When you’re making a baby from scratch, you need two distinct ingredients. We were one short.
I was conceived during a thunderstorm in a Cleveland suburb, in a storage shed at the community pool, by a 16-year old lifeguard and a 15-year old concessionaire. As a child of teenagers I remember band practice and pot parties in our living room, the separation of stems and seeds on a Fleetwood Mac gatefold, the burble of the big blue bong. But mostly my parents grew up fast, worked a lot, struggled mightily, and finally split.
I held these lessons closely, and extended my own adolescence well into my thirties: I chased good and bad women, boozed and smoked like a pulp detective, moved around, made bad decisions, blew money. I don’t think I believe in predestination and I certainly don’t believe in angels, but I have no logical explanation for what eventually turned into a charmed life. From confusion and stupidity, I somehow reaped gold. As I approached 40, I found a career in yoga of all things, and a beautiful wife. I kicked my most destructive habits and became, miraculously, financially secure. I deserve no credit for any of these developments, if anything, they happened despite my efforts. But at 42, I looked at my life and was as surprised as I was satisfied.
My wife, Katelyn, however, is never satisfied, and wary of the very idea. She has ambitions. She seems to fear only complacency and stasis, which, aside from worry and indecision, are my primary modes of being. She must have sensed that I was in danger of becoming comfortable, because almost immediately she began talking about “starting a family.” I was resistant. I truthfully couldn’t imagine loving a baby more than I loved my cats. I was reluctant. Why ruin a good thing? But Katelyn was the driving force in this twosome, and it was going to take more than cats and ambivalence to derail the family train.
I knew I’d never be sure about having a kid. I also knew, because of math, that if I ever hoped to play catch with a child of my own, or go skiing, or see them graduate from anything, I’d best get to it.
I agreed to the baby in general, and even came up with a plan to acquire the missing ingredient, in the form of my old friend Dave. As consolation that I could not offer anything genetically to our offspring, this would be my contribution: I would select our sperm donor.
Most people in the position of lacking spermatozoon go the sperm bank route, and there are very good reasons for that. But, I’d chosen this friend of mine years before, never really imagining this situation would come to pass. Now I felt kind of stuck on it.
I’d lived with this guy Dave in a big group house in DC for most of my thirties. Many people lived in and passed through this house, many of us lesbians, and we were in the habit of sizing up male members of our social group for siring potential.
When Dave first moved into the house he was not promising. Just 22, straight-edge, a computer programmer. He was extra white, and rail-thin. He rarely spoke, in fact, he rarely emoted or expressed anything at all. My friend Sarah called him Frankenstein, and I called him the Columbine kid.
Over time he loosened up, and the more I knew him the more he impressed me. He was game. He liked throwing parties. He was dismissive of anything or anyone he deemed stupid or inauthentic or oppressive. He was admiring of and loyal to those he liked, and faithful to his peculiar system of ethics. It seemed he could do anything that he wanted to do. Once, I became interested in motorcycles. By the time I’d earned my license and bought a bike, he had taught himself to weld and built his own. I briefly took up jogging. He ran a marathon. He was still socially awkward and odd, but he managed to express his affections. My little brother unexpectedly died while I lived in the house. When I returned from his funeral, Dave had installed a cat door for my favorite stray.
Dave became one of my favorite people. As I considered him genetically, I saw that had no obvious mental or physical defects. He is tall and handsome. He is very smart. Like my wife, he is a quick study, highly competent, fit, and adventurous. Like me — or at least how I like to think of myself — he is a curmudgeonly misanthrope with a heart of gold. He’d agreed back in the day when I’d asked him, and when I wrote him again with the same request — for real this time — he again said yes.
The planning began in earnest. We began timing Katelyn’s cycles, and watching airfares between Tampa and DC. We had friends who had successfully conceived this way before, so had some idea of the protocols. We would need an oral syringe and a ramekin.
This is where I will disappoint some readers and reveal that we did not have sexual relations with that man. I know some of you want to know because an unbelievable number of people asked us straight out. At parties, at work. Customers. Complete strangers. My own dad. They’d look at Katelyn and say, with a literal wink, “So did you do it the old-fashioned way?” I’d be like, “Hey. I’m standing right here.” People felt remarkably comfortable asking if we were swingers, or I a cuckold. Sometimes I think we should’ve said yes. We had our friend Dave down and fucked him all week! We don’t even know which of us might be pregnant! Maybe both! Or something like that. Something that would better appeal to the prurient interest.
In August, during peak ovulation time, Dave flew down for a five-day tour of awkwardness. After I collected him from the airport, the three of us assembled in our living room. Tools in hand, I produced a contract printed off the Internet, releasing him from any future rights and responsibilities. (When we eventually did hire a real lawyer, she was alarmed at how we’d done this. This is not a how-to.) As we chitchatted on the couch with our tools and papers Dave said, “I told my mom about this, and would it be OK if she knew the baby? Because my sister and I aren’t having kids, and she’s looking at this like her only shot. You know, she just wants to send presents at Christmas, maybe set up a college fund, and come down to visit sometimes.”
This was unexpected. I didn’t like it. I didn’t know Dave’s parents, but figured if they were at all like him, they were certainly weird. Katelyn was unfazed. As the birth mom, she would automatically enjoy all of the bonding, all of the acknowledgement by her own family and the world at large that baby is her baby. For me, it felt different. If Dave’s parents are essentially grandparents, what does that make Dave? And what then does that make my parents? What does that make me?
But there was my friend Dave in our living room, and it seemed churlish to deny his mother’s request. He was selflessly and at no profit providing (what we hoped to be) a great service to us. We agreed to whatever it was we were agreeing to, and just like that, we got to it.
With five days in our pockets, we could give it five good shots. Dave departed to the guest room and we hopped into our own bed, giggling ridiculously. After some amount of time passed, Dave knocked, sweetly delivered the syringe, and left. We had read that babies take best when the lovemaking is sexy, so on this first night we tried our best, despite the orchestration and foreign objects, and for me, the unexpected and unsummoned memories that accompanied the smell of sperm.
Afterward we joined Dave on the couch while Katelyn swung her legs up the wall. We talked. It was uniquely intimate. The second night was more perfunctory. On the third night we were fighting, and on the fourth night we were drunk. On the fifth and final night, Dave was tired of being dragged all over town and elected to check out from a party early. “You can go,” Katelyn said, “but make sure to leave a deposit on the night table.”
On one of those nights, it took. Katelyn was pregnant. Florida law changed just in time for us to be married before we had the baby. This made the adoption process, slightly easier and less expensive. Hank was born. He is now nearly 2-yeard old. I love him. My family loves him. Our families are all a little bit closer. We see Dave more often, and sometimes we call him Uncle Dave, though it’s hard to gauge what he feels about that. We see his parents a lot more often. After a rocky start (they are weird), they have become some of our favorite people.
As for me, I didn’t know how I’d take to parenting. But Hank calls me mama now, and it’s the best and most natural thing in the world. I definitely love him more than I love the cats.
This is a story of my son’s conception. I hope he likes it.