1. Warning: Live Sperm Inside
Every lesbian who has the mama bug wants healthy sperm, but I wanted articulate sperm. I didn’t need a picture. I found a sperm bank that required donors to compose essays that expressed their opinions about families. And the donor we chose wrote about helping lesbians who couldn’t have babies, providing them with a chance to move from sorrow to joy. My life before motherhood wasn’t a constant place of sadness, but I had wanted to be pregnant since I was a teenager. To create someone inside my body seemed like the ultimate high, and the easiest way to repair what had always been broken. It would be like playing God, but without the hot mess of the cross. Or it would seal me closer to the divine. But in my early twenties, I believed I needed an actual man to make and raise a child. That wacky philosophy dressed up in Christianity knotted me to a lie of heterosexuality. Years later, falling in love with both poetry and a pastry chef named Tammy, the myth of the indispensable man cracked. Love between two women has the power to unravel all kinds of lies.
“Buckle up, little fellows,” Tammy said as she secured the nitrogen tank in the back of our Volvo. She turned carefully out of the fertility clinic in Elmira, New York, bumping down the country road, past the quarter Laundromat and the feed store, to refill the tank at Natural Gas so our batch of six-hundred-dollar sperm wouldn’t die. Rusty American trucks with gun racks honked and passed us on both sides. Walking up to the warehouse door, Tammy and I cradled the end of a silver tank the size of a keg, which was labeled Warning: live sperm inside. I was afraid the Natural Gas employees would laugh at the sight of us. We would come to know them by name. But we didn’t know that then.
Tammy and I dove into the ritual of intrauterine insemination (IUI) three times in six months. It took tank after tank, blood test after blood test, ultrasound after ultrasound to determine the best window of ovulation. I could have filled an album with my eggs’ snapshots. Month after month felt like waiting for Godot. Like playing hopscotch blindfolded, counting and counting on one foot but not knowing if I was in the right square. I would have lined my eggs with red velvet and heart-shaped mirrors if that’s what turned sperm on.
We worked with a fertility clinic that separated fast swimmers from their more tortoise-like cousins. After giving me the highest dose of Clomid, they inserted the sperm through a catheter into my uterus, and I lay back on the scratchy white paper with my legs in the air for a half hour. I had taken to visualizing myself nursing, and teaching a little girl how to write. I had taken to reciting nursery rhymes in my head. As if I could will myself pregnant through image and meter. As if I was inventing a new rhythm method. As if the sperm would hear my recitation and swim faster.