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Buying Dad by Harlyn Aizley, Alyson Publications 2003

What do two nice Jewish girls do when they want to start a family? They can marry two nice Jewish boys. Or, if they happen to be lovers, they can buy sperm online from California.

Because we are not married wives looking to find the perfect combination of facial features with which to duplicate an infertile husband, the genetic world is our oyster and buying sperm is much like shopping at BJ's or Sam's or Costco. There are so many choices, such mass quantities of hair, skin tone, and childhood diseases, of grandparents' hobbies and maternal aunts' educational backgrounds. And though none of it really matters - any parent will tell you, you get what you get - it certainly seems to as we cruise down the aisles with our genetic shopping list. Hmm, tall genes would be nice. Oh, look honey, math and engineering skills!

Beyond race and perhaps religion, there is no simple way to whittle down the options, to choose a stranger with whom to make a baby. So we approach the decision like consumers cold and heartless, like snipers picking off donors one by one for any reason that strikes our fancy. We rule out a nice Jewish boy who claims to be a "classically" trained artist because of the following statement, "I look forward to travelling to Paris one day to visit the van Gough [sic] museum." That's Amsterdam, cowboy. We rule out a man who reports having moved back home to live with his parents when he was thirty years old. Definitely unstable. We rule out fat men, men with histories of acne, men whose distant uncles committed suicide. We rule out any man claiming an allegiance to the Church of God, any man whose medical history reads like the Principles of Internal Medicine. We rule out one man because he sounds too good to be true and, therefore, probably is.

We narrow it down to only those men who have provided a picture of themselves. Only Jews. Okay, any Jew with or without a picture. Any Jew with or without a picture whose mother never had cancer, and who promises to meet the child when he or she is eighteen years old. Out of the hundreds of possible anonymous sperm donors across the nation we are left with four: a very short and intelligent man who resembles a squirrel, a man who over and over again makes reference to his heavy dark eyebrows as if out of moral obligation, Big Jew (six foot one), and Giant Jew (six foot three).

There is only one thing left to do.

I make four little strips of paper and write the name of a donor on each one and then fold it into a tight square.

"Whichever one you touch first is it," I tell my girlfriend.

She dips a tremulous hand into our future, pulls out a square, and methodically releases each of its nervous little folds.

"Squirrel," she says in a whisper.

"All right," I say, "two out of three."

In a last ditch effort to broaden the field we download the donor catalog of a sperm bank in California and there find two perfect specimens. Both Jewish. Good medical histories. Believable and kind essays as to why they have decided to donate. One is six feet tall, the other five foot ten and balding. We call California the next day. The six footer is sold out. "Jewish donors sell out fast," the woman at the sperm bank tells us. So, desperately clinging to the myth that male pattern baldness is passed down by mothers, not fathers, we purchase all of Baldie's remaining vials.

The first two specimens of the six we have reserved are ICI ($165 each) or intracervical, as in we can try the insemination at home with a syringe. IUI ($190 each) specimens have been "washed" for insertion directly into the uterus by a doctor ($250). While both methods promise the intimacy of an oil change, we place our romantic bets on a night at home with a syringe. This means that the crucial scientific act will be performed by my girlfriend, a musician and notorious spiller, someone who never even asked for a home chemistry set as a child much less ever handled a syringe. I picture her dribbling $190 dollars worth of semen onto my thigh and then laughing. I tell her I am not sure I trust her dexterity, maybe I should impregnate myself.

"If you don't trust me with a vial of semen how will you trust me with a child?"

I agree to suspend judgement if only for the twenty minutes required to thaw our sperm and the ten minutes required to complete "the act."

Thinking ourselves home free, we call the sperm bank to arrange our hot date.

"Would you like the specimen shipped to you on dry ice or inside a nitrogen tank?"

A nitrogen tank?

I imagine a scuba diver's heavy steel oxygen tank, a World War II vehicle, soldiers. I insist on dry ice because it sounds so much friendlier. I can picture it, the sperm arriving on ice like a shrimp cocktail or a frozen daiquiri, not encased in liquid nitrogen like nitroglycerin, like heart disease and bombs.

The day the smoking caldron of genetic potential arrives at our door suddenly I believe in miracles, in good men who donate sperm for good reasons, in girlfriends who when put to the test will be careful not to spill. Though two months from this miraculous day will find us sitting nervously in the waiting room at Boston IVF awaiting the first of several IUI inseminations, at least we will have made it to the starting gate, the place where most couples begin. At least we will be trying to get pregnant! And for partners of the same sex, even worrying about infertility and miscarriage is a treasured gift, second only to being able to imagine our smiles and love mirrored back one day in blessed, albeit bald, miniature.







© 2003 Harlyn Aizley