By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What if one day a biological child tracked her down? "At the point I'm at now, that may be OK with me," she says. "But 20 years from now I don't know how I'll feel about decisions I made in the past."
Within minutes, the nurses wheel her out, readying her for the anesthesia.
"She's just the typical college kid," says Barnett, as he walks to the changing room to put scrubs over his clothes. Once dressed for the task, he enters the room set for the surgery. Low-hanging dim lights loom over the donor, who is flanked by nurses. As the tube in Melissa's nose sustains her sleep, her bare legs rest on stirrups.
The sound of beeping from a nearby machine fills the room, and Barnett takes a small seat before her. Guided by an ultrasound image on the monitor to his side, he inserts a few inches of a long needle into her vagina. Soon, the screen shows it puncturing one of the dozens of follicles containing her eggs. Normally, a woman has a handful of follicles vying each month to be the one to release the dominant egg. Those that don't succeed merely die. But with the hormones that Melissa has taken, all of the eggs mature. And each and every one is ready to be harvested. Slowly, Barnett guides the needle, which sucks out the egg and its surrounding liquid, to be placed in a vial. The remaining follicle becomes vacuous, like an airless balloon.
"Got any, Keith?" asks Barnett, calling out to the embryologist in the adjoining lab now checking the vial for eggs under a microscope.
"One...two," he replies.
"She's a wonderful girl and an excellent donor," Barnett says, his voice slightly muffled from the mask he's wearing. "We know she makes beautiful eggs."
One by one, he fills the flasks with the blood-tinged liquid that surrounds those prized eggs, not visible to the naked eye.
"How we doing?" he asks.
"We're done," says Barnett. "What's the final count?"
Standing in the small living room of his Fort Worth home, "Lester" glances at the adjoining bedroom where his guitar rests. "I can't wait to be a dad," says this nearly 50-year-old tall, heavyset man with short, brown hair in a ponytail. "I'll teach my kid lullabies," he says, flittering his fingers.
Whether he'll ever realize that dream, he can't say for sure. And neither can his wife, "Brenda," an accountant in her early 40s. For the past three years, they've tried to have a child. "A snapshot in time," that's how Brenda sees both herself and her husband in their home; she knows that they're both just as fleeting as those other families who have come and gone, occupying this small house since it was built in the 1920s. She wants that link to the future. She wants a child.
For Lester, having a baby, wanting a baby, is simply part of that "animal drive," as he bluntly puts it. "I think it's almost biological," he says, sitting on the sofa next to his wife. "I think it's natural for human beings to want to procreate and see their genes being passed down."
This past December, a doctor at a fertility clinic in Bedford, the Center for Assisted Reproduction, told them that because Brenda hasn't responded well to hormones to stimulate her ovaries, the closest they'll come to having a shared child is through an anonymous egg donor.
"It kind of hit me hard," says Brenda of the diagnosis. But she saw "hope in the next step."
With only a list of characteristics to go by, they've selected a donor, one who shares Brenda's blond hair and blue eyes. If the implantation works, neither Lester nor Brenda (not their real names) will tell anyone--including the child--of their use of a third party.
If anything, they wouldn't want anyone, especially family, seeing the child as "half a stranger," as Lester puts it. "I would hate to think that any relative would say the first time the child gets a 'D,' 'Must be the donor's side of the family.'"
"I would want the child to be fully accepted," adds Brenda. "I don't know." She falls silent.
"It just seems that there are a lot of people out there in the world who want to make people feel like they're less than them," says her husband. "I'm more worried about the bigots of the world than anything else."
"I guess for me, the biggest fear is of the unknown," says Brenda, who has two failed marriages behind her and, like Lester, no children. "Like if the child has some disease or medical problem in their lifetime, I'll be asking, 'Is this normal?'"
"But then again," Lester says, "what family doesn't have something?"
The small, wooden clock above the mantel clangs.
In another week, the donor whom they've chosen will have her eggs retrieved at the clinic. She's already been screened, having met the clinic's requirements: among them, being between the ages of 19 and 30, disease-free, and having a healthy genetic history. And like the other women, she has undergone--and passed--a psychological test. Hours after this donor's scheduled surgery, doctors will mix several of her eggs with Lester's sperm.