Adventures in (Lesbian) Baby-Making

When I got the timing right, the shipment would arrive the day before I got the ovulation signal on the fancy predictor. Then Liz would fish the tiny vial out of the liquid nitrogen vapor tank and defrost it in a cup of warm water. She’d pry off the tiny top — smaller than a pencil eraser — and pull the contents into a needle-less syringe that the sperm bank helpfully included in every shipment. Then she’d insert the syringe into my vagina and press the plunger.

We’d heard that it was a good idea to have sex when you inseminated, because the contractions of orgasm supposedly encourage the little spermies in there swimming. But it was always bad sex. Even when we lit candles, the room felt uncomfortably bright. We felt awkward and intrusively intimate, not like we were sharing something sacred and transgressive and exciting. More like one of us had walked in on the other in the bathroom.


In 1998, we fled New York in a seven-year-old Honda Civic that we drove for another decade.

I would write the sperm bank a check for $500 or more of our “car fund” every month for two and a half years.


When we didn’t get the timing exactly right, I had to find a place to stash the sperm before the liquid nitrogen expired. That meant driving to Springfield to put the vials into the freezer at Wesson Women’s Clinic. This was the shadiest part of the whole project: putting my sperm on ice for another month.

I would throw the R2D2-looking canister into the back seat of my car like a toddler’s booster seat. I eschewed valet parking at the hospital but still had to wrangle my little robot past the uniformed valet on my way into the building. When I’d heaved it down the corridor, an invariably unsmiling, white female technician would come to the service window. It may have been the same tech every time or an interchangeable collection of unmemorable women.

“Whose sperm is this?” she asked me once. Maybe it was the first time.

“It’s mine,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. I had paid for it. No one else was coming to get it.

I had to register as a patient of the hospital every time I dropped off my sperm. That meant fifteen minutes on the phone during which a much more gentle and refined, if automated, female voice would ask me a series of questions.

Each time I wondered how it might affect my sperm that my choice of religion was “Unitarian Universalist.”

Sometimes we ordered more than one vial and stashed the second at Wesson’s to save a buck. It was a gamble: if I got knocked up on the first try, the second vial wasn’t necessary. But a month of freezer service was cheaper than a cross-country shipment. In our flush of optimism at the beginning it seemed like a wasteful gamble. By the end it started to feel like a good value.


Eventually the romance of trying to get pregnant in our own home wore off and we decided to up the odds by having a doctor do it. For a fee, the sperm bank “washed” our thimble full of semen, removing everything except the sperm. I had to arrange to meet the doctor on call at the office the moment my pee-stick gadget gave me the go-ahead.

It was a cold February Sunday with a steely sky and a cold dull rain when we met Dr. Diane at her Amherst office after church. She drove right up in her little SUV and unlocked the doors for us all. I’ve got a squirrely cervix, and Dr. Ed had warned me that they might need to hold it still with a clamping device to thread the catheter through the cervical os.

The bright white room tipped when the tenaculum gripped my cervix. I was lying down but I was falling. Did I yelp like a hurt animal? Did I shout? The doctor stopped, one hand steadying the instrument that tore at the core of my body, the other frozen in mid-air.

“Don’t. Stop. Now!” I hissed with the crazy fury of pain.

Later, when I told Jill about the tenaculum and the horrifying pain, she said, “You have already taken your first act of motherly courage.”

On the slushy grey cement just after it happened, bent over a blunt and echoing ache, this is what I knew: that would be the last time.


Roxy had been a lesbian for 25 years when she started dating Rat Boy. We called him Rat Boy because he came to the Halloween party dressed as a rat. Also because we didn’t like him. Some of us slept with men and some of us slept with women but if somebody slept with someone we didn’t like, we weren’t very nice about it.

Ric called me at work in the early winter.

“Roxy’s pregnant,” she hissed. “It should have been you!” She kept saying it, over and over. “It should have been you!”

I hung up on her so I could go cry in the ladies’ room.


