Does sperm bank’s mix-up color a child’s future?

by | Oct 5, 2014 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You can’t always get what you want, but you should at least get what you order.

Even if it’s a baby.

That’s the upshot of a lawsuit filed by a lesbian couple in Ohio, who were shocked to find out they were having an African-American child.

Three years ago, the couple purchased sperm from a sperm bank in Illinois, selecting No. 380, a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed donor. Apparently, someone at the sperm bank misread the number as 330, which was an African-American donor.

By the time this was discovered, Jennifer Cramblett already was pregnant. According to lawsuit papers, the white couple’s dreams were dashed:

“Jennifer was crying, confused and upset. All of the thought, care and planning … to control their baby’s parentage had been rendered meaningless.”

Well. Experienced parents know trying to control parentage is a naive idea. Children don’t always come out the way you figure, from hair to eyes to things like blindness, developmental disorders or brain damage, all of which are a lot harder to deal with than skin color.

Nonetheless, despite having a healthy 2-year-old girl, Cramblett, 36, and her partner, Amanda Zinkon, 29, are suing for more than $50,000 in damages, to help them deal with the issues they claim of raising a biracial child.

“You cannot just say, ‘Oops, I’m sorry, be happy you got a child’ and walk away from this,” Cramblett told NBC News.

A reason to move?

The lawsuit claims that the child is subject to discrimination in tiny Uniontown, Ohio — which has 3,300 residents, 97% of them white — and that the couple needs to move to a more racially diverse community, even though they moved to Uniontown for good schools and proximity to family.

“I don’t want her to ever feel like she’s an outcast,” Cramblett told NBC.

Cramblett did not meet any African Americans until she was in college, according to the couple’s lawyer, and worries that her family, already having a hard time with her same-sex relationship, will not be accepting. The lawsuit even claims the couple endures hardships because the child “has hair typical of an African-American girl. To get a decent cut, Jennifer must travel to a black neighborhood, far from where she lives, where she is obviously different in appearance, and not overtly welcome.”

Wow. Where do you start? Clearly, the sperm bank made a serious mistake. Its system was vulnerable to human error. And that error had big ramifications.

“It wasn’t as though (Cramblett) was … ordering a pizza,” Thomas Intili, the couple’s lawyer, told NBC.

On the other hand, the couple did leaf through pages of donors and called in requesting No. 380, because that donor was blonde-haired and blue-eyed like Zinkon.

That is a bit of baby-by-number. And it’s curious why this was so important. Two blonde parents can produce a brunette or redhead. What’s the fascination with trying to engineer a mirror image? Did they think people wouldn’t figure out that one of them did not donate the sperm?

A burden for the child?

Even more head-scratching is the hair thing. Again, I understand wanting a business to do what it promises. But is cutting hair a hardship worth suing over? And if, as Cramblett’s lawyer claims, white people and black people are making her feel uneasy, maybe she should ignore them. If we all sued each time we didn’t feel accepted, you’d never get into a courtroom.

And, not to be insensitive, but if you are a lesbian couple having children in a small Midwestern town, haven’t you already braced for some kind of resistance?

(By the way, a trustee for their township told NBC the baby was totally welcome there and he couldn’t “fathom” the discrimination Cramblett claimed, citing Mennonite couples in town who had adopted black children.)

Would Cramblett and Zinkon sue if the baby had been born with cerebral palsy, or without legs, or with a cleft palate, hardships that parents regularly endure — along with stares from insensitive people?

To file a lawsuit that says, upon learning their baby would be biracial, the mother’s excitement “was replaced with anger, disappointment and fear” suggests that at least part of the issue of skin color begins with her.

And while the couple claims this is about punishing the sperm bank, one day their child will grow up to read about this suit. Said Cramblett: “She will understand that it wasn’t about, ‘We didn’t want you, we wanted a white baby.’ “

Maybe. Maybe not. I operate an orphanage in Haiti. I see couples endure years of hardship to adopt Haitian children that look nothing like them, including their hair, and welcome those often-challenged children into their families.

Maybe if we stopped worrying so much about engineering every element of our perfect lives, we wouldn’t be so disappointed. I’m not saying this couple doesn’t have a legitimate lawsuit against the sperm bank. But when the legal basis is “wrongful birth and breach of warranty,” it does make you wonder where we’re going as a society.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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