News & Politics

Lesbian Couple Sues Sperm Bank after Conceiving Biracial Child

Jennifer-Cramblett-and-Tim-Misny-638x425

Jennifer Cramblett and her attorney, Tim Misny

There is very little control to be had when trying to create a baby, which is why choosing a sperm donor can be something couples pour themselves into emotionally. When my partner and I were perusing our sperm bank options, I picked apart those online profiles wondering if this donor’s love of piano or that donor’s soccer skills would be an asset to the baby I was dreaming of having. With so much thought and care going into choosing a donor, yes, I’d be upset if I found out I had received the wrong vial in a sperm bank mix-up – but that was not what struck me while reading this article about a lesbian couple suing a sperm bank for a donor mix-up that resulted in the “wrongful birth” of their child.

When I read the headline, “Wrong Sperm Given To Lesbian Couple,” I clicked because I felt that I might relate, but as I began reading, my reaction was not sympathetic, but rather horrified. Basically, this couple is suing because they received black genetic material when they had ordered white genetic material. The lawsuit is seeking damages because of “emotional and economic losses” from having a mixed race child. As a lesbian, a parent, a person of color and someone who has loved people who hold racist and homophobic views, this story saddens and infuriates me in deeply personal ways.

Yes, when you purchase one thing and receive something different you have a right to take that up with the company and litigation is appropriate in some situations. But at the center of this lawsuit there is a child and this child’s well-being should take precedence over everything else. Even if a monetary settlement goes directly to make this child’s life better, the entire premise of this lawsuit is that this child’s race is problematic, not the racism surrounding this family. This child’s blackness is the damage. No amount of money is worth making a child feel like a mistake or a burden.

The statements by the attorney are carefully worded to make it clear that while racism is the problem (or “stereotypical attitudes about non-whites” as they awkwardly stated in order to make it sound polite), this injury was inflicted by the sperm–that sneaky black sperm–not by centuries of institutional degradation of an entire segment of humanity.

The lawsuit language seems to take great pains to assure the court that it isn’t the parents who are the racists. Surely they love their daughter, but with complaints like not being “overtly welcome” in the black neighborhood closest to their racist all-white neighborhood, it’s clear there doesn’t seem to be a lot of cultural competency. I do believe these parents love their daughter, and I do believe they are being confronted with their own racism along with the prejudices around them. I’m sure it has opened old wounds around their own identities and the homophobia they battle in their own family and community. That can’t be easy. Their self admitted “learning curve” is steep. It will be a difficult road ahead for both the parents and their child.

This young girl is a minority born into a family that was not expecting her and does not share her identity. They have intolerant ideas about certain characteristics that define who she is and this is the situation that many LGBT people are born into as well. The script has been flipped in this situation and it highlights the differences and intersectionality of the prejudices out there. Forms of oppression, while not interchangeable, are all connected. Queer people do not inherently understand race issues just as people of color aren’t immune to homophobia.

The proposed solution for this family by the girl’s parents (and their therapists) is to move to a more diverse area. Moving won’t fix the issues this family is facing and would not be an option for many families as it requires resources and sacrifice. Still, I agree that it’s the best option they have at the moment, but it doesn’t address the root of the problem: Racism. What I want to know is how are they going to work against racism now that it directly touches their lives? Are they examining why their approach to parenting is different now that their child is of a different race than they expected? Why were they comfortable raising a white child among racists and homophobes?

We all face things about our kids that are unexpected, some more complex and challenging than others. No parent is totally equipped to take on full-time care of a tiny human being but we get equipped. Our job as parents is to step up and put our kids’ best interests first. If that means educating ourselves so that we may properly advocate for our children, then that’s what we do. This lawsuit is misguided and will leave a painful public legacy that this child will eventually have to face. But if they are forced to examine their privilege and are moved to challenge the prejudice they’ve chosen to ignore to this point, this could be a needed wake up call that will make their lives better.

FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK DUNCAN

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26 Comments

  1. Wow! When I saw this news article, it brought up a huge amount of thoughts and frustration…. but I wouldn’t have dared to touch it with a 10 foot pool in the blogosphere. I am so happy that someone did. You did a great job of pointing out the irony without demonizing the parents. Intersection of ‘isms is tough and scary to adress; you said it best by refocusing on the child and what he/she is learning of their self worth through this.

    • Thanks. It’s a tough one to tackle because while I didn’t want to downplay the obvious racism at the heart of this – I do want to leave room to believe that these parents are doing the best they know how. And hope they learn to do better quickly.

  2. Wow, incredibly well said! I was so incredibly sad for this baby and the life she will have, always feeling “othered” in her own family! Your family should be your safe space, your cocoon of safety, and no matter what they are saying, they have negative feelings about her. I honestly cannot believe they would show their faces, and that of their lovely little one. They are an embrassment to the entire queer community.

  3. Yes on what everyone has said. My deep hope is that this little girl will go to school or church or synagogue or get on a soccer team where a grown-up who looks like her scoops her up and takes her under their wing. She will need a champion since her parents are so obviously clueless about the damage their racism is doing/will do that that sweet baby. ALSO, as someone who used donor sperm from a bank WHO LETS SOMEONE PUT SOMETHING INSIDE OF THEM WITHOUT DOUBLE CHECKING THE NUMBER YOU ORDERED AND THE NUMBER ON THE VIAL?