I’m not going to tell you why I had to grow a person in my body because I don’t know. I don’t know why my family couldn’t start with a trip to China or Nepal or Ukraine or the over-flowing U.S. foster care system. I don’t know why I needed a stranger’s sperm to meet an egg in my uterus, a zygote to push itself into the spongy wet red lining of my womb and grow there. I don’t know why I didn’t need to know. I needed money for sperm and a freezer to keep it in and syringes to push it into my uterus. I needed doctors to sign forms that said they were supervising my efforts and I needed Liz to open the liquid nitrogen with her gardening gloves on. I needed the cash price of a Lexus in the bank, and in the end I needed a tenaculum to hold my cervix still while the catheter went in, but I didn’t ever need to know why I wanted to have a baby.


I’ve only bought one other thing at Walmart in my life: A pair of plain white little girl’s panties. They were on the ballet school’s list of items required for my daughter to perform in the Nutcracker. We were down to the wire. I wasn’t going to be the mama whose reindeer’s polka-dot panties were showing as she pranced in front of Clara’s sleigh.

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Lynne Marie Wanamaker is an anti-violence educator, a writer, a graduate student, a lay-preacher and a mama. She lives with her wife and daughter in an old house in New England. She identifies as a cisgendered white queer of working class origin and is grateful to Autostraddle for helping her rock a fluid gender presentation. Lynne Marie writes about self defense at Ms. Fit: Real World Feminist Fitness and is the lead author of the Say Something Superhero Field Guide: A Manual for Eliminating Interpersonal Violence. Find her at www.lmwsafe.com.

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29 Comments

  1. This is such a well written, powerful piece of writing! I enjoyed hearing your story and went along for the whole ride with you. Your writing voice is so strong. I’m happy that in the end everything worked out for you. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Damn, that entire experience sounds extremely stressful, like it was a nightmare. I appreciated the little bits of humor throughout your post, though, that added a dash of levity to the harrowing depiction of what you were going through logistically and medically. And I’m glad that you persevered and in the end got what it was you so deeply wanted!

    I will say I personally would have preferred not to see the gender essentialist assumptions that cropped up in a couple of your paragraphs. I can’t really fault you, though, because this IS your story and you obviously need to honestly relate what is was like for you. Also, your gender essentialism is no more extreme than that of pretty much anyone else who writes about sperm donation. It does come with the territory, but I still figured it wouldn’t hurt for me to mention my view on it.

      • Some dykes get knocked up by their girlfriends, Heather.

        Some straight couples need donors.

        And women (and other non-men) can be sperm donors, too. So, access to the sperm donor would not necessarily result in a father, and all of this referring to the unknown donor as a dude could be totally inaccurate.

        • Oooookay.
          So I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but as someone who has donated her eggs, I kind of doubt that a sperm donation agency would accept sperm from a trans woman/non-binary sperm-having person. Gay men are not allowed to donate per the FDA, so I’m sure that if a trans woman is straight the agency would view it the same way? Also, taking hormones would probably also disqualify a person from donating. These agencies don’t just accept anyone’s sperm (same for egg donors). They have a whole list of disqualifications, and they can refuse anyone for any reason they want. So the chances of a sperm-having person donating sperm while living as a woman is very very small. I mean, maybe you’re talking about sperm donors who transition after they donate? Because that’s plausible, I guess.
          For the record, it’s a lot tougher to donate eggs as a lesbian, too, and I’m almost 100% sure egg donation agencies would not accept eggs from a trans guy.

        • I don’t know about Shaed, Woya, but I’m personally already well aware of what you’re saying. And honestly, I don’t need a non-trans woman teaching me about the nature of my own oppression. (I’m not sure exactly how Shaed identifies, but they appear to be trans* also according to their profile.)

          For the record, “sperm donation” doesn’t just refer to sperm banks. There are plenty of person-to-person, private donations between people who know each other (although I’m aware that to many cis dykes the concept of “knowing” a trans woman–as opposed to just talking about us in one’s queer studies class–sounds pretty strange and foreign). But anyway, all you really need for this to work is a syringe–which is pretty easy to get–and a trans woman to donate sperm, a trans woman who you like and trust.

          Which again, is where the problem generally arises for most cis queers.

  3. Thank you, you’ve successfully scared me away from attempting to carry a baby. I always thought it would be me, but now…I don’t know. My mother said the women in my family get pregnant at the thought of having sex, so I’m going to hope I take after them when or if that time comes.

