your friends? Oh my god YOU COULLD BE OUR SPERM DONOR!

      I’m sure they destroyed the samples, there is all kinds of legal nonsense involved with using donor sperm. They can’t just take your tryout juice and send it off to unsuspecting lesbians. And it’s a known fact that sperm banks only accept about 5% of applicants, although I suspect that while they would like to think they are being choosy it’s really just about sperm counts. Could you have really gone through with it, though? Some men don’t care; others can’t tolerate the idea of their progeny being raised by others. Did you go to school in Atlanta?

Something to say?