She is a very roly-poly girl.
Juicy, wide cheeks. Deep creases in her thighs. I love every blessed inch of Kaj Grace, yet at night I find myself lying awake, thinking about the glances we get when we’re out together. I know what people are thinking: Fat mother. Fat baby.
Ken and I drive in silence over rural Quebec roads. It’s the day of his sister’s wedding, and I’ve lured him into my car with the excuse that we must go pick up chairs.
I don’t look at him. “Do you remember a couple of years ago, us talking on the new deck at the cottage?”
“I do,” Ken says. He smiles slightly; I can see it out of the corner of my eye.
“Well, I’m ready now,” I say. I still can’t look at him. There’s more I should say: I want to be pregnant. I will ovulate in three weeks. I don’t want to wait.
He says nothing.
“We can talk about, you know, specifics,” I say.
“What do you mean?”
I blush, thinking he’s thinking about the specifics of insemination. “Like how much of a role you would play in the baby’s life. That sort of thing.”
“Oh.” Ken looks away.
“I’m easy about that,” I say. “Whatever you feel comfortable with.”
Now he’s looking at me, but I focus on my driving. “This is a big decision,” he says.
“And I want you to take as much time as you need,” I say quickly, though it’s a lie. I want what I want. I want his sperm, and I want it now. I want his sperm because I love his big family, a family I grew up with. I want his sperm because his sister is my best friend. I want his sperm because I want my baby to have two families. I want not just him, but his entire family, to be the father of my child. For my child to be one of the beautiful Hashimoto offspring: astoundingly gorgeous half-Japanese, half-white children.
As we get out of the car at the church I stop him before he walks in to start loading chairs. I say, “Listen, just think about it. And we’ll talk in a couple of weeks, is that okay?”
He nods, and we look at each other for a long moment before we go inside.
On the ten-hour drive back to New York from the wedding, I work it over in my head. I could wait for him. But everyone says it takes at least three tries to get pregnant. I want to get the two practice shots over with.
So I go Googling for sperm, at work.
I tell myself I’m just doing research. I’ve made up my mind to have a baby, but I have no clear idea how to go about it. I’ve heard about turkey basters and do-it-yourself kits. I know there are sperm banks: genius sperm banks and lesbian-friendly sperm banks and an astonishing number of sperm banks in California.
And one in White Plains, just 25 minutes away. I click through the website until I get to descriptions of the donors. I look at the profiles, at white men, Hispanic men, and African American men.
I lean back in my office chair and stare out the miniature window over my desk. A coworker stops by my office, a sheaf of papers in her hand. “What are you doing?” she asks, glancing at my computer screen.
I minimize the web browser. “Research,” I say.
She sits in the visitor’s chair. “Right,” she says. “For work.” We smile. “You’re really going to do this,” she says.
“Yes, I am.”
I bring up the Google results again and begin to scroll down. “There are a lot more sperm banks than I ever imagined,” I say, scrolling down the list. Then I notice: Scandinavian Donors. Worldwide delivery.
“Aren’t you Danish?” asks my coworker as I click on the website.
“My mom is. My dad’s Norwegian.”
“Hmm. Very blonde,” she remarks, looking at a picture of a mother and baby on the homepage.
“I’m blonde,” I say.
Looking at the image, I’m aware of a primal desire for one of those white, blonde babies. I see in my mind a photograph of my mother and me when I’m a year old. I’m pulling off her glasses and she has her head thrown back, she’s laughing. I have blonde, curly hair like the baby in the photo, and my mother is happy, like the mother in the photo.
All thoughts of Ken, waiting for him, leave me for the moment.
Yet I’m uncomfortable with what feels like an egocentric and narcissistic longing. The white-haired baby. It brings to mind a feeling I’ve harbored since I was a teenager, growing up fat: Well, I may be fat…but at least I’m blonde.
We live in a world that undeniably values Caucasian, blue-eyed babies. As I sit here wanting one, myself, I wonder where my politics have gone: my belief in equality and the beauty of a multicultural universe.
“I just want the baby to look like me,” I tell my coworker.
“Fine, fine,” she says. “I’m just saying.”