  4. Thank you for your generous comments. I am so happy to share this story.

    Rebecca, I am interested to know more specifically about the specific “gender essentialist assumptions” you reference. As we say in our family, “everybody has things they are good at and everybody has working-on things.” Achieving a more complex understanding of gender–my own and the spectrum–is surely one of my “working-on” things. In that regard, I’m in a different place now than I was when I wrote this essay, and even more different than when I went through this experience. For example, in talking about my not-yet-conceived child I used the pronouns “he” and “she” as if that was inclusive. Today I’d probably use “they.” But that was accurate to my thinking then. I’m not sure how you are supposed to handle that in memoir.

    It’s also true that the context of the whole assisted-fertility/sperm donation adventure, especially the medical aspects, was profoundly gender- and hetero-normative. I hope some of the alienation I felt as a queer in that context came through.

    And, I wanted to tell Jessie–yes, the process of getting knocked-up was scary, confusing, frustrating, sad, painful, expensive and long. It tested my faith and determination, but that’s what makes those things stronger, right? This essay is only part of the story–maybe the smallest part. I loved being pregnant. I found childbirth a profoundly transcendent experience. And motherhood is the greatest journey of my life. I am humbled and exalted by it every day, sometimes in the same moment.

    • Well, Lynn Marie, I thought your essay was very good and engrossing. I’m not interested in really distracting from it by getting into some sort of in-depth discussion about gender. But the short of it is: not all sperm donors are guys. I’m not sure if you are aware of this fact or not, but no awareness of it is conveyed in your essay. Which is fine. It’s your life, and you can write about it in whatever you want, in whatever way is accurate to your experience.

      • I’m going to respect your boundary about not starting a conversation about gender here and just say: Yes, absolutely. You make an important point.

        Thank you for clarifying what you meant. I take writing feedback, and the comments section at Autostraddle, very seriously. Thanks for reading/writing.

  5. Cheers for this, Lynne Marie / Autostraddle. Once you make the thoughtful decision to become a parent it’s hard to know where to begin – as a lesbian.

    I’m in the early stages of this and it is so overwhelming. Full of advice from a heteronormative perspective, awkward conversations with strangers and serious expense (and discrimination) if you need fertility treatment…

    Not to mention the fear of dealing with medical people when you are (considered) “technically” a virgin. Also transvaginal ultrasounds :-( The near silence surrounding the intricacies of this process, for your average ‘gold star’ lesbian makes it scary and isolating.

    LGBT / feminist circles seem to pander to those who either love to pretend they hate babies, or those who are personally repelled by any conversation that connects women with reproduction. I’d like to see this attitude evolve, as it is doing women/mothers no favours and is denying a reality for most of us.

    I guess my point is… we need to talk more about baby making. :-)

    • Just my two cents, but it’s not a requirement of the human condition to love babies. Some people authentically do not want them, but enjoy seeing them/being around them. And some people authentically hate them. Any disinterest in parenting or carrying a baby you’re seeing isn’t “pretending” and your insinuating that shows why people don’t want what they feel like is their (feminist, LGBT, or whatever) space invaded by “parenting” information, which is actually value-imposition and condescension. At the same time, I would be totally fine/happy/supportive of parenting columns or resources on Autostraddle/other LGBT websites, as long as they are respective of ALL people’s gender identities, sexualities, values, and life decisions.

      • What amanda said, because my guy reaction dealing with the questions of when I’m going to fulfill this “biological imperative” and make babies is quite exhausting (and eye-roll inducing). I crave for spaces that don’t push that mandate in my face but I do think there is space here in AS to include concerns and worries about queer baby making.

        Besides, I got a lot of of this other than, “no thanks I’ll adopt a dog.” I found this nice and and thought-provoking.

  6. This was actually really beautiful, and spoke to all the fears and feelings I have about one day trying to procreate (especially all the feelings about sperm. Gah, sperm. I really like to convince myself that by the time I’m ready to pop out a kid, that changing-the-female-bone-marrow-into-sperm thing will be an easy, accessible thing for lady lovers. I don’t like the thought of buying something that is the result of some random guy jerking off into a cup. Gross). I am SO happy for you that there was a happy ending, though. Gives me so much hope that it’ll all be worth it.

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