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The Designer Babies Are Growing Up : At Home With the First Children of the 'Genius' Sperm Bank

November 01, 1987|KATHARINE LOWRY | Katharine Lowry has written for GQ, Vogue and Texas Monthly.

When we step outside for a walk, the September air is balmy and the moon could win a Golden Globe Award. "What is that?" says Jeff, pointing skyward. But Ashley's gaze falls instead on the globe of a street lamp several blocks away. "Light!" she sings. "Yes, but what about way up in the sky, up there?" he coaches, tilting his daughter heavenward. "Moon!" she trills correctly.

Anne says that she and Jeff never think of Ashley as anything other than entirely theirs. "It still seems like such a miracle," she says. "I still thank God--and Dr. Graham--every night." A year from now, when Anne qualifies for pension benefits, she intends to quit her job and raise her two children full time. "Being a mother is a lot more trouble than I thought it would be," she acknowledges, a sentiment Jeff seconds. "But she's worth it. It's awkward to talk about all this, but I want to give something back for this miracle, so other childless couples might benefit the same way."

DAVID AND Adrienne Ramm, a New York City couple whose daughter, Leandra, just turned 3, already have. Six years into their marriage, Adrienne, then 33, learned that her husband was infertile. "I was totally devastated," she says. "I'm from a big happy family and couldn't imagine not having one."

She immediately thought of using a sperm bank, but was discouraged when she was told they'd know nothing about the donor other than his race, religion and coloring. "I'd want to know more about a man than that for a simple blind date," she protests. A few weeks later, her mother called, excitedly describing a Phil Donahue television program that featured Doron Blake, the second child born of sperm from Graham's repository.

At her mother's urging, Adrienne called the repository. "It was so wonderful to know that we could really be assured of getting quality sperm," she explains. "My first choice was the purple-coded donor (colors and numbers are used to identify the donors while still retaining anonymity), because he sounded the most like David, but after several months of trying, nothing happened. Finally, the sperm sample was tested and found to be immotile; he just didn't freeze well," she says, laughing as she realizes how that sounds. Discouraged and disappointed, they chose a second donor, designated "clear." That donor "fits with my whole philosophy of simplicity and clarity," adds Adrienne, who, like her husband, is a Buddhist. "Clear" was a science professor, but they were just as impressed with his personality profile: This fair-haired, blue-eyed Northwest European was described as an easygoing fellow who loved gardening, skiing and children.

The Ramms live on Roosevelt Island, a five-minute tram ride from Manhattan, where David commutes to work. Back in the city, smothering midsummer air hovers like stagnant steam, but here an island breeze blows off the East River. From the living room window of their cluttered walk-up, a serene view of the river presents itself, almost as serene as Adrienne Ramm herself. Sitting lotus-style in T-shirt and tights on a dark velvet Art Deco sofa, she rhapsodizes about the daughter who has changed her life.

Unlike her olive-skinned, dark-haired parents, Leandra is extremely fair--an ivory-skinned blonde with aqua eyes. Physically, at least, she verifies Graham's proud, and scientifically suspect, claim that his donors tend to "breed true"--meaning that their characteristics will dominate in their offspring.

Adrienne is a professional dancer and composer. "It was the easiest pregnancy in the world," she says, beaming. "I danced the whole time. But after she was born, I decided to stop performing for a while and devote all my time to Leandra."

Most of the apartment's limited space is devoted to her as well. The upright piano is flanked by a pile of stuffed animals and dolls on one side and a set of Great Books on the other. A jumble of toys is stacked next to a Macintosh computer; dance and theater posters share wall space with Leandra's finger-painted creations; stainless-steel and plexiglass fixtures, Victorian lace and bric-a-brac coexist with Walt Disney videotapes and colored blocks.

"We weren't at all obsessed with having some kind of genius baby," Adrienne declares. But as she ticks off Leandra's many junior achievements, she's clearly proud that her daughter is so gifted: "From birth, she held up her neck by herself and was walking and running at 9 months. Before 2 she talked in sentences; now she's learning the alphabet and numbers."

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