Shortly after my son was born, I began taking him to visit my grandmother at the nursing home nearly every day. As soon as we reached the Alzheimer’s and dementia floor, I would take him out of his carrier and cradle him so he could be seen. The patients in the day room loved to gaze at him and ask me about him. Seeing a baby brought many of these women back to a familiar place. Their instincts kicked in; they remembered to get quiet and coo.
On one of these first visits, a woman in the day room crooned at us, “Where did you get that baby doll?” Before I could respond, an elderly woman resting on a sofa nearby told her, “She made it from scratch!”
Something about those words … they were so oddly perfect. Because in a way, I did. I made my son from scratch. My son had a recipe.
Obviously there was no way for this woman to have known that my son was created thanks to an anonymous sperm donor, a team of doctors and nurses, a bundle of fertility drugs, and lots of medical intervention. I may be a joyful oversharer, but I was certainly not blurting out these complicated details within the halls of the nursing home.
Five years earlier, when I decided I was ready to become a mom, I embarked on a long and tedious journey. The first part of that journey was figuring out what I needed to make a child. After meeting with my doctor and having a complete well woman’s work up, the next step was finding a sperm donor.
Making a baby when you’re married or partnered seems simple. The “recipe” probably wasn’t something even considered. For me, the task of finding this missing ingredient felt overwhelming at first. Then I started to imagine who my future child might be. What was important to me that I would want from a sperm donor?
It took me five years to achieve pregnancy and within those years I used four different sperm donors. Without realizing it at the time, I used different criteria in selecting each donor.
For the first donor I searched multiple banks. Finding the right sperm donor is a lot like reviewing an online dating profile. As you read through a number of descriptions, you start to hone in on the same things within the search sections and the list narrows down considerably.
With the first donor, I relied a lot on notes in the “Staff Impressions” section. If it was noted that the donor was attractive or had a specific attractive feature that appealed to me, I wrote down his profile number.
Soon, I found a donor who kind of seemed OK. I was so nervous about the newness of it. As much as I found selecting a sperm donor similar to finding a date online, this choice would be a FOREVER choice. I needed to be sure. I had to be.
After three tries with the first donor, I started to feel like he wasn’t the right choice. As soon as that feeling firmly landed in my head, I knew I needed to find another donor.
Finding the second sperm donor seemed easier. I maneuvered through the donor search engines with amazing speed. Give me height, give me blue eyes. No whammies! Immediately a donor attracted my attention and it was the first time I paid any attention to things other than physical characteristics. (Shame, shame on me.) He had a science background but also expressed interest in the arts. His donor essay was clever and funny, and he wrote well about his family. And bonus: His baby picture was adorable!
I had a lot of hope invested in the second donor. I used him for five tries and each time I thought it was going to work. When it didn’t, I was crushed.
When selecting the third sperm donor, I went a very different route. It may be a little complicated to understand, but I selected this donor as a sort of tribute to a friend who was not able to have children.
Instead of looking for someone a bit like me, I restarted my search looking for someone like my friend. I searched for donors of nordic descent with dimples and thick blonde hair. I found a donor that matched him physically and loved the coincidence at discovering that both men had been on the same game show as children.
Unfortunately this third sperm donor had a subpar sperm count. When the lab techs at the fertility clinic kept remarking on how low they were, I knew this donor was a mistake for me. I picked him for the wrong reasons.
When I looked for the fourth sperm donor, I changed it all up again. Everything. I decided to search only for a donor who was “open.” The other donors were 100% anonymous and I had wrongly assumed that was the only option available. I now knew there were donors willing to become known to children when they turned 18. This suddenly felt like the most important thing I could do for my child. To provide this opportunity for access.
Once I narrowed the search to open donors, I waded through physical characteristics and donor essays. I looked at long profiles that featured photos of the donor as a child and as an adult.
When I found the fourth donor, I knew instantly. I remember reading his essay and then clicking to his profile image and thinking simply, “It’s you.” Something about his face felt logical and right. I didn’t mind that he wasn’t super tall; I had height. I didn’t mind that we didn’t have the same blood type — something one of my fertility doctors suggested I look for. This donor had other qualities that stood out to me. His essay seemed sincere, his interests were complex and varied, and, most importantly, he was an open donor.
It was this fourth donor who was the ingredient needed to make my son “from scratch.” Of course it was awful and tragic and sad and soul-sucking that my earlier tries with the other donors didn’t work. However, I can honestly tell you now that I am relieved that the fourth donor DID work. Knowing that my son will be able to have access to his donor when he turns a certain age is a very big deal for me. For both of us.
Right now my son is almost 6 and he questions every part of the world. His natural curiosity is part of his internal machinery that is running nonstop. As his mom, I try to guide him to answers, but when it comes to his donor, there’s only so much information I can provide him with. I can give him essays to read, photos to look at, details about medical and physical traits and characteristics, but not much else. There may come a day when my son wants to know more. Or maybe he’ll never want to know. Still, there’s a bit of comfort in knowing things are “open.”
There are long stretches of time that go by where I hardly ever think about the man who helped make my son. And yet, when I do think of him, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. If it wasn’t for him …