We asked you to send us your stories about being truly unstoppable lesbian moms, and the following essay by Lynne Marie is our contest winner! Thank you to everyone who submitted essays — you all are seriously unstoppable, and brilliant and inspiring and I want to be your best friend and hear all your stories all the time. —Laneia
I can’t remember if it was the first shipment of sperm that got stuck in California or if we’d already tried once by then.
It seems like I’d remember. But those early days just blur together now.
Even the middle days are not so clear. That time we tried in the doctor’s office in the middle of the workday? We’d been at it more than a year already. I wore a navy linen dress and came back to campus afterward to meet with my new boss. Did the semen really trickle down my crotch as I set my face in a shape of curious attentiveness? It seems unlikely, what with the vial being smaller than a thimble and the insemination having gone directly into my uterus. But I remember stickiness and linen, the bruised internal feeling that follows a speculum, and my desperate lack of interest in anything but the collision of sperm and egg.
The weekend the sperm got lost, Peach brought Tizzy up from New York to visit. I told Liz that Tizzy was our London friend who came to the states all the time to visit her various lovers and friends from college, when she travelled the U.S. as a footballer. I didn’t tell her how attractive and funny and flirty Tizzy was. It was fun to see Liz blanch as they came off the bus.
“You didn’t tell me she was cute,” she snipped.
It would have been a good weekend if I hadn’t had a god-awful cold, if we hadn’t decided to stop eating everything delicious — wheat, dairy, meat — if I wasn’t so worried about the damned sperm. At lunch at P&E’s I ordered the hummus platter without the whole wheat roll, even though everybody knows the whole wheat roll is the best thing on the menu. I was so congested all I could taste was the lemon I squeezed onto everything. I was so feverish I wondered how I was going to walk home.
I kept thinking, “I only get to see Tizzy every few years, I should be enjoying this more.”
I kept thinking, “I wonder where my damned sperm is?”
I left Peach and Tiz in town with Liz and went home to hunt down my sperm. It should have been waiting for me in our back hall on Friday, and here it was Saturday and no one knew where it was. I called the nice girls at the sperm bank again. Finally someone called me back.
“We found it,” she said. “It’s at the Oakland Airport.”
Whenever I think about that shipment, I imagine a silver canister of liquid nitrogen tagged with universal biohazard labels circling endlessly on a baggage carousel, all the other luggage anxiously pulling away from it.
Most of the lesbians I know got pregnant on the first try. This is not actually normal but it kept happening, so it seemed normal. Also all of the women in my department at the University got pregnant. We laughed at staff meetings and said, “It must be in the water.”
I drank the water, but I didn’t get pregnant on the first try. Or the second or third, either.
The process of figuring out when to buy the sperm was challenging. I had to take my vaginal temperature every day and track it on some kind of chart. Also, there was a very fancy ovulation predictor we bought at Walmart that tracked things automatically. We hated to buy anything at Walmart, but that’s where the fancy ovulation predictors were, so we braved the bright lights and wide aisles.
I had to pee on a special stick every day during the middle weeks of my cycle then push the pee-stick into a slot in the computer. It would tell me whether or not I was ovulating. It could tell me when I was approaching ovulation. But it couldn’t ever tell me exactly how many more days it would be before I ovulated. So I still had to guess about when the sperm should come out of the freezer in Oakland, be placed into the canister of liquid nitrogen, and get sent to the airport.
Samantha gave me a hard time about buying the ovulation predictor and the pee-sticks at Walmart. “I bet you could order them online,” she said, after I’d concluded I couldn’t. She’d put a fair amount of energy into trying to fight Walmart coming to her little town and they’d come anyway, so I wanted to cut her some slack.
But I had to think: “You can get sperm from that husband of yours any time you want. I’ve got one chance a month and I’m gonna be damned sure it gets here on the right day.”
A year after we hooked up, Liz and I stuffed her belongings into a rental car and drove over the bridge to my apartment in Brooklyn so we could bank her rent and plot our escape from New York. It wasn’t long after that until we borrowed my dad’s wood-paneled station wagon and drove out to see a financial advisor in some leafy Connecticut suburb. He came highly recommended by an evangelical Christian on my job. He assumed that we would adopt in a future so distant we didn’t need to start saving for it, but that we’d need a $30,000 car soon. Our combined income was under $100,000. We set up bank drafts that sucked most of both paychecks into mutual funds every week.
Liz flattened a woodchuck driving home from the Christian financial adviser’s office. She couldn’t swerve without causing an accident on the parkway, so she aimed that tank of a car right over its doomed, slow-moving bulk with tears streaming down her face.
There is a sperm bank within 100 miles from our home, an entirely drivable distance, but it didn’t have an identity release program. The identity release bank we chose, over three thousand miles away, offered the largest available catalog of sperm donors willing to be contacted by their future progeny upon the child’s 18th birthday at the child’s request. These donors’ vials had a surcharge for the privilege of an option that might never be taken. In the online catalog these donors are marked “yes” in the identity release field. We came to think of them as “yes donors.”
I’m supposed to say that there are lots of ways to make a family — that “yes donors” are right for some families and “no donors” for others, and some dykes just get knocked up by a good friend or neighbor, and that’s a great choice too. But there was never any choice about it for me. I could not know my donor. I did not want even the shadow of a parent other than me or Liz. I feared the whispering presence of grandparents or siblings. I wanted legal-clad certainty that he could never initiate a shift from donor to dad.
I wanted him to be sure, as sure as a person can possibly be, that he was just giving me sperm. Even if what I got was was a baby.
But as deeply as I knew that I wanted to be knocked up by a stranger, I had no idea what my kid — my imagined, wished for, yet un-conceived kid — might want. What if he wanted a father? What if she needed another family? What if my child was so different from me that he needed to know the other side of the equation, where his personality originated? What if she was so curious that she couldn’t stand part of her own self being a mystery?
What if, in some future so far away I couldn’t even imagine it, my child—a person who didn’t even exist yet needed to know?
The Zen koan asks, “What was the shape of your face, before your mother or father was born?”
We chose “yes.” We paid the freight.
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.