Monday, July 29, 2013

"I gave you a baby and you gave me an F?!"

It’s really amazing the things that suddenly matter when you start researching sperm donors. I went into this process thinking that I only had a few physical requirements: I want someone tall, so no one under 5 foot 10 (I want to give my kids a fighting chance, given the short genes on Mom’s side of the family). I also want a Caucasian donor. My reason for this is fairly simple – as the sole biological parent, I want my child to look as much like me as possible. If I were in a relationship with someone of another race, or if I adopt a child from abroad, it’s a non-issue. But, I’m not. So, it just seems to make sense to have a Caucasian donor. After that, the medical history seemed to be the most important factor (to make sure there are no genetic diseases I need to worry about). Simple, right?

Until I actually started searching! Once I started to review profiles, I realized just how many other factors are important to me. Some are out of my control. I confirmed that my blood type is O+, so I have no restrictions on RH factor. But I am CMV negative, which means I am restricted to a CMV negative donor. I made an error in my earlier post about CMV status, actually. Because I am negative, I need to make sure I don’t get exposed to the virus during pregnancy. If I were already exposed, it wouldn’t matter. At any rate, being restricted to negative donors narrows the field considerably. Which is good in one sense because the number of eligible donors is not so intimidating. But it’s frustrating to find a donor you like, only to see that he’s CMV positive.

Once those biological issues are dealt with, I started to discover other crucial factors. For example, I didn’t think it mattered to me whether the donor expressed a religious affiliation. After all, I’m a bit of a lapsed Catholic myself.  But I do have faith, and I found myself turned off by the donors who categorized themselves as Agnostic or Atheist. As my friend, Angela, said, “You have to believe in something.” So, another search parameter ended up being “Christian.” Now, hair color and eye color don’t matter, but it occurred to me that hair type and texture do. I have very thick, curly (to the point of frizzy) hair that I always need to straighten to be able to manage it. So, there’s another parameter -  Curly-haireds need not apply. Straight or wavy is OK, and thickness isn’t necessarily an issue. But I don’t want to have to teach my kid how to use straightening irons by the time he or she is three!

So then we move on to personal and lifestyle criteria (beyond religion, as stated above). By this point, I really started to feel like I was reading profiles on eHarmony or, rather than a sperm bank! Is he a cat person or a dog person (not a deal-breaker, but, you know…)? What’s his favorite movie? Play? Song? What are his hobbies? There are so many things that you learn about these donors, that you can’t help but start to think you’re looking for a mate, rather than just a vial!

But, the truth is, certain personality and lifestyle factors do matter. For example, during my research, I found out just how important intellect and education are to me in a donor. I’m smart and educated, so that gives my kid a good chance of being smart. But I suddenly felt like a well-educated donor was critical. Now the truth is, a high percentage of donors are college students, so I had to judge by GPA and course of study, rather than their degrees, but some are in or have completed grad school. And there’s another factor – I am a creative person, very interested in the arts, writing, etc. Maybe it would be a good idea to choose a donor who is good in math, science and all those analytical-type subjects that are not my strong suit. If I choose an artsy type, I feel like my kid won’t have a balanced skill set.

That, in itself, could help determine which sperm bank I use. It’s down to Fairfax Cryobank ( and California Cryobank (, for reasons I will explain momentarily. At Fairfax, there is a much wider range of academic interests and professions (including a number of donors who possess graduate degrees). At California, there’s a lot of out of work actors – also an issue at the New York banks. I’ve got nothing against out of work actors, and I think it’s kind of funny to imagine that, at 18, my kid could look up the biological dad and find out that he’s turned out to be an Oscar winner! But, that goes back to the like interests and education issues. I just think that more diversity in that regard would be an asset to my child.

The final, extremely important deciding factor has turned out to be whether the donor is an Anonymous Donor or an ID Disclosure Donor. Because my child won’t have a father in his or her life, I know there will be a lot of questions of identity. It’s important to me to give my child the option of meeting his or her father down the line. So, it was an easy choice to limit my selections to ID Disclosure Donors. These donors agree to be known to their child upon the child’s eighteenth birthday. It seems, from my research, that about 1/3 of the donors agree to this. I applaud them for that, and I am grateful because I know how hard it can be for kids to discover a true sense of their own identity and I don’t want to rob my child of that opportunity. Now maybe my child won’t choose to look up his or her father at eighteen, but the option needs to be available.

