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Buying Dad: One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor

Buying Dad: One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor

by Harlyn Aizley

What do two nice Jewish girls do when they want to start a family? They can marry two nice Jewish boys, or, if they happen to be lesbians, they can buy sperm online from California! Buying Dad is a hilarious, edgy, first—person chronicle of a year in the life of a woman engaged in a very alternative family-planning experience. Peeling back the layers of


What do two nice Jewish girls do when they want to start a family? They can marry two nice Jewish boys, or, if they happen to be lesbians, they can buy sperm online from California! Buying Dad is a hilarious, edgy, first—person chronicle of a year in the life of a woman engaged in a very alternative family-planning experience. Peeling back the layers of self-indulgence accumulated in 30-odd years as a self-proclaimed gay, childless, albeit happy neurotic, Harlyn Aizley takes the reader on one of the most personal, intimate and utterly female journeys any woman, gay or straight, can make-that of becoming a mother. Aizley's story begins with the search for sperm-known or unknown donor? Delivered on dry ice or in a nitrogen tank? The journey unfolds within the context of her relationship with her female partner, her mother's cancer diagnosis, the threat of her own possible infertility and finally pregnancy itself. Aizley's wry voice and candid prose embrace this confluence of major life events with the humor and wisdom that make Buying Dad accessible to any woman who ever considered ending a lifetime of sleep-filled nights and becoming a parent.

Harlyn Aizley's fiction and poetry have been seen in Cups, Caffeine, Inside, Dialogue and The South Carolina Review as well as the anthologies Love Shook My Heart, Scream When You Burn and Beginnings. Her nonfiction has appeared in Boston Magazine and the anthologies The Best American Neurotica and Mondo Barbie Redux. She is a graduate of Brandeis University and holds a master's degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A native of New Jersey, shecurrently lives in the Boston area.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
While reproductive high-tech isn't exactly gay friendly, it has revived interest in the biological clock for many lesbians who wouldn't have heard its tick years ago. Aizley, a Jewish lesbian freelance writer, and her partner, Faith, were already in their 30s when they started considering motherhood. Agreed that children didn't need dad energy, and that Aizley, being older, should get pregnant first, they faced the trickier issue of sperm sourcing. After considering some male friends, they decided an anonymous sperm donor was less problematic. At first, sperm shopping seemed delightfully empowering-"the genetic world is our oyster"-but they soon realized they hadn't thought about which attributes really mattered. Ethnicity? Intelligence? Sincerity on the writing sample? Narrowing it down to donors willing to disclose paternity when the child grew up, the couple invested enough in one donor's specimens so Faith could later produce a half-sibling. From this point, Aizley's tale reads like any woman's: failed insemination procedures, fears of fertility treatments and huge doses of self-doubt. But before long, she's pregnant. Meanwhile, Aizley's sweet mom is dying of cancer, her hetero sister is having an unbelievably easy pregnancy-the story is as addictive as a good soap. Aizley's sense of humor may turn off some (when they switch to "non-Jewish" sperm, she muses, "I hope they treat my egg with respect and roll back their foreskins before doing the deed"), but her lesbian fans-and a good many straight women-may appreciate her irreverence and her honesty. Agent, Ann Collette. (July) Forecast: Alyson may have a good crossover title here, at least to hip straight women. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
Aizley, a published poet and nonfiction writer, chronicles the hyperanxiety and soul searching surrounding her decision to choose artificial insemination, her pregnancy, the implications of motherhood, and the wisdom of bringing a child into the world at all-much less a world of two mommies, no daddy. But rather than presenting a dry, tedious, and depressing narrative, she leaves the reader laughing out loud. Her humorous take on life allows the reader to become the author's friend and to relate to her much as an "Everywoman" sharing the universal worries and experiences of impending parenthood. As Aizley sorts out her feelings, the very important subtext of her own mother's failing health is analyzed. In that regard, this thoroughly captivating read about the foibles of a 21st-century family also becomes a book about death and dying. While there is a fair amount of material available about lesbian mothers, not much has been published dealing with lesbians who choose artificial insemination. Recommended for all public and large academic libraries, though the topic and language are frank and may be offensive in conservative communities.-Margaret Cardwell, Christian Brothers Univ. Lib., Memphis Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Describing with wry humor a lesbian's search for a potential sperm donor, Aizley's memoir makes a literate addition to the growing shelf of books altering the traditional definition of family. Nearing 40, medical researcher and writer Aizley lives in Boston with Faith, a musician and composer. The author is ready to have a baby, but first the couple must decide on a donor: Faith wants someone they know, while Aizley prefers an anonymous source; both are Jewish and initially want a Jewish donor ("it's a tribe thing") who agrees that the child can make contact later in life. They begin to research the literature, Faith comes round to Aizley's position on anonymity, and they finally locate an apparently suitable donor they nickname Baldie. His sperm arrives from California in a number of phials preserved in a tank of nitrogen, and Aizley begins insemination. After months of failure and increasing medical intervention and expenses, she fears she may be infertile, but before taking fertility-enhancing drugs, she checks to see whether Baldie has ever impregnated anyone. Learning that he hasn't, the couple finds a new donor, half-Japanese and non-Jewish, and begins another, ultimately successful round of inseminations. Along the way, they learn that Aizley's mother must undergo chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. As she relates in vivid detail her own medical trials-the ovulation watch and the actual inseminations, the doctors and personnel at fertility clinics-the author also movingly details her mother's struggle with cancer. She describes frankly her jealousy of her also-pregnant younger sister, Faith's occasionally ambivalent attitude, and fears that she can't survive without her mother, whosecancer has spread. Relentlessly analytical, Aizley also explores the nature of her relationship with Faith, the meaning of motherhood, and of being gay. The high level of self-awareness is at times wearying, but good writing and solid medical reporting more than compensate.

