Hand sanitizer. Lysol wipes. Sourdough starter. The pandemic introduced many odd shortages, but did you hear about this one? Sperm. One Sunday morning in January 2021, my wife read an article that detailed the drop in donations since we all became familiar with the phrase “contact tracing.” A bank that typically had 600 donors now had 400. Nothing like the threat of scarcity to restart a dormant plan.
My wife and I met in 2013. In 2019, we married on the grounds of a gorgeous old inn in upstate New York. At the time, our families felt like our seven-month engagement was rushed — now, of course, we’re considered lucky. We’d vaguely planned to start a family in 2020-ish, but the arrival of COVID-19 put all future plans into stasis — until now.
We certainly weren’t planning on making a baby during a global pandemic. But, like a recurrent case of HPV, it was clear the pandemic was not going anywhere. Yes, the people being hit hardest were parents of small children. Yes, our finances had taken a tumble. (My live storytelling night, Generation Women, went virtual in April 2020; not a lucrative move!) Yes, the idea of doing anything high stakes or complicated during a pandemic seemed, well, beyond risky. But my wife was sailing through her late 30s, and we had plenty of friends for whom IVF was a years-long struggle, still unresolved. It was time to dive in.
This meant signing up with one of the country’s best sperm banks, which I know because it was the most expensive. Like getting a tattoo, which I recently did at the tender age of 40, this wasn’t the time to penny pinch. Our bank boasted an acceptance rate of 1%. I have socialist ideals, but this was a 1% I could get behind!
We were presented with hundreds of profiles of men whose photographs were of them as babies. Each profile was topped by a peppy name — Bilingual Brainiac, A-List Athlete — and short, sales-y pitch. Brimming with charisma and the life of every party, Donor 16013’s extroverted, friendly nature draws in or a 6’4” triathlete, Donor 13071 is always pushing his physical limits.
We started with hundreds of names, but our health-related must-haves whittled it down to just 23. Oh: it was on.
The concept of “anonymous donor” is actually a misnomer: we could access more information about these dudes than I have about my closest friends. While the medical records were essential, short recorded interviews were the most insightful into their character. We made a spreadsheet divided into Possibilities, Maybe, and Nope. Nope becomes our most-populated category. Some of my notes: “Into sports,” “Seems a little boring,” or simply, “Dumb.”
My family seemed to think I was enjoying this process: shopping for something expensive and thus, slightly indulgent. In reality, I hated it. It was difficult for me to reconcile the fact my child wouldn’t be related to me. I just wanted to do what my straight friends were doing: make a baby with the person I loved. It’s still something I think about, a niggling concern I don’t know how to resolve, but I did take comfort from a close friend in Australia who was adopted telling me she didn't think of her mother any differently. “She’s my Mum,” my friend said simply.
The first interview was Friendly Scientist. The interviewer asked, Name something important to you? Sustainability, he replied. He wants to leave the world better than he found it, through nanotechnology. Jesus, what a flex, I thought. Friendly Scientist had a GPA of 4.0. We get it: you’re smart! Are you a good friend? Oh yes, he said, he had a wide social network and found it easy to assuage the worries of anyone having a tough time.
I made a note: “used word assuage.” Friendly Scientist had blue eyes, curly hair, and Irish heritage. I have blue eyes, curly hair, and Irish heritage. Friendly Scientist’s celebrity look-a-like is John Krasinski. I like John Krasinski. Everyone likes John Krasinski.
After 22 more interviews, Friendly Scientist was in the top category, Possibilities, along with one other, Handsome Chef. Handsome Chef sounded like the kind of guy you’d have a vacation fling with. The woman interviewing him kept giggling.
By the next morning, Handsome Chef had disappeared. The little vial next to his profile had changed from green (full) to red (empty). I quickly went from green (calm) to red (panicked). In a panic, I shook my wife awake. “Baby, we’ve got to get Friendly Scientist! Like: now.”
A few signed forms later, we were the proud owners of several vials of a stranger’s sperm.
The next few months were a rollercoaster of needles and hormones and health-related delays and hiccups, culminating with Insemination Day. Something we had been leading up to for years, in the end, took 10 seconds. Two weeks later, on a rainy afternoon in June 2021, we got The Call. My wife was officially pregnant. I felt every emotion, at the same time, from joy to terror. Having a baby in a still-raging pandemic: Is that a good idea?
Who knows? But my wife and I had always intended to start a family, and everyone will tell you there’s no perfect time. Even in a pandemic. While we’re both life-long learners, we’re also established in our careers and don’t feel overly panicked about “being left behind” as a result of parenting. I’m looking forward to creating the things that gave me great comfort and pleasure as a child, like being read to at bedtime or being allowed to discover the natural world. I’m curious if my heart will crack open and grow to the size of a planet. I hope so. Surely, the decision to parent is a little mad, no matter the circumstances. But that’s what keeps life interesting. And even though this child won’t be related to me, that fact won’t really change how I approach parenting. I’ll love them, and care for them, and surely be frustrated by them, exactly the same.
We are now 20 days away from meeting the small human growing in her belly. We don’t have it all figured out, and the pandemic isn’t making things easier. My wife is excited, yes, but also scared of giving birth and being sleep deprived and being a parent. Me too! But I’ll be doing my best to assuage her fears as we get ready for all that is to come.
Georgia Clark is the author of It Had to Be You, The Bucket List, The Regulars, and others. Her newest rom-com, Island Time, hits shelves June 14, 2022. She is the host and founder of the popular storytelling night, Generation Women. A native Australian, she lives in Brooklyn with her hot wife and a fridge full of cheese. More at GeorgiaClark.com and on Instagram @georgialouclark.