And that is why I have narrowed the choice of bank to California and Fairfax. Because something else occurred to me in my early research, and I voiced it to my doctor. It was a funny moment, actually, because when I said I had an unusual reason for what’s probably a common question, he said, “After twelve years of doing this, trust me, I’ve heard it all.” So I asked him about using a local New York bank versus having sperm shipped from elsewhere. He said it was not a problem, and that most of their clients use out-of-state banks. They just have to be NY State certified (NY has among the highest standards in the country). Then he asked my reason, and I said, “Well, I’ve noticed that a high percentage of donors are college students. I’m a college professor. I’m a bit creeped out by the thought that one of my students could be my baby daddy.”

After he stooped laughing, he said, “OK, I was wrong. I haven’t heard that one before!” But it’s true – the thought that my donor could be sitting in my classroom just has a really high creep factor! And then, since I have selected ID Disclosure, that would mean that, if and when my child chooses to meet the dad, there’s the potential for a very awkward meeting between the dad and me:

“Professor Cleary? Is that you?”
“Um, yeah. Sorry, do we know each other?”
“I was in your freshman comp class!”
“Oh, um, right. You wrote the research paper on The War on Terror right?”
“Yeah. You know, you gave me an F!”

And there you have it. It’s just not a risk worth taking. Better to search farther afield for the baby daddy and avoid those potential awkward meetings nineteen or twenty years from now.  Besides, there’s plenty of sperm in the sea, right?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Road So Far

I’m fully aware that there will be mixed reaction when my baby plan goes public. And by public, I don’t mean this blog. I’m referring to when the extended family finds out. So far, I’ve kept this Op classified. Only my brother, Keith, and my close friends know about it. I have varying reasons for keeping the plan quiet. For one thing, it’s not really anyone’s business. Normal couples who get pregnant wait at least three months to let people know, and that’s my intention. But I did want to share my plan with some people so that I could have the support during the process that I would normally have gotten from Mom and Dad. But, of course, I don’t have Mom and Dad anymore, so I needed to rely on my friends for that support.

 I also don’t want the family knowing until it’s a fait accompli because I don’t want to deal with the comments. And I know there will be many. I’m not sure how much will be said to me directly, but I know the phone lines and cyberspace will be burning up. “Kristen’s doing what?!” The shock and awe will largely stem from that reputation that gave birth (heh, heh) to the name of this blog. I’m the good girl who has always done what was expected of me. And I guarantee, no one expects this. So, when the news hits the fam, the shit will hit the fan.

A lot of the reaction I know will be well-meaning. People will wonder if I’ve thought this through. They’ll think I’m panicking because I’m nearing 40 and don’t have a man. They’ll think I just miss my parents too much and am trying to compensate. They’ll think I have no idea what I’m getting myself into. Well, that last one could be accurate, but I’m doing it anyway!

Then there’s the other side. There are members of my family (as well as some of my parents’ friends) who are rather conservative. They will have a lot of difficulty accepting something so non-traditional as becoming a Single Mother By Choice. It goes against their strongly held beliefs about what makes a family. And they’ll think that my parents would be appalled. I already know there is some sentiment in that direction, having experimentally shared the news with a friend of Mom’s several months ago. Her immediate reaction was that I need to try internet dating and meet a man because I have no idea how hard it will be to be a single mom. Again, I know that her intentions were good, and born of genuine concern for me. But, that conversation just solidified my resolution not to share it with anyone else until there is a bun thoroughly baking in the oven.

The truth is, I’m not looking for anyone’s approval – the only people whose approval mattered to me were Mom and Dad, and of course, Keith. I would, however, like people’s support. This is going to be a long, lonely road, with a lot of struggles, and I could benefit from knowing that people are in my corner. But, in the end, if people can’t get past being scandalized, then I will just have to limit my communication with them. It would be a shame, but I can’t have that kind of
negativity around me.

(Our Family Through the Years)

Like I said, Mom, Dad and Keith are the only ones whose opinions really mattered in the end – in other words, the only ones who might have made me rethink the plan at all. My friends have been amazingly supportive, as I knew they would be. But if they hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have changed my mind. I just would have been a bit sad about it. Keith thinks I’m crazy, but he’s supportive. In fact, his exact words the last time we talked about it were, “You’re insane. But it’s all going to work out.” I don’t think he knows just how much that meant to me (the second part, I mean).

