One day last October, Karyn, a 39-year-old executive, pulled her online dating profile off JDate and Match.com, two sites she had been using, along with an endless series of leads, tips and blind dates arranged by friends and colleagues, to search for a man she wanted to marry and raise a family with. At long last, after something like 100 dates in the past 10 years and several serious relationships, she had found the man she refers to, tongue only slightly in cheek, as "the one." It all began last summer, when she broke off a relationship with a younger man who wasn't ready for children and got serious about the idea of conceiving on her own. She gathered information about fertility doctors and sperm banks. "Then a childhood friend of mine was over," she told me. "I pulled up the Web site of the only sperm bank that I know of that has adult photos. There happened to be one Jewish person. I pulled up the photo, and I looked at my friend, and I looked at his picture, and I said, 'Oh, my God.' I can't say love at first sight, because, you know. But he was the one."One cute Jewish person, and she's sold. Well, to an extent, I can't blame her, especially after 100 dates, which isn't a number I've reached. So I guess people who are not in sperm donor clinics shouldn't throw vials. And while a certain part of me shouted out a supportive "you go, girl!" to the women who aren't waiting for the men to get their acts together or emerge from whatever rocks they're hiding under, another part of me was appalled at what I perceive to be in part, the creation of a child to substitute for the warmth of a lover or life companion, as well as the reduction of any sexual relationships that the mothers may participate in to a mere flesh-on-flesh encounter, with no strings and absent of any meaning or potential for future. Some of the women, while certain that they want their own children, are also in "relationships" with men who don't want children at all, and there seems to be an understanding that although the relationship between the two consenting adults will go on after the baby's born, said child will have no relationship with his or her mother's sexual partner. Not only can't I imagine how this will work parenting-wise, I wonder if it's going to be a lot more work to try to keep those parts of her life separate. But here's the case that really interested me.
Q., a 43-year-old health-care manager who attended a yeshiva from kindergarten through high school (she asked that I use only one of her initials), first sought out a Jewish donor. "Everybody either had glasses, they're balding or their grandmother was diabetic and had heart disease— typical Jewish population," she told me. Her solution: a 6-foot-2 Catholic, German stock on both sides, with curly blond hair and blue eyes. "He really was the typical Aryan perfect human being," she said, laughing. "He was a bodybuilder. He played the guitar and the drums, and he sang. He was captain of the rugby team in college. When I had the in vitro process done, the embryologist said: 'This is some of the best sperm I've ever seen. It just about jumped out of the test tubes."' Q.'s golden-curled, blue-eyed daughter has just turned 2.For a moment, let's put aside the fact that she found the entire Jewish population wanting and opted for a Catholic, a "typical Aryan perfect human being," as she put it. And let's not discuss the psychological reasons for choosing to engineer your child with stock from the perceived perfect population (and whether or not such a decision is, in its own way, eugenics albeit an extremely different sort than that practiced by Nazi doctors). Let us instead focus on her demographic profile...she attended yeshiva through high school. So did I. What happened to her between 18 and her current 43 in order to persuade her that this was the only way to move ahead with her life? And how did she overcome community disapproval? Is she even part of a community? And did that inclusion or exclusion influence her decisions? What kind of support structure does she have, both financially and familially to be able to support a child on her own? And the question I found myself asking as I read the article, theoretically and educationally, this woman and I share a background--if I get to the point where if biologically the choices are procreate or give up the chance for motherhood, would my choices be any different? I obviously don't know. But what became clear to me as I read was that I'm way luckier with the support structures in my life than she seems to be with hers.
[...]Q. developed severe hypertension during her pregnancy and had to be hospitalized several times. Her symptoms lingered even after her daughter was born, and she became preoccupied with what would happen to the baby girl if she were to die. Her brother and a sister are selfish, she says, and her mother is elderly. Last fall, she went to the Donor Sibling Registry and got a shock: the Aryan bodybuilder with the leaping sperm has fathered 21 children (and counting — he is still an active donor), including four sets of twins. These children are all 3 and under, and their families — four lesbian couples, three heterosexual couples and six single mothers — have formed their own Listserv, where photographs of the children (all blond, with a strong familial resemblance) are posted, and daily e-mail messages are exchanged about birthdays, toilet training and the like. They are planning a group vacation in 2007. "I was elated," Q. told me. "To quote the granny on 'The Beverly Hillbillies,' I wanted her to have kin. Now here's kin that look like her; that're in her same age range. I even thought that if I get to know somebody really well from this group, maybe I would pick one of these other mothers, if they would be interested, to be designated as a guardian for my daughter."Her mother is elderly. And her brother and sister are "selfish," she says. I don't know what that means, other than that apparently they don't support her. So if something--God forbid--happens to her, it looks likely that she'll be designating one of the other mothers--of children who happen to share the same genetic material but who may have nothing else in common, especially if her Jewish heritage is important--to be the guardian for her child. I'm not here to judge the choices of others. I'm not in their biological or situational shoes, and until I am, I can't tell you how tight said shoes are. But as the author of a book about children who survived the Holocaust because they were hidden--often with non-Jewish families, with the most Aryan-looking among them standing the strongest chance at survival--I can't help but feel somewhat unsettled, on a Jewish collective unconscious level. I've said it before, even with parents and siblings who I think would be willing to help, I don't think I could do it alone. And I don't think I'd expect the help, or be brazen enough to ask them for it. And as a freelance writer, I don't think I'd ever have the income to do it. And of course, a substantial part of me isn't willing to give up the dream of having it all--the companionship, the compatibility, and the conception--with the right guy at my side.