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January 12, 2012

How to Get a Girl Pregnant by Karleen Pendleton Jimenez

Sperm procurement is Karleen Pendleton-Jimenez’ basic challenge as a lesbian who wants to have a baby, a challenge further complicated by fertility struggles. Though the original challenge was pretty complicated from the outset– sperm is hard to come by for these purposes, and if you decide to go through anonymous donors, it’s next to impossible to find matches with your ethnic background, unless that background is white European. With precise, vivid and immediate prose, in her memoir How to Get a Girl Pregnant, Pendleton-Jimenez documents her journey towards pregnancy, which begins very early in her life when she knows she wants to be a mother as strongly as she knows that she’s a lesbian.

As a butch lesbian who wants to be a mother, Pendleton-Jimenez complicates ideas of butchness, and of motherness. But the arrangement has always felt natural to her, and her experiences co-parenting her partner’s children underline this instinct.  As she approaches her mid-thirties, she decides to finally take the definitive step towards motherhood–and lesbians don’t do turkey basters anymore, she informs us. Turkey basters are too big, and sperm is far too precious a commodity to unintentionally get stuck up in the bulb at the top. There is also an amusing scene where she poses on her front porch for a photo with the tank the sperm is delivered in: “This may be all the baby gets to see of its biological parents together,” she writes, though upon reflection, she notes that she looks tired and unhappy in the photo. The stress of trying to get pregnant was already taking its toll.

Which would only get worse as she begins to undergo treatments at a fertility clinic, going in for regular visits for monitoring, to check for ovulation, and for fertilization. And in talking about infertility, she breaks a taboo, though this candidness does not come easily. She writes about the pain and isolation of what she’s going through, how women don’t talk about these experiences. She doesn’t want anyone to know, she doesn’t want to be pitied, to be “that woman who’s trying to get pregnant but can’t”, and so she is very much alone in the process. She also addresses the complicated dynamics of being a butch prone on a table being poked on prodded by nurses and technicians, learning to become accustomed to this, and of her strange pleasure in the compliment that her ovaries were “beautiful”. And in the hope each month that this time the pregnancy would take, and the predictable disappointment when it didn’t over and over again.

I know that longing, that desperation to be pregnant. Pregnancy came easily for me, but I remember how badly I wanted it, and identified strongly with Pendleton-Jimenez’ need for a baby. So that when she starts cruising for men at night clubs, I totally get it, and also admire the openness with which she writes, how she makes herself as vulnerable in her narrative as she did in the experiences she writes of. The openness works, because the writing is so good, beautifully unadorned and to the point. Pendleton-Jimenez also manages to write with both poignance and humour, and indeed, I laughed and I cried as I read this book. Like all great memoirs, this is an intimate story that manages to connect with the universal, and the narratives of pregnancy and motherhood are so much richer for it.

4 thoughts on “How to Get a Girl Pregnant by Karleen Pendleton Jimenez”

  1. alexis says:

    Thanks so much for this.

  2. Maria says:

    At the risk of turning your blog into a too-much-information chat room: what’s with the internal-organ compliments? My right ovary (only the right, mind you) was oft counted “beautiful” by technicians though in recent years the poor wizened thing has been downgraded to “normal.” I’m looking forward to reading the book!

    1. Kerry says:

      What if I have hideous ovaries and don’t even know it…

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