A few days ago I started doing more research on sperm banks and looking more seriously into the donor catalogues. Aside from being a bit struck by the even higher than anticipated cost of sperm per vial, I was struck by the dearth of black donors. To some degree I wasn’t that surprised. To be able to donate sperm you have to pass various health/education/employment/etc. screenings, and many men of color don’t pass them, at least not nearly as high in numbers as their white counterparts. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by just how low in number they were. Ranging from 2-3% of a bank’s supply.
But even more than that, what really struck me is how, of the black-identified donors, many were actually mixed. Not only that, but it was those mixed samples that were most selected. At one or two banks, it was those samples that were in “low supply” which often indicates high demand. The non-mixed black samples were probably not in high demand.
I’ve been sitting with this information the past few days, while simultaneously hearing more about black death. Just yesterday another young black boy was shot and killed by cops. No de-escalation techniques, just shot. They claim he was suspect and had a bb gun. The claim is always that they are suspect. Blackness is always suspect.
So here I am, trying to find black donor sperm in a world where non-mixed black donors make up 1-2% of sperm banks. Here I am in a world trying to find black donor sperm to create a black child, when the world just wants them dead. It feels like not only is it hard to create black life for people in my position, but it’s hard to keep them alive.
I wrote the above a few months ago, when I began casually looking for donor sperm. Casually because I was just getting a lay of the land, so to speak. Looking for a donor was hard. It took me awhile to process my feelings around the difficulties around finding black sperm and the desire for black babies.
Aside from the aforementioned emotional and psychological challenge, there were also the logistical challenges. One such challenge was to decide which bank to use. Since each of the banks had so few black donors, and then, ones that were CMV-negative (since that’s the only kind I can use), I didn’t have the experience of sitting with the catalogue of one bank, sifting through tons of donors. Rather, it was looking at a few options across multiple banks. On top of that, and maybe this is where I made things more complicated than they needed to be, I wanted a small bank. After reading reviews and common issues for many many banks, I realized that I’d feel more comfortable going with a smaller bank, one with a low donor limit. Granted, that went out the window after it became clear that, as much as a bank claims and attempts to ensure they adhere to their limits, there is nothing they can do to prevent that donor from going to another bank to donate there, in addition to the original bank.
Then came the issue of values. What was I looking for in a donor, aside from race? Education level? Profession (or desire profession)? Personality? Interests? Medical history? It was overwhelming. I mean, how often do non-Jewish couples think about medical history, particularly heterosexual couples? And really, just because a donor writes a glowing description of themselves with all the things that are important to them, how much of that is really going to matter, when most of those things are not genetic?
I was really hung up on personality and value characteristics for a long time. Part of this had to do with wondering what I was going to tell the child when the inevitable question was asked “Why did you choose my donor?” What was I going to tell them I based their decision on? I wanted to be proud in confident in the choice. I wanted to pick someone who had personality characteristics I valued so the child would know that I was intentional in my choice. That I chose characteristics that the child could be proud of in some ways. But, after talking it out with one of my best friends when options were getting slim, I realized that, while I may value certain things, and would look for those things in a partner, it may not matter in the context of creating a child from donor sperm (again, because some of those things aren’t genetic). This isn’t to say that I went with any donor, but it placed the selection process in perspective.
This happened after the fact that the donor I’d finally chosen, who had so many of the qualities I valued, turned out to be strictly anonymous, with no option for contact when the child turned 18. I admit I was devastated, and for an elongated second was just going to go with that donor, regardless of that fact. But then, how would the child feel when they turned 18 and wanted to contact this person, or at least learn more about them and the other half of their genetic make-up? Would it be fair for me to intentionally, as a result of my choice, make this impossible for them? It’d be one thing if I felt strongly that I didn’t want the donor to be in my child’s life in any capacity when they became an adult, or if I had a partner who felt strongly about it. But that wasn’t the case. I want them to have that information, and would want them to be able to reach out if they wanted. If I were that child, I know I’d want the option. Even if I didn’t take it, I’d want to the option. So my perfect donor was no longer perfect, and I had to go with another donor.
Also, it’s amazing what seeing childhood photos does to the selection process.
All in all, it was a difficult process. It made me think a lot about what was ultimately important; it placed a lot of things in perspective.