The Birds and the Bees and the Sperm Donor
By: Shannon Ralph
Shannon climbed under the covers next to her eldest son and smiled at him. “I think we need to talk.”
Lucas was ten years old and had long ago adopted the habit of slipping upstairs with his mama after his younger siblings were sound asleep in their own beds.
It was their time. It was time Shannon looked forward to every night. Often, Lucas did nothing more than lie on her shoulder and watch her play Sudoku on the iPad, occasionally offering advice on where she could place her next 4. Other times, they snuggled and talked about their day.
Lucas’ other mom, Ruanita, worked evenings. She got the kids when they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. Shannon got them after a long day of school and work when all four of them—mama included—were exhausted and crabby and whiny and hungry. She got her three children when homework needed to be completed and bodies needed to scrubbed of the day’s dust and muck and arguments over “gross” dinners needed to play out in their entireties. Bedtime stories had to be read. Goodnight kisses had be doled out. And then given again. And one more time, just for good measure.
When all the work of the day was complete and Shannon finally dragged herself upstairs to climb into the memory-foam-covered bed she so adored, her quiet time with her oldest child was a welcome respite. A bright point of calm in an otherwise harried day.
On this particular evening, Shannon decided the time had come to have the talk she had been putting off for weeks. The talk. Tonight would be the night.
Everyone had been telling her for months she needed to have the talk with Lucas. “He’s ten years old. He’s talking about these things.” “Do you want him to get his information about sex from his buddies?” “You need to talk about sex before he’s having sex.”
Shannon could not even fathom her ten-year-old child thinking about—must less having—sex. He still slept with a stuffed “doggie” every night, for God’s sake!
Shannon and her partner, Ruanita, had decided some time ago that Shannon was better equipped to have the talk with their children. Ruanita was a mental health therapist. A professional psychoanalyst—a vocation that came in handy as she navigated the day-to-day trials and tribulations of marriage and parenthood. Though she had the very best of intentions, however, conversations of the kind that was about to unfold were not exactly her forte. She examined things in minute detail. She tended to lecture rather than discuss. And she talked a lot. Much more than was necessary. Much more than a ten-year-old could comprehend. After sitting through some lengthy and rather uncomfortable conversations in the past, Shannon and Ruanita came to the mutually agreed upon decision that Shannon alone would handle the talk.
“Well, um,” Shannon began. “I want to talk to you about something. Something you are old enough to learn about.”
Lucas’ face lit up with a dimpled smile. He liked being told he was old enough for anything and everything. “What?” he asked.
“Well, um, let me ask you a question first.”
“Well, um, have you ever heard of the word sperm donor before?”
Lucas fiddled with the blanket lying on his chest. “Umm…not really.”
“Well, um.” Jesus Christ, do I have to start every sentence with ‘well, um’? “Let’s back up. Have you ever had anyone tell you that you can’t have two moms? That it doesn’t work that way?”
He shook his head. Shannon saw a flash of fear in his brilliant blue eyes as he appeared to comprehend the direction their discussion was headed.
“Well, um.” Shit, there I go again. “You know that it takes a man and a woman to have a baby, right?”
Lucas nodded mutely, his mouth hanging open in thinly-veiled terror.
“So maybe you’ve wondered how it is that your mom and I were able to have you and your brother and sister?”
Lucas shook his dishwater-blonde head. “Not really.”
“Well, it takes a male part—the sperm—and a female part—the egg—to have a baby. When those two come together, they make a baby. Well, um… (I’m a writer, for God’s sake! When did I become so freaking illiterate?) When your mom and I decided we wanted to have you, we didn’t have any sperm, obviously, so we went to something called a sperm bank. Have you ever heard of that?”
“Umm…no.” Lucas smiled. He always smiled when he was nervous. “Do we have to talk about this?”
“I just think you’re old enough to know some things. Do your friends ever talk about where babies come from?”
Shannon envisioned Lucas’ bespectacled group of 4th grade cronies. Geeks. Nerds. Whatever noun you chose, they were your typical science-loving, Star Wars-quoting, video-game-adoring, fart-joke-rendering, girl-repelling, lactose-intolerant, asthmatic group of highly intellectual, socially inadequate boys. Three of the four, Lucas included, sang in the Metropolitan Boys Choir. Four of the four were competing in their school’s completely optional, non-obligatory, doesn’t-affect-your-grade Science Fair.
“Do your friends ever talk about…well, you know….sex?”
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“I think we should.”
“No, mom, we don’t talk about sex or babies.”
Shannon believed him. This was the child who, just the day before, had said to her, “Hey mom, Sully and I have a theory about how water molecules are held together…” These were the things he and his buddies discussed on the playground at recess.
“Okay. Well, when two women want to have a baby, they go to a sperm bank and borrow sperm from a man who donated it. That man is a donor. You have a donor out there and your brother and sister both have donors. It’s all anonymous, so we know very little about your donor aside from medical history and some basic description.”
“Okay,” Lucas responded anxiously. “Are we done?”
“Do you want to be done?”
“Okay, we don’t have to talk about this now.” Perhaps having your first conversation about sex while lying in bed with your mother is not ideal. Perhaps, just maybe, Shannon was scarring him for life; essentially dooming all his future sexual encounters to miserable, soul-crushing failure. As she considered the bill for her son’s lengthy and expensive future psychoanalysis—she wondered briefly if Ruanita’s connections in the mental health field could secure them a good deal—Shannon said, “I just want to say one more thing and then we can be done.”
Lucas groaned. He rolled over on his side and pulled the cover up to his chin, bracing himself for whatever verbal vomitus his mother intended to inflict on him this time. “Okay,” he muttered. “What?”
“I just want you to know that you can always come to your mom and me with questions.”
He nodded vigorously, obviously hoping that the harder he nodded, the quicker the conversation would come to an end.
“If you ever have questions about sex or babies or donors or…anything…I want you to come to us. You know you can talk to us, right?”
Lucas nodded again, much more earnestly than before. Shannon was concerned he would dislocate something that would prove vital to his future as a Pulitzer prize-winning physicist living in his parents’ basement, so she decided to put him out of his misery and end the conversation there.
She grabbed the iPad from her nightstand and turned it on. “So,” she said. “Should I play sudoku or mahjong tonight?”
“Sudoku.” Lucas smiled, relief evident in his blue eyes. “Definitely Sudoku.” He laid his head on Shannon’s shoulder. “Mom, can we never talk about that again?”
Shannon breathed a sigh of relief. She had done it. She had broached the topic with her eldest son; had introduced the word “sperm donor” despite his mortification. It was not done perfectly–or perhaps even remotely adequately–but she had done it. Shannon had done the bare minimum required of any responsible parent. And she found herself oddly content with the bare minimum. Like parents the world over, it was now time to sit back and observe the fall-out from her less than stellar parenting.
“Sure, honey,” she relied. “We’re done.”