I am not a man-hater. I just don’t like some of the qualities and behaviors often associated with men. Hairy backs, for instance. Or sweaty testicles. Or grunting, or spitting in public. Lucky for me, I’m a lesbian and don’t have to deal with most of those behaviors on a regular basis (more power to those who do). But now that my wife and I are trying to have a baby, I’m suddenly forced to obsess over the one uniquely male thing that grosses me out more than any other: sperm. I’ve watched enough porno clips to know just how unpredictable and frightening that projectile ejaculate can be. The slimy stuff can cause calamity of all varieties; it can shoot clear across the room at unfathomable speeds, cling to a dress as evidence for presidential impeachment hearings — hell, it could even take someone’s eye out. I’ve mostly regarded sperm much as I do escargot: a foreign offering that the French and select others enjoy as a delicacy, but which I would rather forego in favor of, say, a cheeseburger. I’ve spent my adult life fine-tuning (read: correcting) all the experiences (read: mistakes) of my youth. Like many of us, I transitioned from a party-going, smooth talking, lady-killing nightlife gal in my 20s to a married woman with fuzzy slippers and a bedtime in my 30s. All those years of dating the wrong girls helped me find the right one, and two years ago I put a ring on it.
I had never given any real consideration to becoming a mom, simply because until recently, it wasn’t a viable option. It was still the dark ages of LGBTQ civil rights when I came out in the late ‘90s. I felt lucky to have gotten this far without being beaten in the streets for my sexuality; the notion that one day I might curl up with a toddler — my toddler — to read Dr. Seuss books seemed so far outside the realm of possibility that it didn’t even enter my mind.
My wife and I didn’t think legal marriage would ever be an option, let alone that Park Slope (the Brooklyn neighborhood where we live), would become the capital city of lesbian moms with overpriced strollers and perfectly groomed androgynous babies. It wasn’t until the law shifted in our favor and we settled into domesticated bliss that it occurred to us that we, too, could have tax breaks and nursery rhymes. I realized I had suppressed my strong desire to parent all along. My biological clock was ticking loud and clear; it had just been muffled by a lifetime of society making me feel unworthy. Now that we’ve agreed to go down the path of parenting, the options for how, exactly, we get a bun into the oven are approximately two parts strange and one part creepy. It’s weird to be a lesbian and spend most of my life happily doing most things without men, only to realize that my biggest life decision now requires not only a man, but the part of a man that I’m most squeamish about. It’s one thing to have brunch with a guy. It’s quite another to embed his sperm inside your body. There are so many instances of mothers, including lesbian moms, telling loving stories of conception. I had this idea in my head that the whole thing would be beautiful. There would be music playing and soft lighting and my wife would make passionate love to me and then…what, exactly? Passionately inject me with a turkey baster? Passionately watch me have awkward sex with a strange man — or worse, with some man I know?
It’s one thing to have brunch with a guy. It’s quite another to embed his sperm inside your body.
The avenue that seemed most accessible (and affordable) was to approach someone we knew and ask for a donation. Legally, though, that can be tricky. Besides, how would it work? Scour Facebook for some seemingly healthy, cute acquaintance from high school who did well on tests but also had a social life, and ask if he wants to lend his DNA? Go The L Word on a bro and try to steal his special sauce at a nightclub? It just didn’t feel right to go with a friend or acquaintance. That’s when I found Known Donor Registry, a website that appeared to be a cross between ‘90s online forums and Christian Mingle. You could search for sperm donors who were willing — through egotism, creepiness, or sheer good graces — to provide their swimmers to women in need, at no cost. I signed up, and almost immediately I began receiving messages from eager men. “I’m 42 and live in Connecticut. I’m of Danish descent, six-foot-two, and can do natural insemination.” Natural insemination, a.k.a. sex. To be fair, the site wasn't all men seeking sex with lesbians. A couple of guys sent me mini novels about how they’d helped other lesbian couples conceive. One was willing to mail his ejaculate from Texas via FedEx. Another was willing to fly in from Arizona when I was ovulating and hand over a freshly brewed cup of semen in person. The whole thing just felt weird. After all, I was always taught not to talk to strangers; I assumed that included not taking sperm from them, either.
It started to look more and more appealing to buy sperm outright from a local lesbian-friendly cryo bank. It would be a more sterile process, which seemed less romantic, but it was also a better choice legally, and safety-wise. The only problem is that one little vial — good for a single attempt at insemination — can set you back a thousand bucks. Multiply that by a few per month for several months (or however many times it might take to become pregnant), and it rapidly becomes prohibitively expensive. And yet, the prohibitively expensive option is the one we’re leaning toward. We’ve decided to pause for a few months and save our cash so that we can buy the little swimmers from a legit sperm bank and avoid the risks that come with meeting strangers in hotel rooms or making awkward asks of genetically well-endowed male acquaintances. I’ve started measuring my temperature and ovulation cycle daily, and am doing my homework to find a good OB/GYN and fertility clinic, just in case we decide to go that route. I may never get over my discomfort about sperm, and it seems downright hostile that the same stuff that 16-year-old boys crank out 24/7 without a thought is suddenly worth thousands of dollars to me. But it is. And I have a feeling that one day, when I’m holding my baby in my arms, it’ll all be worth it.