The Millionth Muse.
Christmas just happened. What was that all about then?
Apparently, it's for the kids. And since, at the age of 23, this is the first year my sister has not bought me an advent calendar, and my personal Christmas run-up (as opposed to the commercial Christmas run-up which appears to begin in August) has not been punctuated by the promise of some cocoa-based snowman for breakfast, it seems the theory works. Never mind the barmitzvah, the year you realise you are sending cards to everyone in your filofax and not everyone in your class at school, is surely the time to admit you're a man.
Bit of a shame really, and it's set my mind wondering as to where the kids are in my life. I have some, but I do not know where they are.
On Christmas morning in my sister's spare room, lying in an extremely hard, silly single bed, I was woken by a selection box of crumpling, swearing, and banging of head on the side of the bath as aforementioned sibling attempted to wee on a paddle. Having waited until she was busting to "go" , she had left her unslept in, tangled bed and locked herself in the bathroom with a little blue box. Some time later she emerged in my doorway with the greeting "Merry Christmas, Uncle Paul."
My sister is having a baby, and I do not know another sentence that can make my brother-in-law, my mother, and my father find such unknown delight on their faces.
Christmas is for the kids. And if we were not all delirious enough this year, when the sprog has finally arrived and is playing with a large cardboard box (which five minutes earlier contained an extremely expensive, but sadly ignored Fisher Price entertainment centre) next December the 25th we'll be tripping over ourselves like idiots.
I am having a baby too.
I do not know when it is due, and I will not be with them on Christmas day.
I do not know who the mother is.
I am a sperm donor. Was a sperm donor.
Linda at the clinic called me up the other day; "We don't need you to come anymore." (I suppressed a laugh) "Perhaps you should pop in and I'll explain."
Typical, I can't even sell my own sperm. Obviously I've not been selling and will be found in the catalogue as a two for the price of one offer, line discontinued. Brings a whole new meaning to the January sales. I suppose my sperm is not attractive to the average couple, gagging for a threesome. Donor number 432; blue eyes, brown hair, 5ft 11", 23yrs old.
Trained as a drama student, gave up after six months to become a writer, history of alcoholism in the family, has tendency to demolish kettles.
Clearly, they were looking for someone with a degree in accountancy who knows all the words to Rule Britannia and traces his family tree at weekends.
Linda informs me I've done my bit. Legally, one is only allowed to donate a maximum of ten prizes to the baby raffle.
TEN! I've had ten babies?
Well, technically no, but most of the parents (Parents! Who are these usurpers?!) have applied for another kid from the same carton and I have been popped in the deep freeze until such time as they can afford to have another spare bedroom decorated. And although forced into it I suppose there comes a time in one's life when one must stop being a wanker and get a proper job.
I wonder what their names will be. I wonder if they'll look like me. I wonder if they'll become
I did not wonder any of these things as I was jizzing them into a plastic cup, but when it came to the crunch, it was a bit like being told you've won the lottery but cannot have the money.
I told my family on Christmas day, only one report of a disgusted party (older brother, sleeping with five different women at the moment and must have some sort of venereal disease by now).
Next Christmas the majority of my five-a-side football match will have been born and I shall wet the baby's head in a silent, Southern Comfort-type way. I don't know where it leaves me. Not in my sister's spare room, as that will undoubtedly be a nursery by then. I don't know were it leaves this article either. What can I say? Ten kids. It's something to think about.
Paul Martin is a writer and actor who has to do other jobs to pay the rent. He wrote in Mag 3 about kettles.
Mr. Harrison had been thinking about getting in touch since reading in an article in The New York Times 15 months ago that two teenagers whose mothers had used his sperm to conceive were looking for him. The headline, “Hello, I’m Your Sister, Our Father Is Donor 150,” made him choke on his coffee, said Mr. Harrison, who made $400 a month donating sperm under that number twice-weekly during the late 1980s.
But California Cryobank, the sperm bank that had promised anonymity to its customers and to Mr. Harrison, proved unresponsive to his repeated requests for assistance. Besides, he had misgivings. What if the girls were disappointed by his humble circumstances?
Once one of the sperm bank’s most-requested donors, with a profile that described him as 6 foot and blue-eyed with interests in philosophy, music and drama, Mr. Harrison, 50, lives with his four dogs in a recreational vehicle near the Venice section of Los Angeles.
“I make a meager living,” Mr. Harrison said, taking care of dogs and doing other odd jobs.
Still, he said he thought he could explain to the girls why he had taken an unconventional life-path. Their grandfather was an Ivy League-educated retired financial executive, he would tell them; their grandmother was a former volunteer president for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Six weeks ago, Mr. Harrison logged on to the Donor Sibling Registry, the Web site devoted to facilitating connections between donor-conceived offspring, where the two girls, Danielle P. and JoEllen M. had initially found each other. Four more teenagers from his sperm samples had since surfaced, he saw on the logs.
How many could he handle, he wondered?
As Valentine’s Day approached, though, Mr. Harrison resolved to get in touch with them all.
Last Saturday night, Mr. Harrison e-mailed a picture of his birth certificate to Wendy Kramer, the founder of the sibling registry, to confirm his identity. Several dozen donors have contacted offspring on the registry, Ms. Kramer said, but none have been brave enough to come forward with such a large group of teenagers.
“You don’t know what to expect,” Ms. Kramer said. “How do we define this family, and what are we to each other?”
Danielle and JoEllen called Mr. Harrison together the next day. The moment that had preoccupied their fantasies for years began in a more prosaic fashion than they had anticipated. But they said they were not disappointed.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Holy moly,’ ” said Danielle, 17, who has spent several hours on the phone with Mr. Harrison in the last three days. “He’s sort of a free spirit, and I don’t care what career he has. I got to talk to his dogs.”
