THE ANXIETY OF SPERM SHOPPING
His name is Owen*. Donor Owen. Donor Owen is in law school and his favorite food is meat. The female staff members where Donor Owen’s sperm resides are always happy to see him roaming the halls, because he is handsome, he always smiles, and he has neither an ounce of fat on, nor a bad bone in, his body.
*Actually it’s not — all names here changed to protect the innocent.
I’m not supposed to be thinking about Donor Owen. Once we decided way back when that we would use a sperm bank donor, Sir Mixalot (my wife) and I agreed that we would pick the donor over a very short window just before Go Time, so that I wouldn’t become teeth-gnashingly obsessed with picking the right donor so as not to overthink things.
When we’re ready, we said, we’ll spend a weekend day perusing donors, we’ll pick one we like, and we’ll be off to the insemination races. Charrrrrge!
Then we started talking logistics. Like, what exactly do you have to do? Can you just call up a sperm bank and demand 3 CCs of their finest jizz? Does someone bring it to the door on ice, maybe with a complementary bottle of prosecco (sparkling white grape juice for the lady)? Do we need to buy syringes from the Duane Reade beforehand, or do those come with the order? And which bank are we even going to order it from?
So maybe we weren’t ready to go all supermarket spree just yet, but we needed to know more about what we were getting into. We at least needed to know which bank we would use. We started with basic functionality: which banks have sperm with the highest motile-sperm counts? Which banks even list motile sperm counts? And are the motile sperm counts per vial or per milliliter? And what about quality control: what diseases do the banks test for? What information do they gather about family history? This narrowed the field a little, but the remaining banks ranged hugely in price, mainly because some are local and some aren’t (and delivery is expensive, y’all).
So we culled further. We need unwashed sperm, and we want a non-anonymous donor whose ethnicity and features are more or less similar to mine. Suddenly our pool of potential donors was down to just five fellows at one bank and a whopping one at the other. I glanced through a couple of profiles, realizing as I did that I hadn’t actually been prepared to screen people and decide on which one would be the ‘best’ one. How the hell does anyone do that? No matter: we still had another round of QC. We narrowed again by motile sperm count, aiming for a minimum of 15 million per milliliter. And with that, folks, we had a winner. Donor Owen, weighing in at 159 pounds, with a nice and virile 30 million (!) motile sperms per milliliter. Donor Owen, whose hobbies, favorite foods, career goals, family history, baby pictures, and handwritten answer to why he wants to donate were all right there for the obsessively perusing.
Thence began my close reading of Donor Owen’s profile. I began to judge him like a potential date, except way more harshly. When I was dating people from the Internet, I just looked for signs of reasonably high intelligence, sanity, and attractiveness. But Donor Owen was a-whole-nother level. I wasn’t looking for a partner — I was looking for my genetic proxy, my ideal version of myself as a sperm-producing entity. My ideal dudeself.
I tried to sleuth out as much as I possibly could about Donor Owen to see if he measured up to my ideal dudeself. (Who even knew I had one before now?) I read that he smiles all the time, even though he’s in law school. Does this suggest a natural propensity toward happiness, or a genuine enjoyment of what I’ve been told is the misery of law school? Either way, I guess, my ideal dudeself would be friendly and pleasant to staff members at the local sperm bank, so that seemed cool.
To the question, What’s your final degree goal? Owen answered, “JD (Juris Doctor).” Hmmm. Thorough, but much more illogical than my ideal dudeself. If “JD” doesn’t ring a bell, is “Juris Doctor” really going to make it clearer? No, Counsel Owen. Probably not.
Which words describe your personality? “Rational, Relaxed, Ambitious, Comical.” Sounds pretty good; all things that my ideal self, dude or otherwise, would be always. I was vaguely annoyed that each word was capitalized, but I tried to take a tip from Donor Owen and chill out about it. What am I, a fascist? No! Moving on.
Which sports do you enjoy watching? Donor Owen says: “Organized fighting, Basketball, Baseball, Bowling,”
Because I am how I am, the first thing I noticed about this answer was that it ended with a comma. Maybe he was in a hurry, I thought. No biggie, right, ideal dudeself? Anyw—wait. Organized fighting? I wasn’t really sure what this was, so I did a quick Google search, which brought up the following (from Yahoo! Answers, natch):
I have a few questions about organized fighting.?
where are the safest places for fighting in connecticut norwalk danbury (all the places around here)
if you were to be knocked out would your brain heal so that it’s back to normal
and what are some places where you can use all your martial arts experience (like back flip kicks spin kicks air kicks shutos etc.) (most perferably safest place but please list all)
also do you think it’s a good idea or a good sport to do (organized fighting)
and finally is brain damage or any kind of permanent damage caused often
Hmm. Now I, too, had a lot of questions, such as: is this a representative example of the sort of person who’s interested in organized fighting? I.e., is Donor Owen like this person? And to what extent would that matter? And is brain damage really a major concern in organized fighting? And what’s a shuto? (Answer: knife hand.) And why do so many people bother chiming in on Yahoo! Answers with things like “don’t know, sorry” and “don’t know don’t care”?
