"How do you feel about Jamaicans?" Monty asked in elegant, "Masterpiece Theater"–style English, his pale hands clutching an even whiter booklet. "The listing says he's in business administration, but that could mean he's opening envelopes or something."
A smile slid across my face. After dodging the fertility doctor's contact information that my GYN provided two years ago, at the age of 42, single and childless, I killed off hope of finding the father of my baby and sought his seed through a fertility clinic on Manhattan's swanky Upper East Side.
Monty was the donor specialist. I appreciated his gift for candor along with his hypnotic, fashion sense: a classic, sky blue oxford shirt paired with Mr. T–like accessories: gold chains (serpentine, Byzantine and flat-link) looped both wrists, too numerous to count, plus walnut-sized diamond-encrusted rings on every finger.
"How about a molecular biologist?" Monty asked, bringing me back to the task. Education is important, right?"
"Very," I said, joining the game.
"Well, that'd be a right nice match -- brains and talent," he said, like a Yiddish matchmaker. "Wait, this one's part Irish, African-American, French Canadian ... and he's in international relations."
"Sounds like a guy I'd want to date," I said, unleashing a nervous chortle.
He grinned and guided the letter-size booklet across the mahogany desk into my hands. It was a wondrous document, hundreds of Asian and Caucasian donors listed by physical characteristics, education and profession, neatly arranged -- a catalog of spermatozoa. I searched for black donors. There were only eight.
"Can we try another bank?"
Monty sighed, hard. His eyes lost their sheen, becoming dull yet direct. "This bank has the most. Black men make up less than 5 percent of the donors, probably because they don't know there's a need. Sorry."
In my 20-plus years of dating, I'd encountered the eligible-black-man shortage before but never thought it extended to this playing field. Most of my girlfriends from Michigan met their spouses at college. I attended Parsons School of Design, where half the lads were sprinting out of the closet. The few straight men of color were friends from high school, more like brothers than potential mates.
After graduation I dated a black accountant, but wound up in a serious relationship with a white NYU student named Art. While at Stanford Law, as we planned our future, he died of pulmonary edema. Nearing self-destruction, I sought a therapist, not another boyfriend. She too was white.
By my mid-30s, even my family knew men appreciative of my assets were likely to be Caucasian.
"Who else is a black woman who plays the cello and speaks Italian going to date?" my brother Jeffrey joked.
At 39, I became pregnant by a blond, blue-eyed man from Minnesota. At the three-month checkup, we learned the fetus had no heartbeat. My relationship of three years died, too. Only my baby lust survived.
In the two years that I searched for my mate through friend fix-ups and online dating, my best IBM exposure (Interesting Black Men) arrived the night my boss, Spike Lee, received an award from the organization 100 Black Men. The gala event held at a midtown Manhattan Hilton was the perfect hunting ground.
"I have to meet somebody?" I told my cousin, my peer in every way -- a single, six-figure-earning, 40-ish black woman.
"Wear a killer dress," she suggested. I chose a lethal Donna Karan. Princess-length. Black silk taffeta. Low-cut. Sexy.
"You look beautiful," an elderly white woman cooed in the hotel lobby.
The compliments ended there.
That night a zinging realization hit: Black men didn't get me -- even the well-to-do variety. During the week-long depression that followed, my wise, sisterly black hairdresser summed up my problem thus: "You dress like a white girl. I bet no one else was wearing a princess-length evening dress."
Now I couldn't even get their sperm.
"Review the donor profiles online on the bank's website, but don't buy the baby pictures," Monty said. "They're just trying to scam more money out of you, playing on your emotions."
Within a day, I narrowed Monty's tiny list of eight donors to a minuscule two, then contemplated the baby order for weeks. One day International Guy seemed the logical choice, and the next, Molecular Biologist. Eventually, against Monty's no-picture-buying orders, I caved in. I craved connection, to know there were real men behind the sperm samples.
After a few clicks of my computer mouse -- and my American Express Card -- two full profiles were downloaded at 10 bucks a pop. The Ghanese biologist liked spicy food and travel. "A shy man who warms up to strangers slowly but becomes comfortable quickly. Very intelligent," the nurse's notes read. While International Guy was "a beautiful blend of his multicultural background." Visions of a mocha baby bounced in my imagination until I read, "Very charming." "Cute and flirty."
"Flirty"? I took a pass on Casanova. Eight-hundred dollars later, two hits of the biologist's sperm were ordered and shipped from California in a cryogenic deep freeze, awaiting ovulation.
My black girlfriends asked few questions. My white girlfriends asked plenty.
"You're not using a white guy?" Rebecca yelped over dinner. "Why not? That's who you've dated."
