They knew I'd be coming.
“What sort of a loser donates sperm?” my cousin asked me when I told him where I was going. “Well the kind that’s loses a bet over a shitty game of blackjack” I replied looking into my plate.
All my friends reacted the same way “WHAT?!! Are you serious? You’re actually doing this?”
I had so many questions. Where are these places? Why have I never seen them? Do they have porn there to speed up the process? Do the employees bust one out during lunch break for pocket money? Do their fridges have frozen sperm cells next to their dessert? Are they air conditioned & chic or sleazy and bug infested?
My only exposure to the world of sperm donation was through Vicky Donor where the lead makes sperm donation a thriving career and fulfills all his dreams. After the movie, I had fewer answers than before.
I didn’t know what to expect other than the fact that I might be a dad soon. Without being a real dad soon. So there I was on a regular weekday afternoon dishing out 40 million sperm cells hoping that NOT a single prudey couple choose me as their inseminator. The last thing the world needs is a dozen new kids from me, a guy who’s only evident motive is the cash and the story.
Wait a second. What if my donation shows up at my door eighteen years later with a backpack and a sheepish smile whispering the immortal word “dad”. Sorry but I’ve grown up on far too much Bollywood. After walking through a vegetable market for 5 minutes, I enter a shady looking building and get to the 4th floor. I ring the bell and walk into a small reception room where a young guy, Saurav, (name changed) welcomes me with a deadpan expression which can only be the result of being the manager of the most visited sperm clinic in the city.
It’s a plain room with a computer desk and a bunch of forms on it. He takes a cup and puts it under the leaking AC and talks to me while tracking its progress. His attendant, who looks like he’s 14 years old, sits on my right sizing my every word up.
The process to donate involves first having a chat with Saurav where he “gets to know you” which means he asks you your name, age, educational background and reason to donate. Nobody can donate on the first visit. The first meeting is only the chat. No blood sample, no piss test. This meeting is just for them to digest the information and slot me into a certain donor category.
The second time around, I gave them my educational certificates and id proof. After that I was good to go i.e. all set to liquidate the inventory or as my cousin often calls it battle the cyclops.
How many times can I donate?”
“After one gives in their first donation, the initial approval takes two days. If the sperm is fine without any abnormalities or signs of infertility, the donor can give upto 75 donations with a minimum interval gap of 4 days between each sample. About 2 donors have completed the entire 75 and in our other branch about 20.”
“75?! That’s not a cyclops battle, that’s a war” I thought.
“How much will I get paid?”
“Rs.600 per donation. Every 6 months there is a blood test for quality control. A person can earn approx. Rs.60,000 plus an additional 15000 overall as bonus. Total being around Rs.75,000. In fact 3 donors have completed this entire process.” I’m not sure if he’s a hero or a loser.
“What do couples look for or ask for most often?”
“Most of the women are concerned about religion and then educational background. A lady came in recently and only wanted a Jain donor and we had to then check for a Jain match with great fertility. That gets difficult sometimes. Not everybody who donates has great sperm. Of 10 donors, about 3 get accepted. Others say they want Gujarati with an MBBS degree. Sometimes we have what they want and sometimes we don’t.” In that moment, our country’s prejudices and imbalances presented themselves even in the sperm choices people make!
How many donors do you get a week? Are they lining up round the block?
Well, we get about 20 new donors a week of which 8 are new. Sometimes we have to turn them down if they are not of permissible age. The minimum age you have to be to donate is 21 and maximum is 32 years of age. After those years, the chances of having a great sperm count diminish.
“Do you ever donate?”
“As staff we’re not allowed to donate but when new machines come in, I donate to test the equipment and proper functioning of it.”
We then sat there awkwardly looking at each other. He thought I was thinking of something to ask and I thought he was going to lead me to the next step. Finally he got the hint and left me with a promise to be back in two minutes.
He came back to me and said “You can come”. I’m not sure if the irony of his words were apparent to him.
I followed him into a room much cleaner than I had expected. I was pretty stoked to see what this would be like: a room designed to make the hand to gland experience fun! Once we were inside the donation room, he said “So this is how you lock the door” and leaves.
I start looking around and it’s the most clinical, cold and unsexy environment I could imagine. A red fake leather sofa which I was scared to sit on, look at or touch. Just the thought of how many men have done what I was about to do, made me feel queasy. The tiles were typical physician clinic white ones. I thanked the lord I was wearing socks. The aroma of the room was quite bearable. The AC grill was loose like somebody had clutched onto it midway into their climax.
Unfortunately there was no material to “assist” the process. NOTHING. Talk about vapid customer service. I mean if you want good quality sperm, how about something to turn a man on? No magazines. No gloves or lube. No porn on TV. Just a sink to wash up and a garbage bin to throw any debris into. And a mirror - in case you turn yourself on.
Across the room there were posters of semi naked women to assist me in my moment. Three of them were lined up against the windows, so the light shined through their bodies, like angelic nudies. One of the girls is a popular adult cum mainstream actress now. The only thing she wore was a necklace and a smile. Next to her was a big hearted damsel who was all stares.
Sitting alone in this South Bombay cubicle between four walls, 5 pornstars and 1 plastic cup, I began to ponder if this was the saddest moment of my adult life.
Fuck it. How many guys would actually be brave enough to go through with this? Nobody. Maybe I was man enough after all.
Somehow, I figured I might as well give it a shot (no pun intended). After a while of trying to make some instant pudding, I gave up from what only seemed to be my first ever solo performance problem.
I went out visibly upset, and asked Sourav what the NO PORNOGRAPHY rule was all about. He replied with “Well we are not allowed as per law to provide the pornographic materials or we can be charged with showing porn to students”.
Despite porn being freely available on the internet in India, even in a sperm bank, there was no escaping our archaic sense of morality. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: Even championing the noble cause of biological parenthood – a bridge to complete families for a harmonious society dammit – was illegal! I walked back disappointed with my chief of staff at half-mast. There was only one thing left to do to: Complete the transaction: Don’t ask me how but I managed. I powered through for the sake of single mothers, infertile men and future generations of mini-me’s.
I finally hurried out but not before ticking the “Don’t contact me” box instead of the “Contact me within a span of 10 years if the child born has a deficiency or disorder” box on the form. I called the clinic the next day and asked them to dispose of my donation as I wasn’t comfortable. I hadn’t slept the entire night thinking about that possible knock on the door 18 years hence. When I broke the news to Saurav, he sounded distracted and disinterested – I obviously wasn’t the first guy to chicken out.
Today, one week later, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that there are donors who come in drop their pants, greet Rosie Palm and do it over and over. Just like that. As the Joker says, "if you're good at something, never do it for free". Amen to the palm.
By Rahul Gupta