By Irene Morse
Oct. 6, 2014
If you order the meatball sandwich and the waiter brings out the BLT, you have every right to return the sandwich in exchange for a new one or to receive your money back. That’s just how capitalism works. But what happens if you order a baby and end up with the “wrong” one?
It’s a little bit harder to return a baby, but one lesbian couple in Ohio believes you ought to receive a refund and a little extra money on the side for your trouble. Here’s why their lawsuit is controversial.
Jennifer Cramblett and Amanda Zinkon, a white lesbian couple living in Uniontown, Ohio, decided they wanted to conceive a child together using donated sperm and contacted Midwest Sperm Bank in Illinois to begin the process. As is usually the case for couples selecting donated sperm, they were given donor profiles to review in order to select their preferred sperm. These profiles provide basic information about the donors, such as SAT score, hair and eye color, race, health problems, sperm vitality, etc. They are an attempt to give couples some control over the genetics of their child and select characteristics they value.
Cramblett and Zinkon selected donor number 380, a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes like Zinkon. Cramblett successfully conceived a child with this sperm, but at some point during the pregnancy the couple became aware that they had been given sperm from a completely different (and African-American) donor. When their clearly biracial child, Payton, was born on August 21, 2012, the mix up was confirmed once and for all.
Now there was obviously some incompetence here on the part of the sperm bank. The lawsuit indicates that Midwest Sperm Bank did not use electronic records; all paperwork was done in pen and ink, and there were no safeguards to prevent clerical errors. The mistake likely occurred when someone at the sperm bank misread the number “8” as a “3,” considering the sperm sent to the couple was from donor number 330. This is pretty inexcusable, considering that the fate of a family was hanging in the balance. There’s also an aspect of violation that makes the mistake particularly distressing. Most women prefer to have control over the sperm that enters their body; there’s a reason why handjobs, condoms, and marriage are popular. It must have taken some soul searching for a lesbian couple to decide to bring sperm into their relationship in the first place, so it’s not surprising that when Cramblett found out she was pregnant by the wrong sperm, she felt “depressed and angry.” Upon realizing their mistake, the sperm bank refunded much of the sperm the couple had ordered.
The couple is arguing that the refund simply wasn’t enough. And to be fair, they probably have grounds to sue, considering that the sperm bank failed in providing their advertised service. Race issues aside, the couple chose a certain donor (for whatever reason) and received sperm from a different donor. This would be difficult to stomach even if the mix up had occurred between two white donors. But since race is a factor in this particular case, it’s impossible to ignore. And here’s where the couple’s stance becomes a little bit dicey.
In addition to the plain and simple argument that the sperm bank messed up, Cramblett and Zinkon have been a little too busy making statements to the media about the unanticipated challenges of raising a black kid. These include Cramblett’s insensitive family, including an uncle who “speaks openly and derisively about people of color.” The couple also worries that Uniontown is not diverse or tolerant enough for their child. While it has great schools (their initial reason for moving there), it is 97 percent white. And in a final absurdity, Cramblett has complained that she must travel to a primarily African-American neighborhood to find an appropriate hair stylist for Payton. While there, she notes that she “is obviously different in appearance, and not overtly welcome.”
The lawsuit argues that the family ought to be recompensed for costs related to these challenges, such as moving to a more diverse area. While they certainly love their child and probably aren’t consciously racist, it seems that Cramblett and Zinkon are a lot more focused on the downsides to raising Payton than they are on the possibility of becoming more enlightened in the process of navigating the child’s upbringing.
Children rarely turn out how their parents expect. Even when both biological parents have brown hair, sometimes their kid is born with red hair. Some children are born with birth defects or are mentally disabled. Some children raised in law-abiding, middle-class, picket-fenced homes turn into violent criminals. Some children turn out to be gay. It’s the genetic lottery, it creates the incredibly diverse world we live in, and it’s what parents sign up for when they decide to have a child. Perhaps, caught up in their dissatisfaction with the sperm bank’s mistake, Cramblett and Zinkon are blind to the extreme irony of their situation. As lesbians, they have faced the anger, confusion, and grief of their own parents, upset and unaccepting of who their children had become.
The only difference? Their parents didn’t have anyone to sue.