Papa Ed: The Busy Life of a Prolific Sperm Donor

By Barbara Hardinghaus

Part 2: Busy Making Babies

Houben gets off the bus and onto another train, takes it for a few stops, gets off and disappears as he strides briskly down a path into the Berlin night.

The next day, he's sitting in a café on what one might call his lunch break, drinking a mug of hot chocolate. He's still tired. "Well, it was a short night," he says. He is 1.90 meters (6'3") tall, heavy and doesn't sleep well on air mattresses. The first attempt planned for the evening had to be called off. He arrived 30 minutes too late on account of the work being done on the subway and the replacement bus service.

"The would-be mother wasn't pleased," Houben says. "So we're going to try it again today during the day."

He notes that they already made a first attempt in the morning. Houben had to get up early. The would-be mother fed the cats and made a breakfast of fresh rolls and coffee. "Should we walk over to the bedroom?" she asked after breakfast.

Houben doesn't know how many attempts he has made throughout his life. He meets 10 to 15 women a month. It started when he was 29, didn't have a girlfriend and wanted a family. He had heard that there were others in a similar position, even couples. He decided he wanted to help them.

He went to a Dutch fertility clinic and donated some sperm. Over time, he had donated so much sperm that, after four years, it was enough for 25 children. At that point, according to the law, he could no longer donate sperm. But he didn't want it to stop, so he went to a clinic in Belgium. In the evenings, he pursued his new mission, which involved sitting in front of the computer. He eventually found a website for lesbian couples who wanted to have children.

Other men would offer their services in classified ads. A typical description might read: "Hans, 28, athletic." But this was too crude for Houben. Most men wanted money, and they wanted to remain anonymous. He, on the other hand, felt that every child has the right to find out, at an early age, who his or her father is instead of waiting until adulthood, when they could use legal channels to find out. He wrote long letters to the women.

On Break

He deliberately became a father for the first time almost nine years ago, Houben says in the Berlin café. He had traveled to a town near Amsterdam to father a child. He doesn't accept money from would-be mothers, he says, just reimbursement for his travel expenses. The would-be mother from Berlin is paying him €130 for the bus and the flights, plus a credit card surcharge. She's also feeding him. As he sits in the café, she is back in her apartment making a mushroom cream soup, Strammer Max (a traditional German dish consisting of a slice of bread fried in butter and covered with ham and fried egg) and salad for lunch.

He has to be back by 2 p.m. He pulls his watch, which is hanging on a silver chain, out of the side pocket of his trousers. He still has a little time left.

When he fathered the first child, the one near Amsterdam, he told his brother and his sister. They were older "ex-hippies," as he describes them, "anarchist types." They congratulated him, saying that he was doing a good thing. They likened it to donating blood, and they said he was helping others create a life.

"At first, I was just dealing with Dutch women, and I was using the cup method," he says.

He interrupts the conversation. It's time to go back to the apartment. The second attempt is planned for after lunch.

Not Waiting for Mr. Right

The next day, a blonde woman comes into a different café in Berlin. She's the would-be mother. She sits down and orders a cup of tea.

She's slender and has large brown eyes, and she's wearing a thick knit cap because she easily gets cold. She's willing to talk as long as her name isn't revealed.

She seems buoyant and light-hearted. Of course, she doesn't know yet whether it worked and she's pregnant. "It's hard to feel anything at this point," she says. She'll know more in two weeks, on the 28th day of her cycle, when her period is supposed to start. "Time will fly by between now and then," she says.

She looks up, smiles shyly and says: "It was pretty stressful yesterday."

The first attempt in the morning went pretty well, she says. But the second attempt with Ed, in the afternoon, wasn't as successful. She says a few things to indicate what went wrong. Finally, she says: "He just wasn't in shape anymore."

She has wanted to have a child for the last five years, and she's become an expert on the issue over time. "Some people say you shouldn't do it twice in one day. But doing it twice means that the sperm is in the body five hours longer." That, she says, increases the odds.

She does a lot of things she believes will increase her chances of getting pregnant. After each attempt, she continues to lie on her back for 15 minutes. She doesn't drink, and she's changed her diet to include more fat and even the occasional ice cream. She prefers the "natural method," that is, having sex with men who want to donate their sperm.

"I'm completely pragmatic about it," she says. She has rules for the sex. She doesn't have a problem with kissing the man. She puts on nice lingerie, but not her best. "And I don't jerk him off or give him a blowjob," she says. She talks with the man when it's all over, during the 15 minutes on her back.

As a molecular biologist with a Ph.D. who worked in the United States for a long time, she is familiar with how it all works. She has studied plenty of complex processes in her life, including ones involving proteins, and she's familiar with coding and DNA sequences.

She had a few boyfriends, but she never wanted children during those periods. Then she turned 30 and decided she did want children, but she didn't have a boyfriend anymore. "Do you really want to wait until Mr. Right comes along?" she asked herself.

She started searching online, but at first all she found were pornography sites. Then she stumbled upon the spermaspender.de site and scrolled through the profiles of potential sperm donors.

Gerhard -- Height: 1.83 meters. Age: 40. Hair volume: Full. Glasses: Yes. Nationwide donation possible: Yes. Method: Natural. Marital status: In a committed relationship. Message: "Hi. I'm very happy to help, and I'm uncomplicated."

Markus1976 -- Height: 1.72 meters. Age: 35. Hair volume: Full. Body shape: Slightly overweight.

At first, she chose a veteran policeman with two children and a medical report. But then it turned out that he always wanted to get together in parking lots, even on days when she wasn't fertile. It made her skeptical.

She also met an architect, but he perspired too heavily. And there was a salsa dancer, too, but he wasn't reliable.

When 'Cleopatra' Met Ed

She took a break for a few years and finally created her own profile, calling herself "Cleopatra." Ed Houben from Maastricht contacted her. He wrote her a long letter.

Ed was different. She met him in December for the first time, and every four weeks after that. Ed was reliable and warm-hearted, and he knew how to talk about love. She hadn't experienced this before -- not with other donors, not with past boyfriends and not even with her parents.

Since meeting Ed, she no longer goes to dance clubs, nor is she looking online for someone to spend her life with anymore. She spends her time looking for a new job and waiting for Ed. She lives her life according to the rhythm of her menstrual cycle.

"Ed is so unproblematic. You don't even notice him," she says. But then, yesterday afternoon, there was a problem after all. She knew that he had a flight to catch at 6 p.m., and she could hear the church bells ringing at 4 o'clock. She changed her mind, opting for the cup instead, which was the faster approach. When the cup was full, she wrapped it in a towel, placed it on the radiator to keep it warm, rode her bike to the pharmacy and bought a syringe "for rearing hamsters," she says. She rode home again. "Then I inserted it very slowly and made sure that I had another orgasm."

That also increases the odds, she says.

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