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People Think I Have a ‘Designer Baby’ Because I Chose His Sperm Donor

Allison Hope has worked in communications and journalism for nearly 15 years, with clips at the Washington Post, Slate, New York Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, among others.

Selecting a sperm donor is kind of like selecting new linens on Amazon

As a lesbian, I didn’t have the convenience of personally knowing the other genetic half of my child. Except on paper — or rather, the internet. I wish my wife and I could have created a child with just our own DNA, but until science catches up, we had to rely on sperm from an outside source.

We picked out a sperm donor online, which is not entirely unlike picking out new linens on Amazon. Only more expensive. And a whole lot more important.

We had access to a plethora of information about the donor, including his genetic makeup, pictures of him as a baby and an adult, his family history, a panel with the findings of tests on about a hundred different genetic disorders and an essay that he wrote. I found the essay part the most informative. What? I believe I can tell a lot from someone’s syntax, including how intelligent they are, how cohesive their thoughts are, whether they think in non sequiturs — and much more.

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We were looking for someone who had a mixed background — a mutt, if you will — since we understood someone with many different ethnicities to be genetically sturdier. Yes, it was kind of like choosing a dog; purebreds tend to have more health issues. We also wanted someone with as healthy a background as possible — someone who didn’t have cancer or heart disease or any rare genetic disorders in their ancestry.

I admit that somewhere in there, after checking off the above really important things — as well as a negative CMV or viral status, blood types that matched and whether the donor had reported a successful pregnancy before (hence, I hate to say it, "proving their worth" as a sperm donor with a high price tag), we did also take physical features into consideration. Is that a crime?

Of course, as we sifted through the laundry list of donor qualities, looks were pretty far down that list. But it's true that we did rule out some donors who looked nothing like us — and some who were just plain funny-looking.

And then our top pick (actually our top two picks) didn't stick. So there you go. The cutest of the donors didn’t result in a positive pregnancy. We turned to choice three. The donor that proved ultimately successful was, yes, good-looking — but again, was our third pick after weeding out many others, plenty of whom may have been considered better looking, but who hadn’t met our criteria for health.

And so, our baby was born.

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I know most moms are completely biased and think their own babies are the cutest little things in the whole wide world. But my baby? He is legitimately really, really ridiculously good-looking.

He has perfect, tiny, symmetrical features — and has since the day he was born. He has a little button nose and little full lips. He has long eyelashes that stop people on the street and a chiseled chin with a dimple that people always comment on.

My son is seriously one of the best-looking babies I have ever seen. And it's not just me, his biased parent, who thinks he's objectively cuter than many of the babies in ads or commercials. I swear other people agree; in fact, they tell us all the time. People stop us on the street, in stores, just about everywhere we go on a near-daily basis to comment on our son's truly uncommon levels of cuteness. And yes, a talent agent has told us he should model.

It's hard not to feel proud about having such a beautiful kid, but mostly, it’s something I worry about. I’m no model — I don't know, I'd call myself average to slightly cute at best — and I worry that people see my son and think, "There's a designer baby created by the dollars and cents of two moms who hand-selected sperm based on looks alone."

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I can feel strangers judging me as they meet him. First, they stop to unabashedly admire his good looks; then they glance confusedly back and forth between me and my wife. I can almost smell the wood burning as they put two and two together. "Oh, they’re gay. Oh, the baby must look like the dad — the sperm donor, that is. Oh, they must have chosen someone good-looking just so they could have a gorgeous baby."

No one has flat-out said this to me, but I can sense their criticism. Actually, I almost wish someone would say something so I could tell them about the donor's profile and explain that what matters is the genetic screening. How all I wanted was a healthy kid. And how, more than anything else, I really wish my son looked like my wife, even if it meant giving up his Gerber baby face.

Dystopian novels and mediocre sci-fi movies have already toyed with plots involving selective genetics and designer babies. The topic is one that sits dormant in many of our minds as something that could — one day sooner rather than later — happen. But these days, the closest most of us get to that sci-fi plot is the use of common fertility treatments like IVF and donor sperm. And while some may wrongly assume we hand-picked our baby based on the good looks of our donor, the ironic truth is that I absolutely would have created a totally genetically designed sci-fi baby — if only I could have mixed my wife’s DNA with mine. But science isn't quite there yet.

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