Product Details

Alyson Publications
Publication date:
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5.22(w) x 8.12(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

buying dad

By Harlyn Aizley

alyson books

Copyright © 2003 Harlyn Aizley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1555837557

Chapter One

I'm Not Forty

It's my thirty-eighth birthday, and I'm throwing myself a huge party. All day long people wander across the yard with their beers and burgers to ask me, "How does it feel to be forty?" I guess the party is so big they figure it for a milestone, some big fat divisible-by-ten occasion. My girlfriend, Faith, is at the grill. My mother and her friends line the back fence in assorted lawn chairs. There are three-year-olds and six-year-olds. There's my seventy-year-old cousin and her fifty-two year-old girlfriend. There are teachers and doctors and lawyers, a maniacal Cairn terrier, and a very docile Pekepoo.

At some point between the flipping of the last burger and the presentation of the cake, I climb to the top of the back stairs and shout at the top of my lungs, "I'm not forty!" It feels good. Really good. Because it's one thing being childless at thirty-eight, and totally another thing being childless at forty. Without telling anyone-including Faith-I have thrown myself a shit-or-get-off-the-pot party, an "Oh, my God, you're forty! Ha, ha, no you're not!" way of scaring myself into motherhood.

It was not so long ago that embarking on a life of same-sex love freed a woman from the ticking of her biological clock. Until just several years ago the only lesbians I knew with children were those who had been married very early on in their sexual careers. It even seemed at some point that as being gay became easier and more acceptable there was going to be a slow extinction of lesbian mothers because fewer women were going to get married in the first place. However, just as the gay nation inched ever onward in the media, the workplace, and our collective consciousness, so too did reproductive science follow suit.

Suddenly it's the twenty-first century and not only have sitcom characters and talk show hosts come roaring out of the closet, but those sticky bastions of anonymous masturbation once reserved for heterosexual couples struggling with male fertility are now ardent soldiers in the lesbian revolution. Lesbians are accessing sperm banks! And because a buck is a buck, sperm banks are marketing to lesbians! Sure, it's still possible to catch a cold shoulder or a decidedly unhelpful technician at one or another homophobic sperm bank across the nation. But with the wealth of others, those are easily avoidable. In fact, there are sperm banks all across the United States and abroad from which to choose. There are fertility clinics and private gynecologists in every city available to assist women and their partners in the process of insemination. Basically, a woman no longer needs a man to have a baby-at least she doesn't need to share her bed or bathroom with one.

For Jewish gay Gemini neurotics like myself this is mixed news. It means we have not been spared, after all, having to face the inevitable tick tick tick of our biological clocks. It means Faith and I will have to have countless long discussions about whether to have a baby. It means we may not rest easily in our vacancy-decontrolled one-bedroom apartment in Harvard Square, or on the fact that Faith can just make ends meet as a musician. It means we have to take responsibility for our lifestyle and our potentially childless future. It means we may have to grow up.

Maybe Only Freaks Have Two Mommies

(To Know or Not to Know)

Over dinner one evening, my three-year-old friend, Simone, looks lovingly at her father and informs me, "Daddies sound kind of like moose."

