Adoption Awareness Month (7)

Adoption Awareness Month (7)

Note:  This whole entire post is about how to get pregnant if you’re single.

After a year of frustration with lawyers and doctors and rules, I realized getting pregnant was not going to be as easy as I’d thought.  And mind you, I hadn’t even tried yet.  But it clearly wasn’t going to be a simple, single visit to a doctors’ office, and with my donor-friends newly married and expecting a baby themselves, I realized my plan would have to shift.  Just a little bit.  So I started looking at sperm banks.

The question of whether or not you want to know – and want your baby to know – the biological father is a really personal question, and the only really important one in deciding between a sperm bank and a known-donor.  For me, having my child know both of their biological parents was really important, so I stuck with the known-donor plan as long as I could.  Several men have still offered to be my sperm donor if I decide to try to get pregnant!  If I did try, I  still think it’s what I would prefer – to know the donor, to have that person’s friendship as part of my life and my baby’s life.

And of course, all this was 2009.  I was only 36.  Nowadays nobody worried about woman having a baby at 36.  Past 40, it does get a little trickier biologically.  So I’m not currently planning to try to get pregnant.  But I’m going to go ahead and write about it because 1) most people thinking about adoption have also thought about various alternative ways to get pregnant, 2) it was a big part of the process that brought me to adoption, and 3) the whole thing was totally epic and kind of neat and I hardly ever get to talk about it.

Here are some things I learned about working with a known-donor.

If you’re single and using a known donor, everyone you know will probably tell you this is insane.  You might not get the kind of “so-happy-for-you” emotional support that you want when you’re planning to start a family.   If you have a female partner, the known donor plan is much more socially acceptable!  As a single woman, though, it does beg a lot of questions about emotional complications.  If this person is going to father my child, why I am not in a relationship with him?  People will ask you that, over and over and over.  They’ll be giving him some serious shit, too, about “taking responsibility.”   Maybe you think, “Who cares!  It’s my life!” That kind of girl-vs-world attitude is a lot of fun when things are actually going well, but when things are rough you really do need some friends to lean on, and if they all think it’s a bad idea to begin with, you’re going to be crying alone into your pillow every time you get your period.  Not cool.  Having a baby, no matter how you get there, is one of those times when “Do I have the support of my friends and family?” is a very legitimate question to ask yourself.


Several Hollywood movies have popularized the idea that the guy goes into the bathroom, leaves his donation in a paper cup, and then the lady – well, any reasonably bright and capable woman can figure out a way to get the stuff where it needs to go.  Voila!  Pregnant!  However, if it doesn’t happen the first time, you need to ask yourself (and your donor) how many times are you willing to go through this?  Because it’s not like you’re in love and having sex.  It’s weird, and awkward, and inconvenient, and complicated.

Using a known donor with the help of a fertility clinic makes that a little bit simpler.

The advantages to the medical assistance are:

– You really do want to know that the sperm is “motile.”  Swimmin’ fast.  And you really do want to know that there are no STD risks.  And frankly, no matter how good a friend this is, all that stuff is probably better handled by a doctor because it’s very personal and connected to a dude’s sense of dude-ness and so on.

– They inject it straight into your uterus.  That’s called an IUI -intrauterine insemination – and it’s helpful because it gives the sperm a better chance.

– They get the guy’s medical-family-background information recorded, and that’s stuff your child is going to need to have on their medical records.

The disadvantages are:

– It’s unpleasant being in a doctor’s office.  This is where your baby’s life begins!  It’s not exactly romantic, though.  It’s cold and clinical and a little scary.

– You have to pay the doctor.

– Some doctors won’t do it.


You will also need a lawyer.  The guy has legal rights.  Also legal responsibilities.  Unless you get a lawyer to write down what they are, you can end up in a very complicated mess.   You need to be clear about exactly what rights and responsibilities the biological father will have.  The forms I got from the lawyer had questions I hadn’t thought about at all!  Will he pay child support?  Will he have custody?  Visitation rights?  If I die, is he the baby’s next of kin?  Will he have a say in the baby’s name?  When you look for a lawyer, look for someone who helps with family law for gay couples.  Even if you’re not part of a gay couple, that’s the kind of law experience you’ll want.


Here are some things I learned about working with a sperm-bank.  And about getting yourself pregnant, which is the best DIY project/home science experiment EVER.

Most sperm banks only ship to your doctor.  Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to getting medical help with this.  But if you want to do it at home, you need to find a place that will ship to YOU.

I used Northwest Andrology and I LOVED them.  They were awesome.  Here is the link to their webpage:

Sperm banks do careful testing for all that medical stuff that needs testing, and they take care of the legal stuff on their end, too.

