All photos by the author
Michael, my husband, is a strapping six-foot-four dream with strong German-Irish-Swedish blood by way of the Midwest. There are Ivy-leaguers in his family. His grandfather lived to be 90. His sperm is liquid gold.
Valentina and Alissa, a queer lady-couple who are some of our dearest friends, had spent two and a half years and $20,000 trying to get Alissa pregnant with no success. Working with anonymous donors at sperm banks in Oakland, they'd return for more juice only to find that their carefully-considered donor was sold out.
At our wedding this past summer, they formally asked my groom if he'd donate his seed, to which he enthusiastically agreed. A few months and two flights from Berlin later, we arrived in the Bay in order to provide as much of Michael's sperm as was humanly possible to generate in two weeks. This meant that I would be sex-starved and Michael would be chafed, small compromises to make in the name of life-making.
The act itself was simple biological mechanics: Michael would come in a cup, hand it over, and Alissa and Valentina would retreat to their bedroom for an attempted insemination via a needle-less syringe. He'd also make several deposits at California Cryobank, leaving behind frozen sperm for future attempts or someday-siblings.
Then there was the paperwork. We signed and notarized contracts stipulating we wouldn't sue them for custody and they wouldn't sue us for child support. Standard. They weren't going to pay for the sperm—that seemed unethical and plus they didn't offer—but they would cover the costs of flights, housing, car rental, doctors appointments, therapy, and separate legal counsel. And before Michael could gift his junk, he would have to go through all kinds of genetic testing and physicals and blood work and poking and prodding—all required by the sperm bank in order to rid themselves of liability.
The first night we roasted a chicken and talked again through our intentions and anxieties. Valentina and Alissa assured us that they wanted us to be present in the child's life—or as present as we could be while living in Europe. We'd be like uncles, a responsibility we looked forward to and expected to excel at. At worst, Michael worried that meeting his offspring could result in his own biological clock going off. At worst, I worried that Michael's mom wouldn't be able to stop herself from sending knitted booties, a possible overstepping of grandma-donor-boundaries.
At the doctor's office, Michael sat calmly and listed the ABC's of his family's genetic flaws—Asperger's, breast cancer, colitis—but I felt anxious. As Valentina started to squirm, I thought I should maybe offer up my bloodline, which, after a quick internal tally, realized didn't sound much better.
So I distracted myself with my camera and then wandered to the bathroom with the intention of sneaking into the cryobank's masturbatorium for a quick glance: a former handicapped bathroom stocked with analog and digital porn. I was ready to cry discrimination at the lack of homo-porn until I found some bareback and soldier DVDs. It should have been no surprise that the majority of the offerings featured creampie and bareback sex.
As Michael came in a cup in that same room a little while later (I couldn't keep him company, I asked), Valentina nervously googled some of the conditions that she had heard Michael mention. My husband soon emerged victorious and sheepish and was quickly whisked away by a nurse for some blood deposits.
Later, we found ourselves in group therapy talking through some of the more subtle complications that working with a known-donor can bring. We were warned of the dangers of language: using a phrase like "biological father" could seep unwanted notions of parentage into one's subconscious. We also learned to make space for the child. We can state our intentions as a foursome, and Valentina and Alissa can state their intentions as parents, but we have no idea what the child will want or will be curious about.
We woke up to the news that Valentina had an LH surge—a hormone released that indicates your body is ready to ovulate. Typically the ovulation lasts 24-48 hours, meaning it was time to inseminate that evening.
So Valentina, Alissa, and I watched Real Housewives of Atlanta in the living room and pretended that Michael wasn't jerking off into a cup in the other room. Once he handed off his nut-harvest, he and I took a drive to In-N-Out burger while Valentina and Alissa inserted the sperm into Valentina's vagina in their bedroom. My husband and I ate greasy fries and joked about how we could have just conceived a future Nobel Peace Prize winner or the next Adolf Hitler. The big duty felt over, and now it was up to the Valentina and Alissa.
As we left San Francisco, I felt relieved that our obligations were over. At the same time, I noticed that I didn't feel as anxious as I did at the start. I no longer felt like a middleman, but now more vital to our unique foursome. Moments after touch-down back in Berlin, we found out that Valentina got her period—no dice. First attempts usually don't work, but next time they might get lucky, or the next. Or it might take five years. Or my friends might never get pregnant with Michael's sperm. We can't control biology, but we tried our best. At the very least, I'm convinced friends can literally be the family you get to choose.