In some ways, this entry is for all of those loved ones who may struggle with my decision. Because I think that at the root of their concern will be what they imagine my parents might have thought about this if they were still alive. People have certain perceptions of my parents, and I don’t think they are entirely accurate. My parents were good people – the best people, really. They cared about others and would always be the ones to step forward when someone needed help. They were people of faith, too (even though Daddy struggled with that at times). I think some people believe, therefore, that my parents had conservative views that matched their Catholic upbringing. But, in reality, my parents were fairly liberal about a lot of things – especially people. What a person was (white, black, straight, gay) meant nothing to them in the face of who the person was. And an unconventional life choice would never get in the way of their love for someone.

And that’s the thing – they already knew about the baby plan. This is not a decision I have made because I’m approaching forty and suddenly am having a mid-life fertility crisis. I’ve thought about this for at least the last ten years. You see, certain stages in life seem to have passed me by. I don’t really know why, but I’ve never been a drinker or a partier and I’ve never been a dater. Seriously, I could count on my hand the number of dates I’ve been on in my adult life. For whatever reason, men always seem to see me as friend material, not date material.

So, by my late twenties, I started to think about becoming a single mother down the road if the dating/relationship thing continued on its apparent trajectory. Mom, Dad and I actually used to joke when I was in the Foreign Service that I could just bring a kid home from every post I went to. Well, I did get my neurotic schnauzer, Cali, in Mexico! Of course, it was in Mexico that Dad’s health took a turn and I came home to help Mom take care of him until he died. Then, I came home permanently to be with Mom, which turned out to be a good thing since she got sick only seven months later. In the 3 1/3 years that Mom and I had together before she passed, we talked a lot about me having kids. Keith has never had kids with his wife Angela, for various reasons, including her health. So Mom and Dad had to settle for being grandparents to a granddog (whom they loved dearly).

Mom and I talked so much about what we would do if and when I had kids. We discussed getting a place together in the City, taking my kids to museums and on trips, going to Yankee games, and of course, going to our house at Friends Lake. She was so excited about the prospect of being a grandmother, and truly believed she would live to see it happen. And so did I. It’s hard now, continuing on this road without her – without both of them. But Mom and Dad were all about family, and I know that they would be happy at the thought that our family will continue on.

After they were both gone, I knew I needed some time to figure out who I was without them. My whole life I was Haydee and Joe’s daughter. And, like them, family was everything to me. But once I had lost them, I needed to figure out what my identity was now. Turns out, family is still the most important thing to me. So, after my year in London after Mom died, I made a three year plan – what I wanted to accomplish by forty. And a baby was the top of the list. If things go well, I should have that baby before my fortieth birthday. Everything I’ve done over the last two years since getting back from London has been designed to make that possible.

I hope that, when those that have trouble with this decision read this blog, they will have a better understanding of why I am doing this. I know to the casual reader that it may seem like I am not be giving my family enough credit. But, honestly, I do believe in them. I’m not blind to people’s views, or to the fact that many will say things that they may later regret. But I truly believe that their feelings for me will eventually overcome any difficulty they have with accepting my choice. And I believe that they ultimately will accept me, and my baby. Because, in the end, family is everything.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day Three Bloodwork

So, without getting too graphic, one of the things you need to do when planning an IUI cycle is to get bloodwork done on Day 3 of your cycle. It tests for the hormones Estradiol, Progesterone, FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), which helps determine if the ovaries are working, and LH  (Luteinizing Hormone), which triggers ovulation. If the levels are all right, then you'll be in decent shape to do an IUI cycle that month. The tests also give a sense of your egg reserves. The nurse explained it to me like this, "It will tell us how close to the cliff of infertility you are, but not how fast you'll get there." But, if I had low egg reserves, then we'd want to start right away.

So, I decided to do the tests this month, even though I am not doing my first cycle until next month. I wanted to get a baseline so I'd know what to expect next month. I also did diagnostic bloodwork to get my blood type (two surgeries and I still don't know!), as well as immunities to chicken pox and measles, and whether I'm CMV (Cytomegalovirus) positive or negative. It's essentially an autoimmune issue, and can be passed on to a baby in utero. If I'm positive, I have to choose only donors that are negative. If I'm negative, I can choose donors who are either positive or negative.

