First, I drive to the California Cryobank. I walk down a long, dark hallway to the pickup window and look around for men to try to get a glimpse of the kind of guy who donates here, but the donors seem to use a separate entrance. I consider the possibility of bumping into someone I know, but the hall is empty. There is no waiting room, just a glass window that slides open when I ring the bell.
A woman in a lab coat charges my credit card $320 and hands over my baby’s daddy—a vial half the size of my pinkie, encased in a freezing tank inside a three-foot-high box with arrows and the words “This Way Up.” I tuck the sperm behind the passenger seat and head to the clinic.
The day is bright and blue and mild. A fine day to get pregnant. I take Sunset, which is tree-lined for miles, and I’m thinking it’s one of the prettiest streets in Los Angeles, until I get farther east and then Sunset becomes as ugly as any other strip-mall stretch of LA.
The music this morning is my favorite, classic hits from the ’70s and ’80s. I haven’t moved on. In 2003, I’m still listening to ABBA and Fleetwood Mac. The windows are open, and I’m singing “Oh Oh, dream weavah, I believe you can get me through the niiiihhiiight.”
I carry the sperm box inside—it’s unwieldy but not heavy—and hand it over to the nurse for defrosting. This is my second attempt, so I know the routine.
The first time, I brought my best friend Stephanie, a professional photographer who took pictures like she was the proud dad: me walking in with the loot, me in the waiting room eating a peach Danish, me on the table with my feet in the stirrups, and even some crotch shots of the sperm going in.
I’m lucky: most people don’t get good photos of conception.
The last time, Kate wanted to come, but we agreed it would be too hard. We ate Thai food the night before, and she cried over the tom ka gai, our favorite soup—chicken with coconut milk, medium spicy. Damn her for not getting her shit together in time to be my co-mom. Kate is so pretty and gentle, and I dreamed of her holding our baby. And holding me. I waited six years for her to grow up.
We broke up several months ago. A divorce, really. We weren’t legally married, but we were family. We shared a health insurance policy.
Another woman’s in the clinic waiting room, apparently alone, but wearing a wedding band, and a man and a woman are sitting together. We smile and nod at each other. I wonder if we’re all waiting for our sperm to defrost.
Although I’m by myself this time, I don’t feel lonely. I feel cool and confident, like I’m doing my part. The war in Iraq started a few weeks ago, and I have been feeling powerless. I want to be more effective in creating peace in the world, and this war seems beyond my control, no matter how many peace rallies I go to. But today, as I sit looking up at the Matisse print, the one of the big-hipped woman dancing with no feet, I think: Maybe this is my contribution. No pressure on the kid, but maybe the kid will be a peacemaker—a sort of modern day Jesus Christ, as this Jew understands Jesus—someone who can speak the language of those in power and at the same time befriend those who are disempowered. And if this doesn’t resemble the Immaculate Conception, I don’t know what does.
Week 1, day 5
I’m on our annual family vacation in Key West, Florida, with my mom and her boyfriend, Bob, my brother Tony, sister-in-law Lisa, and my three nieces.
My family knows I’ve been inseminated; that the sperm I bought at the sperm bank has been squirted into my uterus by a very capable nurse, and we are waiting for the two-week mark so I can take the pregnancy test. The whole time, Imake excuses for not carrying my suitcase or the groceries: “I can’t, on account of the twins.”
I’m hoping for twins. My mom says I’m crazy, but I insist it will be good for the twins. They’ll need each other.
Week 1, day 7
Tomorrow I’ll take a pregnancy test. I’m not looking forward to trying to decipher the stick. I have plenty of experience peeing on sticks, and still, I’m no expert. For five months leading up to insemination, I peed on more than a hundred sticks to determine when I was ovulating. The pregnancy test works the same way.
First, hold the plastic apparatus, the approximate size of a flat highlighter pen, pointing the tip into your stream of urine for seven seconds. Be careful not to splash into the tiny test window or get pee on your hand. Then replace the lid, put the stick on a level, dry surface, and wait five minutes. Two lines should appear in the window. The test line on a positive stick will be darker than the control line, or equally dark.
The test line on my ovulation stick was always slightly lighter than the control line, or so it seemed. I was never sure. The lines were small, like pencil scratches, and their shades of purple or pink or blue were subtle and indistinct. I wanted two equally dark lines so badly I didn’t trust myself. I needed a second opinion.
I did two tests a day for ten days for five cycles. At $6 a stick, I spent $600 before spending $225 more on a computerized system, which requires inserting the pee stick into a slot for the computer to read. For all I shelled out, I should own the pee stick company, Clear Plan Easy.
Now that I think about it, I should call the company to tell them their sticks aren’t clear and they’re not easy, and they know it, otherwise there’d be no need for a computer. I’ll demand a case or two for free. I’ll say, “Listen, I’m not like the other girls. I have to time everything exactly right: detect ovulation, buy my sperm, drive it across town, defrost, get inseminated, and hope my sperm meets my egg just as my egg is making its way into the uterus. I can’t just lie back and get fucked.”
A momentary moment of joy.
There’s my sperm. I’m thinking, “That’s all?”
All photographs were taken by my beautiful photographer and friend, Stephanie Howard, except this one. I took this one.