Flashbacks September 2005

The Varieties of Reproductive Experience

Atlantic writing from the 1960s to the present on cloning, in vitro fertilization, egg donation, sperm donation, and more.

Several months later, in "Grade A: The Market for a Yale Woman's Eggs" (December 2002), Yale senior Jessica Cohen described her own experience exploring the possibility of becoming an egg donor for a rich childless couple. The couple had placed a classified ad in the Yale Daily News, asking for "a young woman over five feet five, of Jewish heritage, athletic, with a minimum combined SAT score of 1500, and attractive." Since Cohen fit all the criteria except for the SAT score, and because the couple was offering to pay handsomely ($25,000), she contacted them by e-mail to find out more.

Thus began a bizarre e-mail correspondence in which she essentially "auditioned" to contribute her genes to their family. Cohen found the experience unsettling.

Michelle and David now had my educational data as well as my photos. They were examining my credentials and trying to imagine their child. If I was accepted, a harvest of my eggs would be fertilized ... A few embryos would be implanted; the remaining, if there were any, would be frozen; and then I would be out of the picture forever.

The more Cohen pondered what she was proposing to do, the less comfortable she became with the idea.

Once a couple starts choosing a few characteristics, shooting for perfection is too easy—especially if they can afford it. The money might have changed my life for a while, but it would have led to the creation of a child encumbered with too many expectations.

In the end, Cohen's offer was rejected. The correspondence concluded with a terse email from the husband, who wrote, "'Showed the pictures to [my wife] this AM. Personally, I think you look great. She said ho-hum.'"

Finally, in the September 2005 Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb describes her own experience deciding to have a child by anonymous sperm donor. At age thirty-six, she explains, she came to the conclusion that she didn't want to keep her boyfriend but that she did want to have a child. In short order she ended their relationship and began browsing the online listings at sperm banks.

Selecting a donor from the list of profiles, she found, was a bit like online shopping. In many ways, she comments, it was a less trying experience than attempting to select a lifelong mate.

By bypassing the uncontrollable world of romance, I was able to choose a man to father my child who might be completely out of my league in the real world...

Suddenly it seemed acceptable to rule out guys arbitrarily, based on some perceived flaw. The second you separate mating from dating, it's okay to indulge hubristic fantasies of genetic engineering (must be over six feet tall, with a combined SAT score higher than 1500)...

Once she'd made her choice, she conceived after just two rounds in the fertility clinic's "insemination room," and is now several months pregnant. She explains that while this route to motherhood was hardly her lifelong dream, she has discovered that single motherhood by sperm donor is an increasingly common and accepted phenomenon—and it is one that, in her view, has much to recommend it.

Nowadays it no longer sounds counterintuitive to hear a single woman say that she, like me, broke up with her boyfriend in order to have a baby...

A man in his mid-thirties appreciates getting to know a woman without ulterior motives—one who likes him for his inherent qualities instead of for the children he might help produce. The men I'm dating realize that I already have everything else I want, so now I'm in this purely for a chance at love. Meanwhile, in just a few months I'll meet my new baby. It may not be the traditional fairy tale, but in a very modern sense my life these days feels incredibly romantic.
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Sage Stossel is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and draws the cartoon feature "Sage, Ink." She is author/illustrator of the graphic novel Starling, and of the children's books  On the Loose in Boston and On the Loose in Washington, DC. More

On Election Day in 1996, TheAtlantic.com launched a weekly editorial cartoon feature drawn by Sage Stossel and named (aptly enough) "Sage, Ink." Since then, Stossel's whimsical work has been featured by the New York Times Week in Review, CNN Headline News, Cartoon Arts International/The New York Times Syndicate, The Boston Globe, Nieman Reports, Editorial Humor, The Provincetown Banner (for which she received a 2009 New England Press Association Award), and elsewhere. Her work has also been included in Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year, (2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010 editions) and Attack of the Political Cartoonists. Her children's book, On the Loose in Boston, was published in June 2009.

Sage Stossel grew up in a suburb of Boston and attended Harvard University, where she majored in English and American Literature and Languages and did a weekly cartoon strip about college life, called "Jody," for the Harvard Crimson. From 2004 to 2007, she served as Books Editor of the Radcliffe Quarterly

After college she took what was intended to be a temporary summer position securing electronic rights to articles from The Atlantic's archive for use online. Intrigued by The Atlantic's rich history and the creative possibilities in helping to launch a digital edition of the magazine on the Web, she soon joined The Atlantic full time. As the site's former executive editor, she was involved in everything from contributing reviews, author interviews, and illustrations, to hosting message boards and producing a digital edition of The Atlantic for the Web.

Stossel lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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