Anyway, bloodwork was today at 7:30 AM. Brilliant, considering I'm in the midst of "Film School Death Match" - a one-week intensive filmmaking class at New York Film Academy. Great class, but it's like 12 hours a day. And I didn't need to add an extra hour! We did a whole day of filming on the streets of NYC afterward. Later, I got the hormone test results, and everything is fine, which was good to hear. I have to wait until Monday for the rest of the results. But, then I'll have my baseline, which will set me up for next month.

In the meantime? Well, I've narrowed things down to two cryobanks - California Cryobank and Fairfax Cryobank. This weekend, I'll start browsing donor listings. And then, on August 3rd, I'm having my donor party! Excited about this. Looking forward to sharing the experience with my friends. So much about this will be lonely, so it's nice to have people to share certain aspects of it. Will right about the party afterwards!

Now it's bedtime, because we're filming in the 95+ degree heat again tomorrow! :)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Making it Real (And a Sign From Above?)

So, as everyone celebrated American independence this past weekend, I was celebrating the start of the process that will essentially rob me of my independence for at least 18 years (well, more like forever, I guess!). Last week, on July 3rd, I had my first consultation with the doctor who I am hoping will be able to help me get pregnant. For the purposes of anonymity, I’m going to go all “Men in Black” and call him Dr. K. It was a really good visit (you know, other than the god-awful transvaginal ultrasound. Damn!). By the end he was pretty confident that we could start the process right away. So, things have moved from conceptual to possible conception in the proverbial blink of an eye.

This is definitely a little fast, so I have decided that I will wait until August to try the Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI) for the first time. I’ve only been back from South America for two weeks, and hadn’t anticipated being at this place so soon. A week after I got back (on June 27th), I got in touch with my regular GYN, Dr. W., to schedule my annual and get the contact information for the Reproductive Endocrinologist.  The very next day, I talked to their office and they offered me an appointment that Monday (7/1). I pushed it to Wednesday since I had to collect my records from Dr. W. But, to be honest, I was kind of shocked – I had thought it would take a couple of weeks at least to get the initial consultation. Was it too soon? Well, considering that when I hung up I did a little dance of joy, then I’d say no. The timing is exactly right.

The timing also has another odd little connection. Six years ago, to the day, Mom had her surgery at Sloan Kettering for uterine cancer. I still remember watching the 4th of July fireworks from her hospital room over the East River. It’s just happenstance, I’m sure, that my appointment came on that day, but it is a kind of odd coincidence.
Especially given that the nature of Mom’s cancer is one of the reasons I want to do this sooner rather than later – well, that, and the fact that I’m not getting any younger!

The appointment ended up being almost two hours. We talked about a lot of the questions that I had, including whether there was a preference for “local” sperm versus “shipped” sperm – a issue for me, for reasons I’ll get into in a later post. Thankfully, he said shipping is not an issue at all, and gave me a list of recommended banks. Again, in later posts, I’ll talk more about the selection process, but Erika and I spent some time checking out the different labs online. It really is a fascinating process. I think I’ve narrowed it to two labs, California Cryobank and Fairfax Cryobank, two of the ones most recommended by the nurse.

The next step is to narrow the field and then, on August 3, I will be having a donor party. Yep, I’m going to have a few select friends over to review profiles and choose a top three. Then I’ll make the final decision on my own. Then it’s ordering and shipping. This is an expensive process, so I need to be careful with the number of vials I order, etc. Insurance won’t cover that. Plus, since I’m so new to the insurance, and I don’t have medical fertility issues, my office visits aren’t covered either. I actually read an article today that said some people use Crowdfunding sites to raise money for this stuff, but I’m not prepared to do that. I’m playing this close to the vest until it’s a fait accompli.

I mentioned a Sign From Above in the title, and that refers to a moment I had on Friday night (July 5th). Up at Friends Lake, I took Cali and Brooke out to go to the bathroom. As we walked out onto the dock, I happened to glance up and I saw a shooting star streak across the sky. It was so unexpected, all I could think was that it was Mom and Dad, telling me this was all OK.  It’s not that I have doubts, because I don’t. This is something I’ve thought about and planned for a long time. But just feeling like they were sending me their love at this crucial point meant everything to me. I’m going to need a lot of their love and support, even from afar, as I move forward. It’s good to know they’re watching over me and my future child.