How to Thaw Your Unborn Children, Part 14

Shtetyl“I like this one,” Lynn said.  “He looks like a really nice person.”

“He looks like the manager of Taco Bell,” I said.

Lynn said, “Do you want a nice person or do you want some mathematical asshole?”  (she did not say “mathematical asshole.”)

We spent a long time talking about what makes a person a person.  “You can be the smartest guy in the world,” Lynn said.  “But if you’re not kind, you’re not worth your salt.”

“The salt of the earth,” I said, vaguely.  I wasn’t really listening.  I was so happy that she had finally signed on to having a child with me I would have agreed to buying Ernest Borgnine’s sperm.

Lynn and I agreed that we needed to choose a sperm donor from the open donor pool, the boys who were willing to show an adult photo and who were willing to reveal their identity to their offspring down the road.  We agreed that a child’s paternity — while fairly irrelevant to us — needn’t be shrouded in mystery.  That our kids should in the least have an option to meet the man who helped make them, if they wanted.

“The thing is,” Lynn observed, clicking through the photos, “there aren’t that many guys in the open donor program to choose from.”

“We can pick one from the anonymous section,” I told her.  “But then you have to select someone with only a baby photo.  And the guy won’t be accessible in the future.”

Lynn swears that she can tell if someone will grow up funny looking from their baby picture alone.  I don’t get that, but Lynn has many talents one couldn’t possibly imagine.  For instance, when we go to a restaurant, she can look at every single table in the entire room and tell you the relationships of all the people sitting at each one.

“That’s a boyfriend and a girlfriend,” she’ll whisper to me, as we wait to be seated by the bar.  “And they’re breaking up.”

Or: “I’m telling you! That’s the father, he’s divorced, and he’s taking the kids for Sunday brunch.”

I am always amazed at this.  Not that it’s something you can prove, but when you bother to take a look around, you really can’t envision any alternative. This must be why I love Lynn like I do.

* * * * *

Lynn and I decided that even though the choices were much fewer, we had to pick someone from the open-identity program.  She glanced at a few more profiles.  She didn’t spend much time looking at them at all.  Which didn’t seem fair, considering I had been studying them for years.

“I don’t know,” she said, handing me the laptop. “You can’t measure a person in a few pages,” she said.  “Even with an adult photo.”

“I’ll ask Mary,” I said.

“Who is Mary?” Lynn wanted to know.

“The patient counselor at Xytex,” I said.  “We talk every day now.”

“Oh my god,” Lynn said.

I had gotten over my discomfort with using a sperm bank and was calling to speak with the woman in donor recruitment more frequently than I care to admit.  Mary was friendly, open and funny, and I genuinely enjoyed her telephone presence. She had a southern hospitality and was willing to talk about all of the men who came into the building.  She seemed to know them pretty well, too, considering.

“Now take number 4543,” she’d say in her appealing Southern drawl.  “He’s cute, but he’s real anal.” She said it like rull anal.

“How would you know that?” I asked, imagining Mary peering into the donation room and noticing something impossibly obscene and weird.

“Well,” she said.  “He’s always washing his hands and wiping down areas with napkins and using the Purell when he comes out of there.”

“Oh,” I said.  I dragged a line across my notes.  3455, anal, I wrote.

There was a particular profile I had become interested in, but I felt strangely shy about approaching Mary to inquire about him, as if Mary were his mother and I was looking for a date. This donor’s high school photo was endearing and handsome, and I liked that he had been playing the piano for a number of years. Discipline can’t be a bad thing, right? Okay, his essay sounded a little simple, and I think in the space on the questionnaire where you wrote about musical taste he wrote something like “I like rock music because I love it and it is so nice.”

But it’s a funny thing about choosing a sperm donor. You kind of go with some strange amalgamation of attraction, maternal affection, and genetic engineering.  Looking at the picture of this cute blonde kid holding his graduation cap I felt this weird desire to both kiss him on the lips and pack his Star Wars lunch box.

