Going about having a baby the traditional route isn’t an option for everyone. Whether you’re a single woman, single man, in a gay relationship or a hetero couple with fertility issues, sometimes the only option is a visit to a cryobank to buy some sperm. But guess what? Sperm ain’t cheap. And it’s not covered by insurance.
Good-quality sperm is now going for upward of $1,000 a vial. And by quality? Well, let’s just say the taller, whiter and more educated a donor is, the higher the price you’ll have to pay. The process of buying sperm as well as alternate fertility options are available for those who can afford it. With prices ranging from $12,000 and up, to conceive a baby through in vitro fertilization and sperm donations, you’re looking at college-tuition prices way before the child is born.
But there are options for sperm seekers. And one New York City professor has spent the last several years helping people create the families they’ve always wanted.
At last count, Ari Nagel has helped make 21 kids, whose ages range up to 7, with his free sperm donations. Nagel originally told his story to the New York Post, but in true Post style, the story seemed a bit sensationalized. So I decided to reach out to Nagel, to get his story in his own words, as well as to Tiffany Harrison, one of the mothers of a child he helped create.
The Root: How did you decide to take on this endeavor?
Ari Nagel: It started with one and progressed from there. The first two times, one was a single woman approaching 40 or so. She didn’t have any children and wasn’t meeting anyone, which I suppose could be a challenge in New York City for a single woman. And she just was going to go at it alone. She didn’t want to go through a bank because she was afraid the child wouldn’t be accepted. So she wanted to have a marriage.
And a week later after the child's birth, we had a divorce. So the kid wouldn’t be born out of wedlock. At the same time, there was a lesbian couple that I helped as well. And they wanted a child. They each had children of their own, but they wanted one that they’d have together. Both situations were both very rewarding to see how happy a family was that I took part in. People heard what I did, and then it progressed from there.
TR: How many kids have you produced?
AN: I have 22 children. My first child was not a donation; he's 12 years old. The other 21 kids are all 7 and under.
TR: In the New York Post article, it seemed that they were all black women. Are they all black?
AN: No; you know, I wanted to get permission from the moms to use their images, stories. I sent out a couple of texts to the children’s mothers, and those were the ones who said yes. Some of the white women didn’t want to take part. But, of course, they didn’t ask for particular races. There’s a mix. Spanish, Italian and Irish.
TR: How many out of the 21 children have black mothers?
AN: Roughly half.
TR: How do they find you? Do you have an ad?
AN: It varies. And it’s been dynamic. It’s been changing over the past seven years. Back in the day, I met someone on Craigslist. Other times, it’s just word of mouth. Some couples introduced me to friends of theirs. Also social media sites like Instagram.
TR: Do you have relationships with all of the children?
AN: No, it’s up to the mom as to how much they want me to be involved. Four of the children I’ve never met, at their request. One mom I’ve never even met; I just mailed her the donation. Some I see all the time. But it’s geographic and depends on where they’re located.
TR: In the New York Post article, you said you made donations in public bathrooms by using a cup. But you’ve also had sex with some women. Is there some type of health screening?
AN: Yes, there's a health screening. And it’s up to the moms. They choose whatever method they’re most comfortable with. I get tested a lot because sometimes it’s done in a clinic, and they always require a test that’s less than 30 days old.
TR: Have a lot of other people contacted you since the Post article?
AN: I’ve had a lot of people contacting me on Facebook trying to get a hold of me. For all sorts of reasons. A lot of women who struggled with fertility wanting to my help. I even had an email from a guy. He heard what I did for the women and wanted me to mail him some sperm. So he could eat it. But yes, a lot of heartfelt, sad stories from all over the world.
TR: How do you explain this to the person you’re dating?
AN: It’s a challenge. A lot of times when they hear, they’ll say they’re accepting of it. But in reality, when it comes to practical terms, and I’m busy socially with my kids, and I don’t have a lot of time to devote to whomever I’m dating, then they decide they can’t deal with it.
TR: Is your first child involved with his siblings?
AN: Some of these kids are quite close with each other. They video chat, visit each other and celebrate birthdays together. But it’s up to their moms.
TR: How do your friends and family feel about this?
AN: It runs the gamut. My folks are devastated, and they don’t understand it. They found out Monday night.
TR: Why didn’t you tell them about it before the article?
