Sperm Shopping

We bought sperm! We bought 6 vials (to be exact) because the sperm bank gives you a deal if you buy in bulk. I kid you not. Costco-sperm.

As it turns out, there are deals to be done at every corner when sperm shopping.

Norse and I sat down a few weeks ago on a Thursday night with a pumpkin ale, signed into the Xytex sperm bank, and planned to max-out our free 24 hour open-access subscription to the site. We heard from some queer parents that they sat down for the free trail, drank wine, and chose sperm. While we were not going to limit ourselves to the free trial timeline, there seemed to be no better way to start the process– especially since, after the first 24 free hours, the bank charges $195 for a 3-month subscription to an unlimited numbers of profiles, images, personal essays, and medical histories.

Choosing sperm is not easy. Sperm is not just sperm. It is attached to mostly young men with pictures, lives, histories, families, ideologies, ideals, ambitions, and grammar mistakes. Many want to help “couples like you” or “people with infertility problems.” Most name their dad’s as their heroes, write about their dedication to sports and frats, and I can’t image that many think that they’ll be helping people like us.

The trouble with sperm is that no deal, not even 24 free hours, can distract you from the fact that you don’t have what you need to make a baby, and because of the intricate mix of government regulation and private medical profit-making, you must shop online for a chance at growing your family. You must sift through essays that assume your heterosexuality, and that frame your class-privileged choice to buy $595 + shipping per vial of sperm through the benevolence and charity of young, white, cis, hetero college men trying to pay off their debt to the academic industrial complex.

That evening, we looked through every sperm donor, made a list of potential winners, and came up with one we both thought was “the one.” It was easy in that we both agreed he was the best on offer. It was difficult in that we had to include another person in our process.

I can’t describe what it feels like to think about putting a random young white guy’s sperm inside of me. And to pay for it. Over and again. And without any guarantees. Mostly, right now, I am just sad.

Thank goodness for goofy baby pictures of sperm donors. I am convinced that this is why you are given a free trial to access extended profiles, which include baby pictures, because you need to laugh in between gulps of beer and tears.

When we’ve shared this experience with friends and family, they have all been excited to see the picture of our donor. Some have talked about it as ‘great data’ (oh, academics), and others have commented on the process as if it is somehow exotic or enviable. This makes me feel like our life is edutainment.

Not many have asked how we’re coping with the process– because it is a process.

It is technical, expensive, lacks intimacy, spontaneity, and at times joy. It involves shipping dates and pick-ups, credit cards and the obsessive tracking for signs of ovulation.

But, it is ours, and we are reconsidering how we share it with others.

The Letter

A few weeks ago I received the much-awaited snail-mailed letter from the fertility clinic with a date for our first consult. We’re officially booked in for December 21st! For those counting, it took us 6 months from the date of referral to the date of our consult. Yes, queer/trans* “trying” takes a really, really long time.

In September, I called the clinic to confirm our referral and was told that they could not process the request. They suggested that they could not read my “husband’s name” on the form, and left it in their fax machine to be returned to our GP. This was a terribly upsetting phone call, and we were disheartened by our first contact with the clinic.

When the letter finally came, I was surprised to see that it was only addressed to me. My name was on the outside of the envelope and on the letter itself. My partner’s name was nowhere to be found on the letter, and there was no mention of partners (or husbands, for that matter) anywhere.

There was, however, another form for us to fill out, which looks almost exactly like the referral form. This one gives an option for the patient to note their maiden name, as well as their current first and last names. While the form uses the language of “partner,” there is no place on the form for the partner to note their maiden name. Hetero/sexism is (sometimes) sneaky.

This letter is another reminder of the hoops we will continue to jump through as we engage with the private medical industrial project. We have heard some truly terrible things about the clinic’s services, or lack of services, but we are trying to remain hopeful that our experience will somehow be different.

Here is a list of some of the most problematic experiences that queer and trans* folks who have engaged with the clinic have told us about:

  • A individual was charged for a diagnosis of “infertile” for having no sperm with which to impregnate her partner
  • The sperm donor was consistently referred to as “the father,” but the couple had no plan to include him in their family structure
  • The clinic requires a pap test for the non-carrying partner, and non-carrying partners have been treated as a “back-up” even if they have no intention of carrying
  • The clinic includes, and charges for, unnecessary services such as internal ultrasounds, fallopian tube-blockage testing, and a host of blood work without evidence of fertility issues
  • The clinic did not inform a couple about the lack of availability of their shipping department over an extended Christmas holiday break at the clinic, and they missed trying during a cycle
  • Pronouns have not been respected
  • Service by receptionists, nurses, and doctors has been everything from unfriendly to hostile
  • A couple stopped using the clinic’s services after 2 of 3 cycles and they never contacted the couple to follow-up
  • One couple who became pregnant through the clinic was given their pregnancy test abruptly and left the clinic without a word of congratulations or a check-in
  • No couple I have spoken to has ever heard from the clinic to follow-up on pregnancy, complications, carrying to term, live births, or the like

The last issue is one I mention very tentatively, because this is something I have heard in the community, but have not spoken directly to anyone who has experienced this kind of discrimination:

  • The clinic refuses to extract eggs or sperm, and will not store either for trans people, but they do so for cancer patients

I am beginning the initial stages of a research project on the barriers to fertility clinics for queer and trans people in Canada. At this point, I expect to find that this clinic is no different than others across the country. The private nature of sperm banks and fertility clinics means that they are unaccountable to the communities they serve, and may not be invested in changing the way they do business with the queer and trans* community.

However, there are (somewhat) good news stories!

In Ontario, the first round of IVF will now be covered by provincial health care, which is incredible given the expense and inaccessibility of such procedures. However, this new policy is completely fatphobic and ageist. While provincial coverage includes LGBT individuals and couples, it excludes “the severely obese and anyone over 42.” Awesome.

Also in Ontario, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo has introduced a bill to make parental recognition inclusive and fair for LGBTTQ* individuals. For trans men who give birth, this will mean that they do not have to register as the “mother” of their child/ren. Additionally, there will be no need to seek court approval for parental rights or adoption as all co-parents will be able to sign as parents on birth registries regardless of biological connection. Finally, children will not be refused medical coverage and other benefits based on their lack of biological connection/lack of parental recognition of a parent. Let’s hope it passes.