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help others procreate, he may not want those creations to intrude. I asked him to imagine if I’d been a donor, if I had another child—or children—and they wanted to find me, to be a part of my life, to be in some way, equal to him. How would he feel about their suddenly ap- pearing? This helped, but didn’t address his feelings. “I understand that it seems like rejection,” I said. “More like abandonment,” he countered. I nodded, gave him a hug. And that, for the time being, was where we left it. Clearly, this is not a conversation most fathers have with their chil- dren, but donor insemination is more common than you might think. An article published in Slate several years ago estimated that 30,000- 60,000 donor children are born in the U.S. each year, but noted that since numbers are not reported, they could be much higher. Think about all the couples you’ve known who had trouble getting pregnant, then suddenly, after they “stopped trying,” had a “miracle child.” That miracle may have resulted from choosing a sperm—or egg—donor—to complete their journey to parenthood. For the roughly 15% of couples who confront infertility, donor insemination is one of a number of choices they didn’t expect to be making, including in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, adoption, and foregoing children altogether. There’s a reason the largest infertility support organization is called Resolve: the idea is for couples facing these often agonizing decisions to choose a way forward and ultimately make peace with it. The donor route is, for most, a surreal process in which prospective parents go “shopping” in “catalogs” that describe the donors in great detail—their physical appearance, ethnic background, family health history, and interests—and may also provide a personal statement. You go through the same steps using the same specs you might consider when choosing, say, furniture from IKEA or a sweater from Land’s End, only the stakes are unimaginably higher. After a while, your eyes glaze, your heart sinks, and you find yourself on the verge of tears. As a man, you find yourself comparing the donors to yourself (is he enough like me?), while as a woman, you mourn the loss of your partner as your child’s father. It’s impossible to understand these feelings fully if you haven’t experienced them, and for fertile couples they are unimaginable. Imagine if the easiest, most natural thing in the world, and something to which you feel entitled, became impossibly hard. Your legs are blown off or have to be amputated, while the rest of the world keeps walking. Wheelchair? Prosthetics? Dark thoughts of ending it all? When my ex-wife and I went sperm shopping in the ‘90s, the cryo- banks still sent discreetly packaged catalogs in the mail, but now short profiles are available online, with the longer, more detailed self-por- traits (minus pictures, of course) shipped out on request. Even after narrowing your selections, the available options remain bewildering. For a woman, who chose once when she married her partner, she must now choose a new father for her child, while for a man, there’s a kind of ceding of identity, along with the comforting rationalization that nurture and nature are equal partners in the equation. There’s an ad- ditional concern for the mother-to-be—that of allowing another man’s seed inside her. It’s not about health risks; donor semen is certified to be disease-free. It’s more that she is still, in a way, in absentia if you will, having sex with a man she doesn’t know and can’t see. A one-night (or more like one-hour) stand that—if it works—results in pregnancy. This is why some couples opt for more control and choose a process

called “directed donor,” in which they find a person—family mem- ber or friend—to supply the sperm, then work with a clinic or lab to handle the rest. In these cases, the rights retained and given up, such as future identification and contact, are worked out mutually by the parties, while with anonymous donor insemination, the sperm banks have obtained releases (pun intended) and handled all the paperwork. The way my ex and I went about finding a donor was different, and as procedures go, somewhat unorthodox—less like “Match Game” and more like “Let’s Make a Baby,” in which we left things up to luck IN WHICH PROSPECTIVE PARENTS GO “SHOPPING” IN “CATALOGS” THAT DESCRIBE THE DONORS IN GREAT DETAIL THE DONOR ROUTE IS, FOR MOST, A SURREAL PROCESS


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