I realize what I am about to confess to you makes me look cheap, but mostly when I considered sperm donors I thought about what our child would look like.  What magical admixture of light-haired, blue-eyed, straight-nosed variables would combine with my Ashkenazi Jewish-ness that would result in a child with a seemly, pleasant appearance?  There’s no doubt I have a self-deprecating view of the way I look  — I envision myself as a swarthy, beady-eyed, ample nosed, peasant girl.  You know the one. She just ate an entire roast chicken back at the shtetyl because the matchmaker couldn’t find her a man that didn’t have hair growing from his ears.  And my prodigious head of hair!  It was enough to make any grown male hairdresser cry. Anything growing out of my head is wiry and thick and coarse, like I‘m some wooly mammoth who had to keep herself and all her ancestors warm as she pressed footsteps into the snow on the endless steppe.

“Jew hair,” my midwife said to me once, shoveling the mass aside so she could massage my shoulders.

“You’re anti-semitic,” Lynn always says when I bring up the collective appearance of The Chosen People.  “Jews come from all over. You sound like a moron.”

I roll my eyes at her.  “Whatever.”

I can’t imagine I’m the first donor sperm recipient who didn’t covet in a man what she wanted for herself.  A sheet of blond hair that moves in the wind.  A nose that faces north.  Is that so much to ask?  Besides, I’m not convinced that inside the darkness of my unconscious mind — inside the darkness of every Jewish person’s unconscious mind — is a deep-seated fear of another holocaust. What initially looks like an endorsement of Hitler’s ideal is in actuality just a way to dilute any possibility of getting pegged in the future.  When the fundamentalists land on American ground with their beards and their machine guns, they’ll see that my son is light-haired and that he has not been circumcised.

For a while I considered going for Asian sperm.  First of all, Asians seem to have floppy hair that moves every which way if it is long enough.  Secondly, I have never seen the child of a Caucasian and an Asian that didn’t look spectacular.  They come out looking like little China dolls.  A while back I met a Chinese-American woman at a friend’s birthday party.  As soon as I saw her child I knew he must have had a white father, and I commented on his beauty immediately.  I can’t be certain, but I may have used the term “China doll,” which I now know is the wrong thing to say to someone whose descendants came from that region of the world.

“But I was saying that her kid was beautiful,” I protested to Lynn, later.

Lynn teaches whole classes on white privilege.  “It doesn’t matter,” she said.  “You can’t say that.”

I think I understand at this point why it isn’t always appropriate to point out the beauty of a child borne of a Caucasian/Asian mix, but I still hold that I’ve never seen an Amerasian child that didn’t look like a beautiful little doll.  I think this sounds more superficial than racist, if you want to know the truth, but I don’t say anything to parents anymore.  Everyone is very tightly wound.

Still daydreaming about my blonde German, I asked Mary whether she thought it would be worth it to pay the extra hundred bucks to buy the audio file to donor number 3211, where he submits to a thirty minute interview.  Some of the donors at Xytex are willing to sit for an interview so that you can listen to the sound of a voice or perhaps take note of intonation or accent.  Thinking of my ex-husband’s nasal drone, I figured what the heck, and purchased the file.  I had no idea that Mary actually conducted the interviews.  Here’s a sample of what I heard after the audio file window popped up on my screen.

Mary: So I see you have beautiful lips.
3211: Thank you.
Mary: You are a wonderful musician.  Can you talk about your piano playing?
3211: I like to play the piano.

I called Mary.  “What the heck did I just shell out cash for, Mary,” I said, thoroughly disgusted.

Mary sounded desperate.  “Look,” she said.  “I’m no Barbara Walters. Sometimes you turn on the recorder and these boys just clam up.”

We talked a bit more about the piano player, and she said he was a very nice person.  She said he’d gotten a little round as he got older, not that this was important, but in fact he was a little rotund. Unable to suppress my curiosity, I purchased his adult photo.

Oh boy.  But did any of this even matter?  Who cares if he looked like Falstaff?

Lynn flat-out rejected the blond piano player on the basis of his poorly-written essay and his looks.  “He’s not good-looking at all,” she said. “He looks like someone who would play the part of Mephistopheles in some Scandinavian opera.”

