Ohio couple Jennifer Cramblett and her wife Amanda Zinkon have filed suit against the Midwest Sperm Bank for providing them with the sperm of a donor different from the one they had selected. The mistake became particularly apparent when Cramblett gave birth to a biracial girl, even though Cramblett and Zinkon are both white and had selected a white donor.
Their daughter, Payton, is already two years old and they are lovingly raising her, but the sperm bank’s mistake has created numerous challenges to their family planning that they did not anticipate. Cramblett says in the suit that she now lives with “fears, anxieties, and uncertain about her future and Payton’s future” because of how the child will be treated because of her race by her intolerant extended family and their rural all-white community.
Cramblett and Zinkon learned of the mistake after Cramblett was already pregnant, but before she gave birth. According to the complaint, they had selected Donor No. 380, purchasing two vials of his sperm in August of 2011. Cramblett spent the following months trying to get pregnant, and they purchased six more vials in September; she successfully conceived in December before exhausting all of the vials. In April, they called to order eight more vials because they had learned the donor was no longer living locally and they hoped that someday Zinkon would also get pregnant with the same donor so that their children would be blood relatives.
During both the call in September and the call in April, the receptionist confusedly asked if they had meant Donor No. 330. In both cases they said no, but during the April call, they learned that they had in fact previously been given the sperm of Donor No. 330, an African-American male, and not the donor they had selected, Donor. No. 380. It turned out that Cramblett was already pregnant with Donor No. 330’s sperm.
A month later, Midwest Sperm Bank sent Cramblett and Zinkon a letter apologizing for the “mix up” and a check refunding them for the cost of the six mistaken vials. The facility kept the money they had paid for the first two vials purchased in August.
According to the suit, Midwest Sperm Bank was not using any electronic records. Everything was documented in pen and ink, and there were no redundancies in the system to ensure mistakes were not made. Thus, the only reason the couple was sent the wrong sperm was because somebody misread the number “330” for “380.”
Cramblett outlines some specific concerns she now has due to Payton’s race. For example, she says in the suit that she was raised in a family with racially stereotypical attitudes, noting an uncle who “speaks openly and derisively about persons of color.” They similarly already disapprove of her lesbianism, and she worries that, even though she can hide her lesbian identity around her family to get along, Payton cannot hide her race, and may be more vulnerable to their disapproval.
Raising a child of color is also presenting Cramblett with challenges she did not anticipate for her child, acknowledging her own “steep learning curve” when it comes to African American cultural competency. As a simple example, she notes that they must travel to a black neighborhood far from where they live or have any connections, simply so that Payton can receive an appropriate haircut. The couple had actually relocated from Akron to the less-racially diverse town of Uniontown because there would be better schools, but now those schools might present a bigger challenge for Payton’s academic and psychological well-being.
“I am happy that I have a healthy child,” Cramblett told NBC News. “But I’m not going to let them get away with not being held accountable.” The couple is suing for $50,000 in damages for “personal injuries, medical expense, pain, suffering, emotional distress, and other economic and non-economic losses.” Midwest Sperm Bank has made no public comment.
Note: This post has been edited to correct and clarify details about how Cramblett and Zinkon learned of the sperm ban’s mistake. Cramblett successfully conceived in December, but they learned of the mistake a few months later in April, several months into the pregnancy.