AN: They’re very traditional and old-fashioned, and they want me to be, in their words, be normal. My siblings are married with children in a traditional family unit. Not the modern family that I created. But the truth is, if they ever met the kids and families and saw how much love and how well they’re doing, I think that would change their mind. It’s a difficult thing for them to deal with, and I feel bad about it.
TR: I was reading some of the comments on the article, and some people think you have a fathering fetish. Would you say that you have one? Or you’re doing this out of the kindness of your heart?
AN: I don’t have any fetishes. I’m not doing it as a fetish. It’s the whole tabloid angle. I’ve donated my stem cells and bone marrow. None of that got put in the article.
TR: Will there come a point when you stop donating your sperm?
AN: I’m 40 years old. I won’t be donating when I’m 50. Hopefully, I’ve brought some awareness to free donation.
TR: Why didn’t you donate to a sperm bank?
AN: I never have. The truth is that the expense that the people have to deal with is outrageous. I’m doing this completely free. It’s also difficult even if you do have the money. Never meeting your child’s father is a difficult thing. No one is really vetting people at sperm banks. Some people meet me over a couple of months to make them feel comfortable.
TR: What’s up with the five women who have sued you for child support?
AN: We had verbal agreements and they promised not to sue me. But the problem is that the first one who sues gets the most. It seems like money was the motivation. A lot of them just quit their job after collecting child support. The money is going to my kids, so it made it a little easier.
Ari Nagel's story is definitely one you don't hear every day; Tiffany Harrison, one of the recipients of Nagel's sperm, has also received her fair amount of attention since Nagel went public:
The Root: How have people reacted to you since Ari’s New York Post interview?
Tiffany Harrison: Our stance and response to everyone has been the same. We look at it as a positive situation. The interview was a little raw, but that’s news and that’s what sells. We explained to our friends that we didn’t take anything negative. I personally and will always acknowledge an opportunity to honor Ari.
I have a very high respect for him. We consider him family. We don’t call him a donor. He’s our child’s father. We have a very high regard for him. It’s unfortunate that everyone was harping on the bathroom situation. Not everyone has insurance to cover this. And it doesn’t make them any less worthy of having a child.
TR: You're in a lesbian marriage; are you used to the scrutiny by others?
TH: My wife, Yvonne Harrison, and I are in a world where people will look for the negative. My wife is a pastor; we have a church. So people will always look for the negative. This did not surprise us at all. We think Ari deserves to be honored and acknowledged.
TR: Do you keep in contact with the siblings?
TH: A lot of the kids. But some of the mothers just look at him as a sperm donor. Our daughter, Zoe, is 20 months and has met 10 of her siblings. And that’s from playdates and birthday parties. There’s one sibling that she’s the closest to because she also lives in New Jersey. As well as a sibling in Orlando [Fla.] that she sees two to three times a year. The three of them get together twice a year.
TR: How did you find Ari?
TH: I went Googling one day after we spent tens of thousands of dollars on our own. I had no idea there was such a thing as free donors. I came across a site. Picked out seven of them. Interviewed them. Ari stood out for me, because when I met him in person, his personality reminded me of my wife. Very outgoing, a people person. We’ve now known Ari since 2011.
TR: Do you plan on having more kids by him?
TH: Absolutely. We want one to two more. And we’re going to use him as the donor. It’s not an option for them to have different dads.
TR: Did you have a contract with Ari?
TH: We didn’t have to have a contract at all. We made sure that he knew what type of people we are. We are Christian people. We did let him know that we’d like our children to know who their father is. He tries to make himself available to all of the kids. It’s really sad that anyone could be so ungrateful to sue him for child support.
TR: What advice would you give to other women looking for alternate means to finding a donor?
TH: I’ve done cryobanks, and they were expensive and unsuccessful. My suggestion is to go straight to the free donor sites. I know that some people do have money to spend on cryobanks, but they should know that they have free options also. But, right off the bat, I’ll tell people to go to the free donor sites. What I like about it is that you can actually meet the person and touch the person. Vibes are important. At the end of the day, I’m so happy that I found this route, because you get to meet the person.
As Father's Day approaches, you can bet that Ari Nagel will have his hands full. Regardless of what you think of his actions, there's one thing that's certain: He's helped people realize there are other options out there to achieving the family of their dreams.