Mr. Harrison met a third daughter, Ryann M., in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. His other newfound offspring, who live in Colorado, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, are busy marveling over their shared love of animals and the distinctive forehead evident in the pictures he has e-mailed.
She thought men were the waste products of the reproductive process and wanted them eliminated. Her ideal method was asexual reproduction — the creation of children without a man involved.
That way, she thought, women could look forward to the "gradual extinction of the distinctive male organism and the assimilation of the male to the female".
Until now, people like Mrs Swiney, who lived in the 19th century, were considered to be several apples short of a picnic. But now her vision of a female-only world is all but with us.
Sorry to tell you, men, but you are shortly to be declared redundant, superfluous to the requirements of the human race, written out of the reproductive script. Cheerio and please close the door behind you on your way out of history.
At least this is the prospect laid out before us by the latest lurch into the brave new world of medical research.
In the attempt to find a cure for male infertility, a Newcastle University biologist, Karim Nayernia, has succeeded in using artificially produced sperm to fertilise mouse eggs.
He removed stem cells from mouse embryos and coaxed them into developing into sperm, which was used to fertilise eggs transplanted into female mice, resulting in the birth of seven baby rodents.
Professor Nayernia believes his work offers hope to men whose lives are blighted by their inability to father children.
However, the rest of us might wonder whether he is sounding the death knell for fatherhood altogether — and, more to the point, threatening to undermine the very basis of what it is to be human.
The success of these experiments opens up a number of possibilities. One is to extract stem cells from an infertile man and use these to grow sperm in a laboratory. These could then be transplanted back into the man's testicles, enabling him to procreate in the normal way.
That at least — despite the awesome safety issues to be overcome — would retain the man's genetic connection with any child he produced, as well as allowing him to father that baby through a normal sexual union.
But other possibilities are far more problematic.
It would become possible, for example, to use stem cells not from the infertile man at all, but from embryos which are routinely produced in IVF clinics, but are then discarded as surplus to requirements.
This would mean there would be no genetic connection whatever between "father" and child.
Moreover, such a process could mean the eggs being fertilised might not even come from the mother of the child being produced. Instead, spare eggs donated by another woman could be fertilised by the artificial sperm.
As a result, there might be no genetic connection with either parent.
This could mean courtship and sexual love would be replaced by the mating dance of test tubes.
How would a child feel about the fact that one or both of his parents was merely a cluster of randomly selected cells grown artificially in a laboratory?
How would he feel, indeed, to know that his parent was a discarded human embryo?
The truth is that having a mother and father is essential to our sense of identity.
That's why family disintegration is so harmful to children and why the stampede to produce and bring up children without a biological father around — through artificial insemination by donor, IVF or sperm banks — spells disaster for the future.
Test-tube mating could deliver a terminal blow to the pulverised nuclear family True, we have already under-mined sexual reproduction and genetic transmission through IVF.
But at least the mother in such cases has a powerful biological connection to the baby.
Fatherhood, however, is altogether trickier.
Since human babies take years to become independent, they need prolonged care. It is difficult to furnish this while simultaneously providing subsistence and protection.
That's why the human male is essential, to protect and nurture the mother and child.
But the male needs a certain amount of cultural coaxing to stick around. And essential to that bargain between the sexes is his certainty that he is the father of the child.
While there is no such question mark over motherhood because women bear the baby, fathering, by contrast, is a socially constructed institution.
Men have a fragile sense of their role in the human drama. At some deep level, they dread that they are merely an add-on to a female genetic inheritance.
As we can see from the epidemic of fatherlessness, it doesn't take much for them to say "I'm off!" if they feel pushed away.
And pushed away they have certainly been. No one bats an eyelid when a woman has a baby without a father on board.
Male breadwinning is regarded as an unforgiveable anachronism. Masculine characteristics such as stoicism or emotional restraint are scorned or vilified.
And now, men find that their active involvement in the reproductive process might be by-passed altogether.
Currently, it is against British law to create a baby without the need for a man — even if a child can be brought up without one.
But considering how all our taboos are being systematically smashed in the interests of fulfilling every desire, can anyone doubt that, if the technological problems can be overcome, medical ethics and the law will be adjusted to suit?
Clearly, these developments have the potential to undermine parenthood and our very understanding of kinship and human identity itself.
As so often, the aims are noble — to remedy the suffering of childlessness. But medical research, which invariably takes the amoral view that the end justifies the means, brushes aside the fact that the damage such advances may do to our society might hugely outweigh any benefits they may bring.
Already, the use of discarded embryos has helped brut-alise our society by commodifying and cannibalising early human life.
And most outlandishly of all, some even claim it is theoretically possible to produce sperm from female cells and eggs from male ones.
This seems frankly absurd. There is no form of higher animal life that has not depended on sexual reproduction. But now that scientists are modern gods, who knows what unnatural developments might become possible?
Such a world, where procreation was through asexual reproduction, was the vision of those early feminists, such as Mrs Swiney.
But in their book The Ethics Of Human Cloning, the American thinkers James Q. Wilson and Leon Kass wrote: "Only sexual animals can seek and find complementary others with whom to pursue a goal that transcends their own existence."
In other words, sexual reproduction produces the sense of generosity and concern for others on which our human society is built.
The authors also observed that asexual reproduction was found only in the lowest forms of life: bacteria, algae, fungi and some lower invertebrates.
Would it not be an irony if, through their egregious hubris, the effect of the most brilliant scientific minds in the most advanced age known to mankind was to reduce the human race to the status of primordial slime?
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]