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So, I’m sitting in my fertility doctor’s office when I discover that becoming a single mom by choice is a fertility issue — and all my appointments are covered through OHIP. “Of course you have a fertility issue,” the doctor says, “You have a lack of sperm.”

Indeed. A familiar story but choosing said sperm — a donor — is not easy for me. I thought online dating was weird! So I decide to make a ritual out of this surreal experience; I order take-out Indian food and let the Rioja flow, while my friend Megan acts as my “wing man.”

The sound of donor voices describing their favourite family memories pours through my Radio Shack speakers. And just like dating sites there are photos! All the donors are pictured as either babies or toddlers – so you can get an idea of your future baby, I guess. Dozens of chubby-cheeked boys in bubble baths or baseball jerseys, bat in hand. Blondes or gingers, sometimes freckled but always smiling.

It surprises me what ends up catching my attention. Not the hard statistics of donor weight, height, parent medical history or GPA but the human thread, like the toddler in cherry red OshKosh B’gosh overalls. “His mom took care to dress him well,” I said.

“So…?” asked Megan asked. It means he had a great childhood. He’s a good person. How’s that for a stretch? But it’s true: all these ‘non-facts’ translate more to me than my potential donor’s blood type.

I didn’t choose him or anyone else that night, perhaps because I came across the clinic’s promotional video to lure donors. The shot is of a handsome coed on an Ivy League campus who addresses the viewer about his brother’s fertility issues, and his wish to become a donor after seeing his family’s happiness when his nephew arrived. Then the actor/donor pauses and adds,  “Yeah, and it helps with school too …”

Of course it did. American donors get paid, unlike in Canada (which explains why there are so few sperm donors in this country). Sperm donation is not an altruistic pursuit — it’s a business, and business is booming. This was an aspect I needed to overcome. It was crystallized for me when one sperm bank employee suggested I select a donor with six reported live births. “He’s very potent,” the employee said.

What was I ordering — a stud?

I poured another glass of wine and reviewed the PDFs of the ‘good ones’ Megan and I had tabulated. She promptly suggested we eliminate the donor whose favourite food was sandwiches “because they’re portable.” But she marked a star next to one whose voice was steady and calm and who was actually born in the 90s. It turns out I’m the ultimate Cougar.

The evening ended with me tossing and turning under a blanket on the couch, while Megan slept away happily upstairs in my room. How could I be sure of any of the donors, or what they said, if this was all just some marketing hoopla? Who was I to take advantage of staggering tuition rates that left a generation of men with seemingly no choice but to hand over their genetic history?  It felt gross.

That steady and calm 90s guy kept popping up. He was – as a clinic employee recommended – the exact opposite of anyone I’d ever dated. In talking about his goals and his hobbies, he managed to communicate an earnestness I respected.

I decided to put the donor selection on hold. Like much of this journey, it was two steps forwards and one step back. I wasn’t ready to click the site shopping cart icon to order my vial for my baby. I returned to High Park for my ritual weekend walk. The trees were now barren, waiting to be sprinkled with the first snow.

As much as sperm donorship had become a business, it was no different than any other human ritual usurped by capitalism, like a funeral — or a wedding. Being a business was not where it ended, that was only a small piece of it. My future child was bigger than this – life is bigger than this. The divine transcends our human constructs. It didn’t matter how my child came to be, he or she was a spiritual force somewhere out there and if this was the vehicle through which our lives were to be joined, then this was the vehicle. I embraced my inner Cougar.

That guy – the one who was the opposite of anyone I’d ever dated – kept popping up in my head. His photo resurfaced and his voice replayed, night after night, on my speakers. I was waiting to find something I didn’t like, and I couldn’t. I had found my guy.

Mary B. Valencia is a writer and comedian. She lives with her son in Toronto. More ‘Not What I Expected’ here.

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