I found out about my “donor daddy” at age 10, in a trailer where my kid brother, my mother and I were effectively camping out with her then boyfriend. She was in the process of divorcing the abusive, alcoholic man I believed to be our father and had packed us up two weeks previously to join her love interest, a traveling lumberjack entertainer, on the road while we hid from her ex. She had gathered us around their bed and gently explained that she used “guppies” from a “donor daddy” to make us — that we weren’t her ex’s children. I couldn’t tell you in hindsight whether she spilled the beans at that moment to cushion the blow of losing for good the only father we’d ever known or to keep us from resenting her lover or both, but we took the news in stride and never brought it up again.
Until that point, I had been a daddy’s girl in every way. I had fond memories of cooking with my supposed father every night, sitting on his lap while he read to me and relishing the treats and gift from him that we couldn’t tell Mommy about. I wasn’t fazed when he engaged in more self-serving, hands-on bonding time that we also couldn’t tell Mommy about; I suppose I felt like I was reciprocating and was happy to make my Daddy feel good. When my mother packed us up and led us through a rat’s maze of court-ordered therapy and “show me on the doll where he touched you” sessions, assuring us time and again that Daddy just had to go away, I couldn’t help but resent her a bit. My Daddy was my world.
Ten years later, my mother has been divorced from her lumberjack, also an alcoholic, for six years, and my brother and I have emerged ostensibly well-rounded adults in spite of a series of “bad daddies” as my mother calls them. I’ve had enough time to put the pieces of my origins together to have an objective, if somewhat cynical view of my parentage. I’d learned in time that, at ages 39 and 62, my mother and her husband had opted to use a sperm donor after 10 years of infertility treatments, when it became clear that his 20-year-old vasectomy was not reversible enough to conceive. They had then selected the sperm of a 21-year-old architecture student from California with blond hair, blue eyes and a smart-ass personality off a Build-A-Baby Workshop catalog for my conception, later seeking the same donor out again when they went to conceive my brother. “For spare parts,” my mother said.
My mother urged me to seek out my donor’s information when I turned 18 — she was more curious than I was and had nothing to lose. I filed the paperwork with the sperm bank shortly after my 18th birthday to request as much information as possible about Donor 1127, only to have the bank respond that my donor did not wish to volunteer any further information. I don’t blame the guy — who wants to be haunted by their questionable tactics to make a quick buck in college?
I don’t speak of my parentage except in a joking sense. I’ve grown accustomed to life without a father and don’t like to admit to the dreaded “daddy issues.” I may be depressed, I may have had a phase where I bought the love of men with promiscuity, I may feel forced out of nature, I may dread having my own children and passing on my mystery genes and insert stereotype here, but I’m not consciously trying to fill a father shaped void.
I do, however, have a bone to pick with the market that creates these situations. Call me old fashioned, but I find donor conception an incredibly selfish practice on the part of the parents. It used to be that couples who couldn’t conceive the biblical way adopted one of the thousands of needy children in the world in order to fulfill their desire for a child. The couple got a bundle of joy, and the adopted child got a loving home it would not otherwise have. Donor conception carries the intrinsic, unspoken premise that engineering a half-you, half-stranger baby that is “yours” is preferable to raising an existing child, that your forced offspring is more worthy of your love than another child. Instead of making a child’s dream of a family come true, this system makes a family’s dream of a child come true. The only one who doesn’t get a say in the latter deal is the child. With adoption, you are making the best of the raw deal life dealt a child. With donor conception, you are creating that raw deal as the byproduct of a selfish desire to pass on your genes any way possible.
There is coldness surrounding my conception, when I bother to think about it. I was not the latent effect of mutual attraction and passion between two people, as most children are. I was not a mistake or an accident, happy or unhappy. I was carefully planned, my traits were picked out of a catalog, my conception was the result of an oversized turkey baster and prayer. My mother never fails to remind me how much time and money she spent to bring me into the world, as most any mother is wont to do to some degree. She doesn’t know it, but I feel deeply indebted to her, as though I owe it to her to live up to her expectations and vicarious whims because my life is not mine to lead as I please — she purchased it from the Build-A-Baby Workshop. It’s the same kind of loyalty and sense of indenture that Sally the Rag Doll must have felt towards Dr. Finklestein in Nightmare Before Christmas. Don’t get me wrong; I love my mother and don’t begrudge her desire to be a mother. I just wish she had gone about it differently. I wish other prospective parents would go about it differently. The same rules should apply to making children as they do to failing to spay or neuter animals: to breed more when so many are in need of good homes, all for the sake of pursuing that perfect personality or appearance, is irresponsible.