October 3, 2014

Couple Sues Sperm Bank for Getting a Mixed-Race Child: Is This Racist?


Yesterday I read an article with the following headline: “White Lesbian Couple Sues Sperm Bank After Mistakenly Getting Pregnant By A Black Donor.”

The quick, Cliff Notes version of the article is this: in 2011, a white, lesbian woman from Ohio, Jennifer Cramblett, became pregnant with sperm she purchased from a sperm bank. She and her domestic partner had exhaustively researched their donor beforehand and had decided on one “with blond hair and blue eyes” so that he would have the same features as Jennifer’s partner.

It was only five months into the pregnancy, when the couple called the sperm bank to order more from the same donor, (so that Jennifer’s partner Amanda could get pregnant) that the error was found. According to multiple articles, the discovery went something like this:

“Hi, I’d like to request more sperm from donor 380.”

“Don’t you mean donor 330? That’s what we have you down for.”

“Um, no. I meant donor 380.”

“I’m sorry, we can’t talk to you anymore.”

That response, that “I’m sorry, we can’t talk to you anymore,” is, I feel, the reason this lawsuit was filed.

But more on that in a bit.

Jennifer and Amanda’s daughter, Payton, was born August 21, 2012—and by all accounts she is one much-loved (and extraordinarily cute) child.

With all that being said, a few questions definitely come up. First is, “if you love your kid so much, why the hell are you suing the sperm bank you got her from? Don’t you think that will scar her for life?”

The second is, “you have a beautiful baby! How could you be so racist, for not wanting a mixed-race child?”

The third is “Suing won’t help anything. You have the baby. Deal with it, or give it up for adoption. Right?”

Now, I personally hate assumptions and judgments about people, especially before we know all the facts about a particular situation—and all the pieces I’ve seen on the subject so far have been glossy, quick “sound bites” of articles from which I know we’re not getting all the information.

So I feel conflicted about presenting my thoughts, for those exact reasons. But let me try to tackle the questions I raised.

Why are Jennifer and Amanda suing the sperm bank company, even though it may hurt Payton in the long run?

Well—and this may sound crappy, but as someone who’s (unfortunately) worked in the customer service industry for way too long—I’m guessing that the reason the lawsuit was filed was due to the bank’s original response. Remember, the “we can’t talk to you anymore” answer?

Apparently after they refused to talk to the couple for months, the sperm bank offered them a refund on the six vials of sperm that they had already purchased (so, a refund for the African American sperm that they got by accident).

Most likely, for the couple, that was a peace offering offered a little too late. Much of this most likely could have been avoided if the sperm bank had initiated an honest communication about their *incredible* error. In fact, in video interviews about the lawsuit, Jennifer Cramblett intimates as such. saying, “well, if they hadn’t refused to talk to us for months then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

(And yes, I’m aware that likening this to a “customer service situation” is a bit heartless).

What I personally want to know is when did they file the lawsuit? Payton, their daughter, is just over two as of this writing. Why is this all coming to bear now? Does it just take this long for lawsuits to wend their way through the US justice system?

The second question I raised is about whether or not this couple is racist. And I think there’s a pretty forthright answer.

The answer is yes.

But of course it’s more complicated than that. In the first article I read on the topic (which also seemed to me to be fairly balanced, but it’s disappeared into the ether) Cramblett admitted, not only to her family’s racism, but to her own.

She said that due to her growing up in a “racially-insensitive” household, until she went to college she had outdated views on different cultures. Now, I’m not sure what’s meant by the terms “racially insensitive” (not mine) or “outdated views on different cultures” except that it leaves room for a lot of stereotyping to come up.

While she has supposedly expanded her mindset and outgrown those views, the fact is that they still define and somewhat limit her life. She has said that she used up almost all of her family’s good will by coming out as a lesbian years ago and that she’s not sure how they will react to a child of mixed origin.

She has also said that her town is 98 percent white. She doesn’t know how to “do” black hair.

These are all superficial, and easily surmountable. Your family doesn’t like your kid because they are of mixed race? F**k ’em. Your town is 98 percent white and you want a more diverse community to raise your kid? Move. you don’t know how to “do” black hair? Learn.

All of these are solid points and have been what I’ve been reading a lot of in the comment sections of these articles.

But from a compassionate point of view, this family recognized their limitations early on. And isn’t knowing one’s limitations a good thing, a positive thing?

They wanted to start a family where their children would look like their parents. They wanted a community around them if they needed support. These are all things that most young families should have access to, things that Jennifer and Amanda now fear will be denied.

The third question I raised is what the hell is suing the sperm bank going to help?

If they’re having so many problems with their child, shouldn’t they give it up?

Well, who knows what they would use the money for—to start a fund for Payton, or move to a more diverse city. But what keeps getting repeated is that the couple “doesn’t want this to happen to anyone again. If only the sperm bank had been more compassionate—”

Compassion. If the sperm bank hadn’t cut off all contact with them once learning of their error, if they had done more than just senda letter accompanying the refund—then we wouldn’t be hearing about this case, because it wouldn’t be in the courts.

Isn’t that the way of it, though? If we could only be more compassionate and less judgmental in our every day lives, what sort of conflicts would not even become conflicts?

Of course, ending on that note would make everything seem soapy and delightful. It isn’t.

I hope that little girl grows up knowing that she is loved, which is how every child should grow up.

The idea of devaluing another person’s life just because they aren’t the right colour makes me sick—and the idea of being able to request a certain ethnicity at a sperm bank, while practical, stinks of eugenics to me, and I hate that.

I hate that we can now select our children, in terms of selecting an ethnicity, or ability and how that supposes that people who don’t meet that norm have less to offer.

But instead of seething with judgment, I will try to hold back, knowing that I don’t know the full story, hoping that what comes out of it is a beautiful, strong, loved little girl.

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Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: NBC News via Google Images

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