"What's the difference?" Jenny, the levelheaded nurse, usually added.
Love was random. I'm black; I wanted a black baby.
The morning of the insemination I wore a neo-hippie, jade-colored cotton skirt embroidered with flowers. I wanted to feel pretty. And did, right up until the sonogram revealed I hadn't ovulated.
"You don't produce a follicle every month," Dr. Melnick explained. "You never noticed because you were using birth control. You weren't trying to conceive."
Stinging despair lasted for weeks.
The second month yielded one follicle, a glorious blessing. I spent two weeks in a bubble of bliss: eight hours of sleep, crossing on green lights, a diet of all organic foods. Depression returned with the stain of red.
By the third month, thanks to a medical assist from Clomed, I produced three follicles. Me, the mother of triplets? The prospect was delicious and daunting, a long shot that turned into no chance with the arrival of my period. The following month, something better than a ripe follicle showed up: a man. He was white.
"Just so you know, you're dating a woman actively trying to knock herself up," I told Thomas on our third date. He smiled and said nothing. However, in two months time, as the sperm bank bills mounted, the jokes stopped.
"Can we try and conceive?" I asked my boyfriend, crushed by my dwindling funds. "I'll sign anything. You won't be financially responsible."
"I'll think about it," he said and turned his attention back to his tortellini.
Two weeks later I had my answer: "I don't know why I feel like I should help you, but I do."
Kind and smart, I was certain Thomas's superior semen -- created in love, boosted by acupuncture and yoga -- would do the trick.
We tried to conceive for two years. On the darkest day, I got my period and an unforgettable sight: a pregnant, homeless woman -- bulbous and belligerent -- foraging for food in a Sixth Avenue trashcan. In time Thomas, too, became crushed by failure.
"Why can't you just adopt a child?" he asked over breakfast.
I wept my answer into my bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, clinging to my dream to create a baby with a man I deeply loved.
Four months later, in April 2007, an epiphany arrived courtesy of Oprah. A documentary on Winfrey's South African school sprung across my TV screen, the images of hundreds of girls who faced epic hardships that looked just like me. The next month, after prompting from a friend who'd adopted two girls from Russia, I attended an adoption information meeting. I discovered the challenges of domestic open adoption, and the benefits of going international, then filed the three-hour talk away mentally -- until my home phone rang the following fall.
"We're calling all the singles who attended the spring meeting," the voice on the phone said. "We're hearing rumors that Ethiopia may be considering eliminating single-parent adoptions."
I stood at the window of my apartment studying the nearly naked trees in Central Park, thin and thick branches bent and broken by the invisible gale. Spidery shadows crawled across the dreary grass. I hung up and sat in cationic meditation for an hour, then picked up the phone and pressed the redial button.
After nearly three years, (adoptive mothers have a longer gestation period than any mammal, including Killer Whales who come in at 18 months) after fingerprints and home inspections (yes, more than one), waiting-parent meetings (monthly), the (annual) cloud of sadness that descended on Mother's Day, coupled with the (occasional) sighting of pregnant addicts and baby-faced teens able to conceive with far less stability and medical assistance than I had, I'll finally become a mom sometime around Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Somewhere in there. Fingers crossed.
My brown-skinned girl hasn't had it so easy, left on a doorstep of a stranger's home on her first, brand-spanking-new day of life. I've tried to imagine that moment for birth mother and baby -- the one left and the one who left her -- after having so much go right, only to have it go so wrong. But I can't.
Friends ask how I'll manage the change, the relinquishing of my single life. They don't know the glacially long wait I've endured, waiting for my single-cell life to split into two. To be fruitful and multiply.
I'll change my first diaper of my first child at an age most moms are planning college tours -- a miraculous occurrence, since the agency advised me to expect a toddler.
"Man plans and God laughs," as the saying goes.
After the long march to motherhood, I'll arrive in the new land with a near-newborn, made possible by seminal fluid of a stranger who wasn't listed in a catalog, whose pedigree I never researched online.
Man plans and God laughs.
I'm supremely grateful, and gratitude can take you far. Maybe even through the terrible twos.
Jenine Sanford Holmes, proud mother-to-be of an adopted little girl from Ethiopia, divides her time between advertising copywriting and creative non-fiction. For the past 15 years, she has worked at various multinational advertising agencies -- including six years as a senior writer / associate creative director at SpikeDDB, a creative boutique agency headed by filmmaker Spike Lee. Her essays have appeared in The Detroit News, The Westsider and New York Press. She also recently polished off her memoir. She lives in Manhattan, and her newborn daughter will soon, too. You can follow her here.