  4. What I find interesting as a lawyer is how everyone reads a civil complaint, which is a very specific type of legal document, as if it’s somehow a statement of how these parents feel. It isn’t. It’s a document that informs the person you’re suing and the court you’re suing them as to the bare facts and legal bases on which you are suing them. And “wrongful birth,” however awful it sounds, is a tort. The law is full of these weird terms– an open pit in someone’s backyard that the neighborhood kids like to go check out (and get hurt in) is called an “attractive nuisance.” There’s also such a thing as “negligent rescue”– going to help someone, but doing it so badly that you hurt them. I am concerned with how casually we are all calling these women racists. These women paid a fertility clinic thousands of dollars to perform a service, and the clinic didn’t do it right. They have every right to sue. Does anyone dispute that this kid will face racism in her life, more than she would have if her DNA was from two white people? Why shouldn’t her parents be awarded sufficient money to find ways to make that better?

    • Vikki Reich says:

      Taken from the Chicago Tribune piece: “Part of that learning curve has included getting her daughter’s hair cut, which according to the suit requires Cramblett to travel to a black neighborhood, ‘where she is obviously different in appearance, and not overtly welcome.'”

      I look at this comment and see a mother who is primarily concerned with her own comfort. When she talks about her family as racist and homophobic, I question her ability and willingness to take a stand and advocate for her family. I understand that this is a legal case and there is legal language involved but there is also ignorance and racism in the mix as well.

      • Yes, that comment about not being overtly welcome was the one that stuck out the most to me. To be so tone deaf on race issues that you have the audacity to complain about a few hours in a predominantly POC space because they aren’t doing cartwheels to welcome you? That is what made me believe that her self-admitted “learning curve” is a steep one.

    • Deborah Goldstein says:

      IF the suit had been purely about getting the wrong sperm, there would be no controversy or story. You pay for something and get something else, and that’s not good. When the parents try to prove suffering because of race, well then that’s racism. Why didn’t they sue as soon as they found about the mistake? Why did they wait for issues revolving race to surface before claiming wrong-doing?

      Yes, the child may face racism – especially, the parents admit, in the town where they live. And a white child may learn to be racist in that very same town.

      • I’m not sure how quickly things progress to court in the US but here in Australia the parents may well have started proceedings as soon as they discovered the mistake and it would take years before it made it to the court docket and therefore became public knowledge to be able to be reported on in the newspapers. I wouldn’t assume the parents have waited for issues to surface.
        I hate the terminology “wrongful birth” but I understand the parents are restricted to whatever legal avenues are available to them.
        I don’t know what their true reasons are for suing but if it was me it would be more about making sure the clinic realised how important it is to check they send the correct sperm to EVERYONE in future and with big companies often the only way they will change their practices is if they realise the cost of not changing (potential law suits) is higher than the cost of employing staff to ensure correct protocols are followed.
        Look at the renewable energy debate – when big companies faced extra taxes for not being energy efficient they invested in changes to reduce their electricity usage but prior to the proposed taxes very few did anything about this and now that the taxes have been removed there is no incentive for other companies to bother. Unfortunately money talks.

        • Hi Lori! According to The Chicago Tribune, the suit was filed Monday, September 29th, but they couple learned of the mistake in April 2012.

          And can you believe that the bank keeps hand-written records instead of electronic? Probably not for long, right? A mix up at all invites action and hopefully sends a message to other banks.

  5. Well done, Sandra.

  6. theresa fisher says:

    Exactly my reaction!

  7. Like the rest of the country, I have been slack-jawed by this story. But, having watched one of the moms on interviews, I think the racism here is far more insidious than I had previously thought.

    I do not believe that the moms are disappointed in or hate their daughter in any way (I can’t believe I even have to write that). I believe they love daughter and want her to live in a place where she can be comfortable and see herself reflected in other people. Now, here’s the interesting part of the story to me. Why would it be ok with the moms to raise a white kid in such a segregated area? And why was it ok for them to live there before they had their daughter ~ in a place where “others” are made to feel uncomfortable?

    I’m not a big advocate of moving to be comfortable. In my happy world we each get to live wherever the hell we please, but in general I do wonder about tacit approval of racism/segregation/homophobia/whatever prejudice until it directly “affects” us. I wonder about the moms’ silence, even their possible participation in the segregation/racism of their area prior to the birth of their daughter. I wonder if they ever questioned the lack of diversity in their town before they were confronted with it directly.

    My question, simply, is: What do we allow to go on around us ~ what do we “let slide” ~ or even agree with ~ until we find ourselves and our families on the other side of that hate?

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  9. I guess the white lesbian couple wasn’t too concerned about raising a white child in a racist environment… nothing to challenge there, huh?

    Gazillion Voices on-line magazine ((www.gazillionvoices.com) is publishing a LGBTQ issue that I am sure will touch on many of these intersections, especially as they relate to children of color being raised by white parents. Looking forward to more dialogue.

    Thanks for writing on this, Sandra and Village Q.

    Rocki

    • Exactly! It’s too easy for white people, particularly those in homogenous communities to think racism isn’t “their problem.”

  10. Thoughtful piece, West Philly Mom, on issues that continue to recycle and exhaust us. To the mothers, on moving through their pain, read some Tim Wise, check your privilege and stop othering your child before she’s even potty trained!

    Signed, a Philly-Daughter

    • That’s some good advice. Here’s hoping they can open their ears and hearts to some of the criticism they are getting and make some progress.

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