I keep a photo of my teenage daughter on my iPhone. I look at it several times a day. Except it’s not a real photo. And I don’t have any kids.
This sounds creepy, I realize. But it’s just modern baby dreaming—via a free app called MixBooth. The software merges a shot of you with one of another person to create a surprisingly elegant blend. And what better way to end a vague Sunday-night discussion of potential parenthood than to invite a virtual version of what could be into your bedroom? So I loaded in a photo of my partner—a broad-framed, masculine, half-Mexican woman—and one of me, a smaller, feminine, white woman.
Suddenly, there was our child. I recognized her immediately. She had my small frame, my partner’s toast-colored skin, her dark eyes, and luxurious eyebrows. I felt an intense wave of love for this young woman. I blurted out that I wanted her to go to a good school. I worried that neither of us spoke enough Spanish to teach her the language. My partner grabbed the phone: “That’s not our kid! It’s an app!” Here I was, fretting over a person who didn’t exist—one that was half me, half her. I hit Save Image.
She’ll never exist. As two women, we can’t make that beautiful kid. Lesbians don’t like to dwell on this. (Maybe no one seeking a non-traditional route to conception does.) Yes, there are many ways around not having sperm. But there’s also pain in knowing your offspring will only be biologically connected to one of you. The other half will look like “some guy,” as I’ve heard some concerned potential grandparents say. This is true; a stranger’s DNA will grow in my belly. It is, if you take your eye off the prize of creating your family, a little weird.
We might not even be able to strike a genetic approximation from a donor, which is culturally important for many couples. We don’t have any male Mexican friends to hit up. And the last time I browsed the California Cryobank site—one of the biggies that works with ob-gyns in our area—there were only two Mexican donors that fit our modest criteria.
Our friends who’ve had kids through various donor paths (known and unknown donors) have told me I am overthinking this. Intellectually, I know they’re right because I know their kids and their families, and they’re thriving. But things didn’t get that way seamlessly.
I’ve noticed there’s a period where people—mostly heterosexuals, who I think are genuinely curious because their baby-making experience is usually straightforward and very connected to shared genetics—really want to know about The Donor. Sometimes, they unthinkingly refer to him as “the father” until someone wearily reminds them that both parents are women. The chatter around this person that no one may ever meet always interests me because it seems so important and fraught, then disappears so fast. Once the child arrives, feedings and diapers show who a parent is. The donor’s not opening a 529 plan.
Still, I have nightmares of a crew from MTV’s Generation Cryo show popping up on my doorstep, led by a biological half-sib seeking out her roots. I took last year’s Delivery Man—that Vince Vaughn movie where he discovers he’s the donor to 533 children, whose lives he then hilariously bungles into—embarrassingly seriously. Meanwhile, a friend and her daughter have established relationships with some of the other biological offspring of the girl’s unknown donor. They’ve invited each other to museums, a bat mitzvah, a wedding, and a memorial service over the years. The kids share a sort of extended cousinship.
Will our child idealize their donor? After all, he will never ground them, or embarrass them by merely existing while driving them to the mall. Possibly. Will our child seek out their donor when they’re old enough? Possibly. Will they wonder if they look like their donor? Will we? Probably. But those are things we’ll deal with when the time comes, with help from a community of gay parents who’ve already ridden out the rocky teen years.
That photo generated by the app grabbed my heart because that’s what fantasy does. And anything that comes before life with an actual baby is just that. In the end, the kid will look like him- or herself. The kid will be him- or herself. I hope they get my partner’s optimistic outlook. I hope they escape my adult acne.
I still look at “our daughter.” But the photo is becoming less a reminder of what I can’t have and more a reminder that gay families—lots of families—get put together by love and bravery and necessity. And that if I want to be a parent, I need to abandon my expectations and my ego.