But what if there is no moose in the family? What if a little girl or boy is raised by two doe-a-deers? Do children need a moose, a tall, deep-voiced stubbly-chinned parent strong enough to lift them with one arm and toss them into the air? Someone to climb on top of and watch, mesmerized, as he mows the lawn, fixes the dishwasher, builds a cabinet, or replaces the engine of a car? Can being raised by two doe-a-deers possibly prepare a child for the coed world? Don't children, both male and female, need a man in order to develop their inner Yin? Or is it Yang?

Friends say that children relate to two separate adults as different and opposing beings regardless of their gender, that the whole mommy-and-a-moose thing is just one version of parenting. That there are, in fact, so many other options: two moose, mommy alone, mommy and grandma, mommy and a couple of aunts and uncles, or perhaps just one single-parent moose. Maybe my fear of not having a moose around to represent the other sex is a projection of my own homophobia, my own doubts as to the validity of Faith and me as parents.

"Do you like moose?" I ask Simone, hoping her wise three-year-old answer somehow will allay my fears.

"I like Arthur."

"Do you like Bambi?"

"Who's Bambi?"

"A deer. A female deer."

"What's female?"

We put our faith in the fact that it comes down to love, to adults providing a child with enough love and security from which he or she can bound into the world and learn all that is not available at home. After all, none of us are raised by "everyman." Some moose are rarely home, some know how to catch and throw a ball, while others cook and play guitar. And some doe-a-deers build fires and change tires.

To the argument that gay parents will create gay children, I have only this to say: Every homosexual I know, male or female, was raised by two heterosexuals.

Let the games begin.

While there are those women, gay and straight, who have known for as long as they can remember that one day they want to be a mother, others of us have spent most of our adult lives waiting to be swept away by even the shadow of a maternal urge. After college, I told myself not to worry; by thirty I definitely would have an interest in taking care of living creatures aside from plants and dogs. In my early thirties it was clear I was a late bloomer and likely would not host the mommy drive until age thirty-five. At thirty-five, still more interested in travel and sleeping in than getting my genes into the next generation, I allowed myself a couple more years of self-centered, responsibility-free narcissism. At thirty-eight, I threw myself the "you're forty" party, hoping to impregnate myself with maternal desire.

The thing that finally did it was entirely unexpected. My grandmother died. And my mother was diagnosed with cancer. All within the same six months. It was the loss of one source of unconditional love and the threatened loss of another that drove me to sit Faith down and start the first of hundreds of conversations about whether or not we wanted to have a family. It took us a year to decide, and then, of course, we had to find some sperm.

The first question we ask ourselves is the simple question any lesbian couple must ask themselves after deciding to have a family: Who's going first? For us the answer is easy; at least it's tangible. I'm thirty-eight, Faith thirty-five. Age before fertility. We decide I'll try to get pregnant first and then, after a year or two of diapers and sleepless nights, Faith will attempt the same. With the same donor. This brings us to the next question, which is not nearly as simple: Would we like to know the father of our child?

Faith answers yes. Me, a resounding no.

Faith and I are a lot like those little black-and-white dog magnets you can buy for a quarter at road-stop vending machines. We're brunette and dirty-blond versions of the same thing: a short Jewish lesbian in jeans and a T-shirt. Lip balm. Fleece. Haircuts twice a year. Highlights once every two years or whenever we visit our sisters in Los Angeles. But aside from the aesthetic and anatomic similarities, Faith and I are as different as, well, a double espresso and a cup of bancha tea. Working from the Her/Me paradigm, we fall into the following categories: Extrovert/Introvert. Patient/Impatient. MTV/PBS. Anal Expulsive/Anal Retentive. Known Donor/Unknown Donor.

In the year that we spend agonizing over it, the known versus unknown donor dilemma becomes a metaphor, sometimes figurative, sometimes literal, for all of the differences between us. It reminds us that we are two separate people, managing to live together only by the grace of God and sheer willpower. Thankfully, by the time the known/unknown donor question lands like a bomb in the middle of our relationship, we have already been together six years. Thankfully, in the year that we already spent deciding whether or not to have a family we managed to buy a house, thereby providing a legal hurdle to the dissolution of our relationship-because this decision could kill us, standing as it does like a monument to our two opposing wills.

The known versus unknown donor conversation takes place in hotel rooms when we are supposed to be on vacation, over the telephone, at the kitchen table, in front of our sisters. It ranges from a gentle sharing of opinion to shouts from one bicycle to another on a dirt path at Cape Cod to urgent tear-filled pleas in the middle of the night.

