Charlotte Fielding wants another child. In a four-part series she writes about her attempts to use the dating app Tinder to find a sperm donor and help complete her family.
Read part one of the series here.
I think I used up my lifetime’s allotment of talking about sperm early on in the process of using Tinder to find a sperm donor. It’s not a word that comes up in regular conversation very often. The cultural squeamishness regarding any word relating to sex makes it uncomfortable for me to say it out loud even though I spend a lot of time thinking about the significance of sperm. Although I’m fairly liberal when I’m with my peers, it’s particularly challenging when talking to my mother, for example. Of course she’s fully aware of how babies get made. And she’s aware that I’m aware. We’ve both had children, after all. It’s just that… I might be 30 years old but I still don’t want to talk about sex or associated products with my mother.
I quickly went from saying “sperm donor baby” to saying “donor baby”. I then began to talk mostly about deposits, donations, donor gametes – even just “stuff”. As in “he’ll give me a deposit of the stuff”. Sanitised words that help detract from the visceral intimacy of a substance being forcefully ejected from a stranger’s body and then gently entering mine, via a small plastic container and a large plastic syringe. Effectively, it’s a modern virgin birth. (I may not be a virgin, but I could be.) Reproduction outside of sexual intercourse is revolutionary.
Women are no longer restricted to geographic availability of men, or a man’s willingness to provide for her and her children. There doesn’t need to be any similarity in level of education or family background, aesthetic attraction is somewhat irrelevant, and maintaining a romantic or co-parenting relationship is no longer something to take into consideration. Women can get pregnant from a one-night-stand and the man might not ever know. A man could walk into a fertility clinic, make his deposit, and walk out again, not knowing if he has any children until more than 18 years later, and only if they choose to contact him. Gay women can have babies without needing to go anywhere near a penis.
It’s no surprise that I’m open minded about families. I have divorced parents, a brother who was a donor baby, a father who was adopted, and my other brothers are IVF twins. The opportunities for different families become almost endless with assisted reproductive technologies like sperm donation. You could have four or five different parents for one child: an egg donor, a sperm donor, a gestational surrogate, and the intended social parent or parents. This means our definitions of what kinship means can be questioned at a deep level, and shaped around our individual stories. Is family biology? Is it love? Is it intention or gestation? All of the above?
There is a serious shortage of sperm in New Zealand, and this is the main reason I decided to find a sperm donor on Tinder. There is a long waiting list; even Fertility Associates “strongly encourage people to consider a personal donor, since the demand for clinic donors is much greater than the number of donors available.” The reason for the shortage is that it is illegal to pay for donor material or surrogacy in New Zealand, and when something is illegal it doesn’t make it stop, it drives it underground and puts people’s safety at risk.
In my case, the prohibitive waiting list and cost of fertility treatments led me to look for sperm privately. I was comfortable doing this because I am straight and used to interrogating I mean dating men, educated enough to research the implications and the law, and have a supportive network of friends. However I think there is risk in getting involved at this level with a stranger, particularly if sex is thrown into the mix (in my case I was only considering artificial insemination). Sexually transmitted illness, personal safety, legal protection; all these things are accounted for through the clinic. I support the proposed law changes that would allow payment for donor eggs and sperm and therefore provide more accessibility to these safety measures.
However, I decided to go private. It was obvious to me that if I wanted sperm I should go where the men are. And in 2016, the single men are on Tinder.
My strategy for matches was to swipe right (indicating interest) on almost everyone. I wanted to give men the opportunity to talk to me, and it’s hard to ascertain suitability as a sperm donor based on a photo or brief profile. I avoided men with profile pictures of rude gestures, cars, or dead animals, which was an instinctive dislike more than a conscious decision. Apart from that I was indiscriminate.
The largest portion of matches were men thinking it would just be easy sex. Some tried to convince me their genes were just so good. Several dispensed relationship/life advice gems like “it’s better just to get with someone.” A surprising number of men wanted to actually start a family with me.
There was something about the straightforward profile that made men tell me deeply personal stories. Heartbreaks, custody battles, histories, yearnings. Some men matched with me just to say nice things like “my kids are my life, it’s awesome you’re doing this, that kid is going to be very loved.” A few were not so nice and used the anonymity to abuse me.
Some presumed that I hated men, disliked sex, or I had given up on love. I found that the people who were most vociferously against the idea were fathers, which I could understand. My plan could be interpreted as me saying fathers aren’t important (not the case at all). Those who were most in support of the idea were also fathers. They understood.
I thought many men were scared of pregnancy but I was wrong. They may be nervous of the responsibility of having a child, but what I was offering appeared to be a golden ticket opportunity to prove their manhood and ensure their genes would live on, without any practical impact on their life.
The main reasons men gave for considering being the donor were: continuing their genetic legacy without responsibility, wanting sex, and an altruistic notion of helping someone. For a while my time was heavily occupied with these conversations, even though I had decided on a donor quite early in the search.
Charlotte Fielding is a student, an entrepreneur, and a mother of one. She likes cheese, road trips, podcasts, memes, social justice, and that moment at the end of the day when you get home and put your pyjamas on.
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