I went back to the Google search results for organized fighting and the third one brought up an article with this as its first line: “Blood flowed from Jake Berry, nose to chin, like paint running.” Which led me to conclude that yes, brain damage might well be a major concern in organized fighting. It also confirmed my initial, sinking suspicion: Donor Owen may be far more bloodthirsty than my ideal dudeself. Not great.
Not every answer was a red flag. Donor Owen’s favorite animal is a narwhal and he rides a bike, for instance, which sound pretty good. No heart disease or genetic disorders on either side of the family — major plus. His favorite car is a Dodge Viper? (I have no opinion about this; I Googled Dodge Viper, looks nice.) Favorite pet: bearded lizard. Cute.
Finally, there was a nice handwritten note from Donor Owen about his motivation for donating sperm. Thankfully there was also a typed transcription of the note, since his handwriting was hard to decipher. The note was all about how some friends of his family when he was a kid had trouble conceiving and prayed and prayed to have a baby and when he got older he realized that donating sperm could give hope to couples in need. At the end, he wrote, “I hope these donations are able to bring you happiness and more.”
I appreciated the note, I did. But I also judged (I couldn’t help it; I judge when I’m anxious). “Happiness and more”? I snickered. More of what? Other emotions? Or just more of anything? Happiness and at least one kernel of popcorn. Happiness and coffee cake. Happiness and lobsters. Happiness and a tuba. Happiness and a tire iron.
Then I glanced at the handwritten version of the note and realized that it wasn’t the same. “Happiness and more” in the typed version was “happiness and nothing less” in the handwritten one. Huh. That made much more sense. I was relieved. But weren’t they supposed to be the same note? Had the sperm bank staff been so overwhelmed by sexy Owen that they messed up the transcription? I squinched up my face and read over the whole handwritten note. It was much better than the typed one, but also much different. For instance, the handwritten version said nothing about “praying and praying.” Nor did it contain any part of the following: “I believe this to be a more attractive option than adoption since a parent would be biologically related to the child, and I wanted to participate. It is a pleasurable thought to have the ability to grant the gift of life.”
It suddenly seemed very important to know whether the typewritten version was from Donor Owen or the sperm bank. If it was the sperm bank, I would write them off entirely — how can you trust a sperm bank that adds entire sentences to survey responses? On the other hand, can you trust a donor who writes two answers, one of which reads like a Google translation of the other?
Was it, I wondered, a sperm bank conspiracy to make donors seem more religious and worse at English than they actually were? I was desperate to know. I emailed the sperm bank. “Hello,” I wrote, “I’m considering one of your donors for artificial insemination, and I have a question. The donor’s name is Owen, and he has two answers to the last question on the survey (about motivation for donating). I’m just wondering why that is—did he answer twice, or is the typed version a �?translation”’ of the handwritten version? Thanks!”
While I waited for their answer (which I still am, if you can believe that), I perused other donor profiles, just to see. What I found was a sea of more suitable fish for my ideal dudeself. I found entire profiles of sincere and witty answers, written in complete sentences and devoid of even a single red flag. I read over these profiles longingly. Sir Mixalot wandered in and asked what I was doing. “Look, this one has red hair and freckles, and he loves biking, and he says he loves people and is moved by altruism and has a great sense of humor and worries a lot,” I said to her.
“What?” she said.
“Donor Artie! He’s just like me!” I said. “He’s my ideal dudeself! Oh and he’s anonymous.”
She sat down and frowned at me. “I don’t want an anonymous donor,” she said. “And we’re supposed to be doing this together.”
“Oh,” I said, remembering suddenly that there was a whole other person involved in this decision and that I was not just comparing used bikes or apartments on Craigslist. And of course she was right. There’s a huge difference between deciding your kids will have the opportunity to find their biological fathers and deciding that they won’t.
But there’s also a pretty big difference between “is deeply compassionate toward fellow humans” and “loves to watch organized fighting.” Whether it’s genetic or not, I have no idea, but still. I closed Donor Artie’s and Donor Owen’s profiles, and I added “does not manipulate donor survey answers” to the list of sperm bank criteria. Donor Owen may be a lovely person, or he may be a total jerk. Artie may be a raging sweetheart or the biggest con artist since that con artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio in that movie. I’m sure they’re both as likely as any of the rest of us to produce excellent babies. No matter—I had to let them both go. Our ideal donor awaits…