Since You Asked: The Story Of Our Baby's Sperm Donor : The Baby Project Jolivette Mecenas begins the story of how she and her partner, Charlyne, chose their son's donor.
NPR logo Since You Asked: The Story Of Our Baby's Sperm Donor

Since You Asked: The Story Of Our Baby's Sperm Donor

Jolivette and Charlyne Courtesy of Peggy Tran-Le hide caption

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Courtesy of Peggy Tran-Le

Jolivette and Charlyne

Courtesy of Peggy Tran-Le

As we get closer to my guesstimate delivery date, we are duly preparing, putting together a bassinet and folding ridiculously tiny clothing into a dresser. But other thoughts concern me, such as how and when we will tell our son about his willing-to-be-known donor. The topic is challenging enough when explaining to inquisitive friends and relatives.

"How did it happen?"

"How did what happen?"

"How did, you know, you get pregnant?" my 22-year old cousin asks me, wide-eyed, after I tell her the news. She's happy for me and Charlyne, yet she — like an old high school friend, an aunt, a grad school friend, my 85-year-old grandma, and other relatives and acquaintances with whom I have not been immediately forthcoming about such details — is curious as hell.

"Well, there's an egg and there's a sperm, see, and when they meet ..." I tease her. She shakes her head and interrupts me.

About Jolivette

Jolivette Mecenas, 38, lives with her partner, Charlyne, in Los Angeles. The two welcomed their first child, Maximilian Dominic Mecenas-Sarmiento, on Aug. 17.

"I know that, but ..."

"You want the details, like who the donor is, and how his sperm met my egg, and all that? Well, we're keeping that information private for now."

My cousin respects this, and I'm surprised at how easy it is to maintain our privacy. When previously asked by others, I've felt compelled to answer, only to find myself peppered with more questions that make me feel uncomfortable and scrutinized for our decisions.

I'm not complaining about friends who seek information about fertility processes; those women I will gladly speak with. I'm talking about people who don't find it rude to ask us personal questions about how we conceived our baby, just because there isn't an identifiable male in the equation. Sometimes, I regret being so candid because I end up feeling judged and questioned by someone who clearly does not think I'm competent to make decisions about my own reproductive life.

I often wonder why some people feel entitled to ask how I got pregnant. I would never dream of asking an expectant mother or couple for the details of conception, like asking a heterosexual couple, "What position did you use, and how many tries did it take?" Or, "How can you be sure it's his sperm?"

Answer: None of your business! Likewise, if I want people to know the details of our conception, I would voluntarily confide that information, as I confided to my parents and my closest friends.

I do realize that for some people, these questions spring from harmless ignorance, which is why I volunteered to be part of The Baby Project, to help bring alternative stories into the national conversation. So for this post, I will begin telling the story of our son's donor. Hopefully, this will help me prepare to tell him the story when he's ready to hear it. And maybe it will help others understand that even two moms deserve privacy, and the right to tell (or not tell) their story as it feels right to them.

Courtesy of Jolivette Mecenas
A closeup of Jolivette and Charlyne
Courtesy of Jolivette Mecenas

A year ago, when we first started talking about getting pregnant, we decided that I would be the first birth mom. I had been having motherhood pangs since my late 20s, and I was finally ready. I'm also eight years older than Charlyne, who will celebrate her 30th birthday next month. And I was feeling fantastically fertile! All added up, I was naturally first up to bat, and we began to compose "the list." We compiled a list of men with whom, we believed, propagation would result in a favorable mix of genes: a cute and talented baby.

I've been composing these lists ever since junior high. During Sunday Mass, I would imagine that the Soviets suddenly launched a nuclear attack on America. But for some reason, God spared everyone inside St. Joseph's church in the San Fernando Valley from nuclear annihilation (this was in 1985, at the height of Cold War jitters). Thus, it was up to me to help start the human race anew. Pretending to listen to the priest's sermon, I would scope out boys with whom I would be willing to reboot humanity with (in my sensible opinion) good-looking, smart and peaceful humans. Who liked ice cream. And Van Halen.

Twenty-five years later, I'm playing my old game for real, minus the nuclear holocaust narrative and penchant for spandex-clad rockers. I compile a list of eligible friends (gay and straight), and Charlyne does the same. We compare and finally arrive at a short list of potential donors who represent a range of ethnicities, professions, temperaments and physical attributes. They are all men we like and respect, and who may be game enough to help us out in our baby-making endeavor. We are also looking for someone who would be a good male role model, but not necessarily a super-involved daddy figure — maybe an "uncle" of sorts.

We began to realize that this last criteria — that the known donor/friend be emotionally present enough to be a good role model, but distant enough to relinquish parenthood — was probably an impossible thing to ask of a friend. Also, the legal questions were troubling, especially for Charlyne as the non-birth mother. In the end, we gave up our list of known donors, and decided to explore the services of a sperm bank and fertility center.

It never occurred to me that we were being selfish by "depriving" our child of having a father, as some people have since suggested. I know so many people who have either been raised by single mothers, or who are raising their children as a single parent. These people have wonderfully loving family structures, despite the absence of the bio father (who in some cases is considered a "donor"). I was confident that Charlyne and I could provide the same as a two-parent family.

But where do we begin? One day I'm looking at a friend's photos of her West Hollywood softball team posted online, and I realize that their sponsor, as advertised on their jerseys, is a lesbian-owned sperm bank and fertility clinic, located in a nearby city.

Ingenious advertising! We easily find the website, and the journey begins.

Coming up in the second part of this story: obsessive charting, finally learning about reproduction, and finding community for children with LGBT parents.