“Goodbye, beautiful boy,” I said.  “I would have loved making blonde, straight-nosed babies with you.”

I called Mary the next day.

“Listen,” I said. “Let me ask you something.  If I were willing to forget the profiles, the photographs and all the detailed medical histories — could you recommend three guys that you know well from the program, that you think are decent, intelligent, and all around good guys?  Which one would you pick for me?

“Well, that’s tough,” Mary said.  “I mean, can you give me a baseline?  There are so many.  Do you want to at least choose a hair color or a body type?”

“I’m partial to the blue-eyed blondes,” I said.  “But that’s pretty arbitrary.  If you have a wonderful guy with brown eyes and olive-skin I’m not going to turn him away if he’s saving nuns in the himalayas.”

“Let me think on it,” Mary said.  “You’re saying you just want a good, all-around guy?”

“Yes,” I said.  “You know them personally.  You choose for me.”

Mary called me back a week later.  She brought me an engineer, a pool-building consultant, and someone who hadn’t graduated yet.  I think he was studying hotel management.

“Now, these guys,” she said.  “They’ve all been in the program for a while.  They’re good, solid guys.  They’re friendly and smart.  They’re hardworking.  Two of them have beautiful kids of their own.  I think that’s important, you know.  To see the kids.”

Lynn and I purchased their full profiles, which included baby pictures, pictures from the teenage years, and a few adult photos.  There were audio files and essays and medical histories.  At the end of ten minutes, Lynn vetoed them all. She didn’t care for the way one of them looked.  She thought the kid who was still in school sounded religious.  And the pool-building consultant had no baby pictures and his essay was appalling.

“You shouldn’t turn him away,” Mary said, of the pool man. “His sperm count is very high.”

That was a funny thing.  Mary brought up sperm counts routinely, as if  they were as important a criterion as IQ or disposition. To me, noting sperm counts just told me Mary was spending too much time in the lab and not enough time in an interview.  When you start to look at men in terms of how high their sperm counts are rather than how high they score on the Meyers-Briggs assessment, you know you’re in trouble.

I told Mary that a high sperm count should not be a factor in determining a good candidate for one’s offspring.

“Besides,” I went on.  “Don’t you guarantee a high number?”

“We do,” she said.  “But this guy’s count was really high.”  Ha.

“I don’t know, Mary,” I said.  “I don’t know.”

I got off the phone and turned to my computer again. There was another man I had considered a while back, but I’d discarded him because he had thick hair.  I opened his photo again and took another look at his information.  An auburn-haired twenty-three year old with broad Irish nostrils and green eyes looked squarely into the camera.  He had fair skin and a wide forehead amplified by a closely cut head of thick hair. I studied his round eyes and his eyebrows, which were not parsimonious in the bushy department.  He had a strong jaw and was large-boned, and the longer I looked at his picture the more I liked him.  To describe his looks can’t exactly capture the spirit of his face.  He wasn’t someone who would bowl you over with his handsomeness, but he was attractive. He looked relaxed, likable, straightforward. He looked like a decent person, someone who came from a nice family and who tried hard.  He looked like someone who, if you approached him with the question of being your sperm donor, would blush humbly and say, me?  Oh, no.  I’ve never even thought of that.

One of the very last things Xytex asks all sperm donors in their questionnaire is why they have decided to become a sperm donor. A lot of men say something about how they come from a superb pedigree and that there ought to be thousands more just like themselves. Perhaps they don’t say this exactly, but it’s obvious this is the subtext.  Other men simply write, “I did it for the money.”

This man, number 4221, simply wrote that he wanted to give sterile couples a chance to have their own child.  Which could have been a lie, of course.  But if you looked at his image it just didn’t match up.  You just knew he was telling the truth.

Nervously, I brought the files to Lynn.  I didn’t want her to reject this one.  The more I looked at his photo and read his information, the better I liked him…

Tune in next week for Lynn’s reaction and Mary’s peculiar response to this candidate…

Back to Part 13

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