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But can they swim?

September 10, 2010

We went to the grandaddy of sperm banks, California Cryobank, which I kept mixing up and calling California Cryogenics, as if I were going to breed with the frozen head of Walt Disney.

Sperm, as any college junior can tell you, is cheap. Like, $600 compared with $6,000 for an egg. Men are productive animals, and they take pleasure in their work. There are hundreds of choices at California Cryobank, but since I had gone with a Member of Another Tribe for the mama, I wanted one of my own for the dad.

So we left every blank open except religion, and specified Jew. We got 14 back. Fourteen Jews offering up their life force in California?! This was not going well. It got worse, as we tried for someone over 5’8 (in case it’s a boy), with a college degree, and, crucially, willing to do an open process. We went shorter. We got flexible. We did not take the guy described as looking like Chris Penn, Sean’s sweaty, dead brother.

We really wanted the one who looked like Liev Schreiber. OK, I really wanted the one who looked like Liev Schreiber. I was started to treat this like OK Cupid instead of the road to my baby. Misspellings in the essay? No, there’s no longterm potential here. And none of the essays were funny. Come on, sperm dude, impress me! Between fantasies about the celebrity lookalikes the sperm bank assigns them (this is L.A., after all), it began to dawn on me: I wasn’t going to date these guys. I didn’t even get to sleep with them. I just wanted their junk.

When shopping at a sperm bank, you get slightly more information than at J. Crew online. Sure, you once again get reams of medical information, and a short essay. Throw down a credit card number and you can access the baby photos (which almost none of the Jews offered), the long essay, and handwriting analysis. For $15, you get a facial features analysis, in case you were set on a cleft chin, or unattached earlobes. I passed on the $19 Keirsey personality profile and the $25 handwriting analysis — if I started ruling out men because of potential sociopathic tendencies, I’d stay childless forever.

My favorite part is the free staff impression, written by some nameless, faceless person at the clinic — maybe the receptionist? They are about 40 words long, and reading between the lines makes for a terrific parlor game sure to make acquaintances and distant relatives exceedingly uncomfortable.

What did the staff member mean when she said, “This donor is outgoing, ambitious and smart?” Is ambitious code for “douche”?

The same decoding works for the essays that the donors (er, sperm salesmen) write. When asked why they offer up their sperm, if they don’t at least include compensation as part of the motivation, they are players and will break your heart (oh, right, not dating, just mating. Pull it together, Liesel). My big screener question? “Where do you dream of traveling?” Call me a snob, but answering “The Bahamas” was an instant ding.

After dithering for weeks (and avoiding the link that said “One of our most popular donors is now available,” because there’s nothing like knowing your kid has 800 siblings out there), we settled on a geneticist who looks like Joseph Fiennes (so they say; none of these dudes had pictures available). He seemed smart. His family was healthy. He had nice handwriting. I know marriages that have been made on shakier foundations.

I’ve always liked science nerds. I think Joseph Fiennes and I have a real future together. Don’t tell my boyfriend.

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