Faith, the people person, argues that it is in the best interest of our children to know their father. She wants to know what the father of our children looks like, what he sounds like, whether he has good taste in clothes. She worries that an anonymous donor will come looking for us, that he will lie about his medical history, that he will resemble every crazy and unappealing man who ever has undressed us with his greasy eyes. It is primal, Faith's aversion to an unknown donor. It is about preserving the sanctity of her genes, her heritage. She speaks for the species. Women have not evolved with two eyes for nothing. We see so that we may avoid mating with total dweebs.

I, on the other hand, am a freak obsessed with privacy. I guard my space with the ferocity of a pit bull. It takes all I have to creak open the door of my psyche and relinquish control enough to manage intimacy with one person. Imagine adding another to the equation! I worry that taking sperm from a man and having his child would instantly involve him as a permanent fixture in our life, someone with whom we must compromise, negotiate, or have over for dinner even when I need to be alone, even we need to be alone as a family. All of that, and he may not even be someone I love. At least I love Faith. At least this all began with the splendid privacy-defying urge to hold her in my arms.

We are at a stalemate. And so we decide to attend a workshop.

The workshop is sponsored by a local clinic specializing in all matters gay and lesbian. It is designed to address the issue of lesbian parenting and promises to spend at least a portion of the two-hour, sixty-five-dollar session talking about our problem: known versus unknown donors. Faith and I arrive separately from work, each with a little pad of paper and a pen.

There are at least fifteen other couples in the room, of all shapes and sizes. All women. All gay. All day. For a brief, terrible moment I think, Lesbian parents?! I look over at Faith. She is white as a ghost.

Differences aside, part of what bonds Faith and me is the myth we share that, despite our intimate relationship, we are not lesbians. Sure, we have sex with women and can count on one hand the number of times in the last three years either of us has worn a dress. Still, neither of us is a man-hating flannel-loving she-man. I can't even hit a ball. Both of us were brought up in stable, albeit unsatisfying, upper-middle-class Jewish households. Our families loved us dearly, sent us to college. They sighed, kvetched, but ultimately embraced us after we came out. We never needed to find new family in an identity, never needed to create a world of acceptance, because our world always accepted us. So sitting in the midst of the lesbian nation is unnerving. We want our sisters. We want our mothers. We want to figure out the answer to our big insurmountable problem and go home.

The workshop leaders inform us that while all sperm banks require donors to sign waivers relinquishing their rights to whatever offspring are conceived from their sperm, only one state in the country reinforces that waiver (i.e., would throw out of court any donor's attempt to gain access to birth records). And that state, of course, is the one at the end of the rainbow, California. We learn that some donors agree to allow their offspring to locate them when they are eighteen years old. We learn that many men are rejected as potential sperm donors, so those whose semen as well as personalities pass the test are the cream of the crop, so to speak.

Faith scribbles down notes about frozen semen and motility counts. I jot down the legal issues that need to be addressed in any contract with a known donor. At the end of the workshop, women gather round to read sample donor profiles (the full medical history and personal essay written by a donor). There is a table of tea and soft drinks, cookies and crackers. We pick up brochures, offer tight smiles to the other couples, and are just about to release the tense breaths we inhaled over an hour ago when a woman runs into the conference room crying, "All of our cars have been broken into!"

That's it, I think. No more lesbian group hugs. No more changing the world.

But try telling that to my lesbian local musical celebrity girlfriend, who has more difficulty remembering to turn off the porch light than she does being an out gay girl in public.

"How about that?" I say, trying not to sound too internally homophobic.

It turns out that all but a few of the cars parked in the clinic's parking lot sport broken windows. Ironically, only Faith's car and two others have been spared, but there is a gaping hole where my driver's side window used to be and bits of blue glass scattered like crushed ice all over the seat and floor. There is an air of gay bashing to the whole event. This is why I am afraid to identify as a lesbian, I think. Maybe it's not fair to bring children into this world to be raised by an oppressed minority.

Faith doesn't buy the gay-bashing theory. She thinks it's just bad city luck. She reassures me oppressed minorities have been raising families since the beginning of time and that of all reasons should not be the one that deters us from having children. Her optimism reminds me how nice it is to be with someone who, unlike myself, is not introverted and paranoid, someone who gives other people the benefit of the doubt and opens my world to adventure I might otherwise miss. I lay down my distrust and allow myself to consider how nice it really would be to know the father of our children. I imagine the right man in the most ideal circumstances and how we might enlarge our dwindling families. I imagine my mother and his at Thanksgiving or Hanukkah. I imagine him taking on an uncle-ish role, sending birthday presents and providing the children with a weekend getaway every now and again.


Excerpted from buying dad by Harlyn Aizley Copyright © 2003 by Harlyn Aizley
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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