© 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
"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
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