It’s a strange thing, to just think about what ingredients I want to use in producing a baby. I’ve never been married, but I can’t imagine that people marry for those ingredients — for the kind of children they will bake up. I imagine they fall in love and have children together as an expression of their love: a little of me, a little of you left forever in the world.
So what does it mean to have a child alone?
After my coworker leaves, I sit pondering the Scandinavian sperm bank website. It feels like sheer consumerism.
I am buying a baby.
I pay one hundred dollars to access the detailed donor profiles. The more I look, the clearer I become about my criteria. Blonde. Blue-green eyes. Advanced degree. Creative. All like me. I feel excited and sick as I look over the profiles.
I notice that the bank has a photo-matching service and I sign up for that too, though hesitantly, because my private criteria will now become known to someone else. I will have to tell someone outright: I want a child exactly like me. Still, I’m on a roll and determined now, so I email a rather glamorous photo of myself from earlier in the summer: me as fit and thin and tanned as I’ve ever been, the wind blowing long strands of golden hair off my face.
If I’m gonna make a match, I think, I’m gonna do it with the very best version of me.
I call Claus, the director of the sperm bank, to be sure he got the photo and to explain that I want someone who looks like me.
“It’s pretty subjective, you understand,” he replies.
“Of course. Whatever you can do,” I say.
Later, I realize this service probably isn’t meant for this purpose. It’s probably meant to match the donor to the parenting father, so the baby can look somewhat like him; or perhaps for lesbian couples, to ensure that the baby looks a little like the non-gestating mother.
I speak with Claus again a few days later. He’s forwarded my photo to the head office in Denmark. The women who work there recommend Olaf.
“The girls tell me that he’s very nice,” Claus says. “And handsome, too.”
I laugh. “That’s a bonus.” But what I am thinking is: Handsome is not a bonus — it’s essential.
I hang up the phone.
I realize that in my heart of hearts, I not only want this child to look like me and be like me… I want this child to be better than me. Better, because she’s going to have everything that I have, plus she’s going to be thin.
I should be shocked by my own terrible thinking, but I’ve gone beyond all that now. I am feverish with the idea. My thinking goes like this: I got fat because my mom abandoned me, because there were some sad terrible things that happened to me when I was little. And so I ate. So I got fat, and then I had that to deal with, too. So now, well, now, it’s too late for me — I’ll never get over being fat. And I’ll never be thin.
But my kid…well, he or she will have all the physical advantages that I squandered by being fat. She will be thin, because she will have a mother who does not leave her. He’ll have a mother who won’t let him be sexually abused. She will have all the mothering I never had, so she can be thin. I’m going to be a great, god-like mother. And I’m not even kidding.
I get pregnant on the first try. I’ll never know now if Ken would have gone through with it. Or how beautiful my half-Japanese baby would have been.
Kaj is a long, thin newborn. Twenty-two inches: almost two feet long. I look down as she is being born and she’s like a long, red ribbon, slipping out of me endlessly — like a scarf from a magician’s sleeve. She lands lengthwise across my doctor’s arms.
She nurses well and loses only a little weight her first days home. The pediatrician is pleased. We go for our check-ups every few months and by our third visit, Kaj is in the 70th percentile for height and 90th percentile for weight. “Don’t worry,” Dr. Franklin says, “she’s healthy.”
When Kaj is ten months old, we go to one of the other doctors in the practice, because her usual pediatrician has moved to Florida. Dr. Black charts her numbers and says to me, “Well, 90th percentile for weight.” He looks at Kaj and then at me. “Wow, she’s a big baby.”
“Yes, she is big,” he says again.
I feel myself grow stiff, my face reddening.
“Give her two percent milk, not whole milk.”
“But she’s still on formula,” I say, though I can barely open my mouth.
I look at her on the examination table, naked and oblivious, with her thick thighs and Michelin Man arms. She has a foot in her hand and pulls it to her mouth to suck on her toes. This is a little hard for her, what with the thighs and all, but she manages.
The doctor is looking at her, too, and it’s as though he is looking at my naked thighs — my wide, rippling celluloid thighs. I step between him and Kaj and feel his eyes move to the broadness of my back. With thick, clumsy fingers I rush to dress her. As I pull up her little pants, I don’t see her: I see me. I carry her away as fast as I can.