Most sites are very commercial-looking.  It’s very disconcerting.  You select an anonymous donor the way you’d choose parts at Build-A-Bear:  eye color, hair color, height, highest level of education.  It feels very shallow.  You must remember that they do this not because they think you care what color eyes your baby has!  (Who cares?)  It’s because you might be a straight married couple and you’re trying to find a donor who physically resembles your husband.  For them, this could be very important.   So try not to think of it as shallow – consider how many times you’ve wished you had curly red hair, or wished you didn’t.  You now have an opportunity to select a certain probability of tallness or curliness for your child.

After selecting the physical attributes that are important to you, you order a more detailed profile.  They cost a little.  You read about the person’s hobbies and talents, their education, and hopefully a little bit about why they decided to be donors.  Most of them are very young men, like freshmen in college, and they are donating sperm partly because they want to give a hopeful family a chance at having a child, and partly because they need the cash for school.  One profile I read really gave me pause:  asked “What were you good at, as a child, and what has been your greatest accomplishment as an adult?” the donor answered, “I don’t really have any accomplishments as an adult because I don’t really think of myself as an adult yet.”  The idea of using someone who was legally an adult but still emotionally a child to help me get pregnant really freaked me out. I ended up choosing my donors according to my very limited sense of their generous hopes for helping a family.  Also by their hair color.  Hey, you get one chance at curly red hair, and if it doesn’t come naturally no perm will ever make it really right.

They ship the sperm in a teeny, tiny little vial, like a free perfume sample.  The little vial is frozen in a GIGANTIC THERMOS full of dry ice, and the thermos comes in a big box.  Later, you Fed-Ex the thermos back to them.

The thermos is 4 feet tall and looks like something from space.  You open it with gloves on, and all that weird fog swooshes out, and you pull out this teeny little vial, and you stick the vial in your bra for half an hour to thaw it out.

The shipping costs WAY more than the sperm.  For me, back then, it was about $600 each time!  So you usually order a couple of sperm-vials, so you can try for a couple of days in a row and only pay shipping once.

They also include a couple of lovely little plastic gizmos of various sorts.  Think cervical cap, think turkey-baster only small.  Use whatever.

Afterwards, you do actually have to put your feet up against the wall for half an hour, so have a book where you can reach it.  The first time I tried, I didn’t think of that, but my laptop was within reach so I ended up playing Solitaire on the the computer.  I still giggle whenever I think of “playing solitaire.”

The last time I tried, I had my knitting handy.  I kept thinking how awesome it would be if I could tell people, “I knit this hat while conceiving my baby!”

People will ask you what’s in the big box.  Think of an answer in advance.


If you want extra help, but you (ahem) hate your doctor and your fertility clinic won’t work with you and your insurance doesn’t cover it, look for MIDWIVES.

Midwives at a birthing center will also sometimes do an IUI for you.  They don’t generally advertise this widely, but if you want the stuff injected so it has its best chance to swim, you can have it done for a few hundred (not thousand) dollars, in a comfortable room, in a comfortable bed, and who knows?  Maybe you’ll even end up delivering the baby in the very same room.  Plus the midwives are really really nice.  I recommend this highly.


And finally, you really, really need to know when you’re ovulating.

Read all the books.  (“Taking Charge of Your Fertility” is the classic standard.)  Start keeping charts.  Start now, even if you’re not planning to have a baby.  Take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed.  Get used to checking your cervical fluid on a daily basis to get used to your personal pattern.  And remember, everybody is different, and you will not fit the “normal” pattern that all the books say you should fit.  That’s ok.  Plus, if you are stressed, or if you change your diet, or if there’s an earthquake or a really scary thunderstorm, you’ll get thrown off.  Everything will end up late.  Lots of variables make for lots of wobble in the charts!

The reason you need to get the pattern figured out is because all the signs of ovulation happen RIGHT AFTER you ovulate, and then it’s TOO LATE TO TRY.  You need to get the cycle figured out so you can predict when the next ovulation will be, and then you do the sperm part the day before, and the day-of, to give it a really good try.

Girls learn all about the menstrual part of their cycle but nobody tells you about the other half, because nobody wants some little girl thinking she can prevent pregnancy by keeping track of her ovulation cycles.  It is NOT an effective method of birth control!  But if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s absolutely necessary to know.


You will see magic everywhere.

It’s an unbelievably powerful feeling to be creating a child all by yourself.  You make all the decisions, you hold all the cards.  But of course, the actual becoming pregnant part is still completely out of your control.  The whole time I was trying, I saw birds everywhere.  Well, birds were popular.  (Remember Portlandia?)  But to me, every bird on a handbag, every nest-and-egg motif, every actual bird on a telephone wire was there to tell me that this time, I was a mother.   And I made bargains with the universe.  I remember walking back from a Christmas concert, crying by myself on a dark sidewalk, and telling the stars:   If I’m pregnant this time, I will name the baby something for Christmas.  Carol.  Holly.  Noel.  Nicholas. 

It didn’t work out for me.  But it was totally worth trying, and if you or someone you know wants to get pregnant on their own, I’d be happy to offer any advice or support that I can.   As awesome projects go, creating a person is pretty damn awesome.

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