Motherhood isn't black and white
'White lesbian mother sues sperm bank after birth of biracial baby" read a recent headline. I thought I may have been reading The Onion.
Jennifer Cramblett, 36 and her lesbian partner, Amanda Winkon, had wanted a child with blond hair and blue eyes. They live in Uniontown, Ohio, with a population of just over 2,800. Uniontown is an all-white community. They had chosen Donor 380, but Midwest Sperm Bank gave them Donor 330,
a clerical error due to gross negligence. On Christmas Eve of 2011, the couple found out Cramblett was pregnant. On April 9, 2012, they learned they were having a girl. On April 23, they discovered they were going to have a biracial child. Donor 330 is black.
According to a statement in their lawsuit, the receptionist had asked if she had asked for a black donor. Cramblett replied, "No, why would I request that? My partner and
I are Caucasian."
Why would a white mother conceivably want a black or biracial child, her statement implies.
Their child, Payton, is now two years old. The couple is now suing the Midwest Sperm Bank for US$50,000 (1.6 million baht) in damages — they have suffered emotional distress and they have to move in order to enrol their daughter in a school that is not all-white.
Anyone could sympathise with the horrors of being artificially inseminated with sperm from the wrong donor and the couple being robbed of their choice in determining what their family would look like, what DNA traits the child would inherit. The lawsuit, on accounts of wrongful birth and breach of warranty, isn't simple, though — it is one that not only touches upon the nature of queer reproductive justice, but also speaks of apparent racism.
In the lawsuit, Cramblett stated "that she was raised around stereotypical attitudes about people other than those in her all-white environment" — in other words, a racist, homophobic family who tried to accept her as a lesbian but also urged her to repress appearing as such.
She didn't come into contact with black people until she started college at the University of Akron.
Cramblett and Winkon claim they have raised Payton lovingly. But loving your own biracial child doesn't qualify you as not racist. I'm not here to state that I think the couple, their families and perhaps the whole of Uniontown, are racist. I'm interested in the notion that, for quite possibly the first time in their lives, these white women are forced to confront the issue of race, when they have almost undoubtedly been marginalised in a different way for their homosexuality. The forms and systems of oppressions are, of course, experienced in different dimensions and multitudes. Here is the epitome of being a lesbian and not being an ally.
Cramblett cited stress stemming from getting Payton haircuts, because her hair is typical of a black child. For the haircuts, Cramblett has to travel to a black neighbourhood, where she does not feel welcomed.
The couple is moving out of Uniontown because they don't want Payton "to feel stigmatised or unrecognised due simply to the circumstances of her birth", the statement continues, using euphemisms in place of the root of the issue — the circumstance of her blackness.
If they could live in a homogeneous town as a lesbian couple, is it that unimaginable that a biracial child is introduced into the equation?
Why does no one care about this allegedly homogeneous racist town?
Being a lesbian is classified as an uncontrollable factor when conceiving
a child. Race, on the other hand, is treated as an infringement on these women's lives. The outcome of the lawsuit would define whether blackness is a defect in the child, whether race is a quality in a person. It is not about malpractice, it is about raising
a biracial child in America. It is about a child and artificial prejudices.
Questions have been raised about how differently the news would sound if the couple were heterosexual, or if they were requesting a black child and instead were given
a white child.
In all these hypothetical and real circumstances, the sperm bank would have committed inexcusable malpractice, where a lawsuit is warranted. (The Midwest Sperm Bank blames it on poor deciphering of handwriting, because they do not keep digital records, only handwritten ones.)
In these scenarios, dealing with the needs of a child and "inconvenience" is a part of parenting. So is teaching a child to grow up without forming preconceptions of "the other", teaching them to embrace diversity. Imagine Payton growing up and finding out she had been a mistake, simply because she isn't white.
Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana is a writer for the Bangkok Post's Life section.