The requests for Trent’s own sperm have only increased. Just in the last few weeks, he has received about a hundred new requests from women across America. He has, by now, made more than 500 “donations,” been responsible for fourteen successful pregnancies (and fifteen births—one mother had twins), has three more pregnancies under way, and is adding an average of three new prospective mothers to his portfolio each month. Paradoxically, the more children Trent fathers, the more his services are in demand—last month, he signed up seven aspiring mothers. “I’d think this would be a turnoff,” he says, “but that’s not how people think. It’s maybe even an attractive trait. If you look at lions, it’s like the females know to look at the ones that have demonstrated fertility.”
No one who knew Trent when he was growing up in Missouri, the second of three children, would have pegged him as a future fertility god. He was geeky and gawky and didn’t have many friends. He attended church four days a week to hear his father’s sermons, but he describes his home life as having been more “cordial” than intimate and remembers at a very young age questioning the faith in which he was raised. “It wasn’t me saying one path is better than the other, but why does the Bible say one thing but religious people do a different thing?” he says. “That’s when I drew more into technology.” At 12, he become one of the youngest people to obtain the FCC’s highest-grade ham-radio operator’s license. He later became a teen hacker, breaking into computer systems just to see if he could.
Trent also recalls hearing, in church, the prayers for women with fertility troubles. Looking back, he remembers feeling certain that some day in the future, he would help these women. But it must have been difficult to imagine how this would come about, considering his marked introversion. As he moved out of his teens, Trent had only experienced one kiss, on prom night. He then joined the Navy and attended Annapolis, where marriage and fatherhood are forbidden to cadets. After he went AWOL his first semester—he was being hazed, he says, and there was no other way to deal with it—and was discharged, he had little time for anything other than the consuming tech career to which he devoted himself. (He was also busy fielding questions from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which was looking into a computer system break-in at the academy during his AWOL week. The investigation fizzled after a couple of years.)
In his early twenties, Trent was still listing himself as “single (available)” on his web page, and his parents, hoping to find their son a wife, would arrange for women from church to contact him. One date, Jennifer, traveled from Missouri to Los Angeles to see Trent (he was working at Disney at the time), and they rang in New Year’s Eve 1999 in Death Valley. But by then he already knew that his path would not lead to an altar and a crib. “That night, she kind of said, ‘Why don’t we think about having a life together?’ ” he remembers. Trent told her he was “never going to grow up and have a traditional family. She was a very beautiful young woman, and I told her I had to deny myself certain pleasures in life. I said it elegantly enough that she knew nothing would ever change me. She was crying. And I don’t think she was crying for her. I think she was crying for me. She said, ‘When are you ever going to do something for yourself?’ ”
Trent experienced no aha moment, no sudden resolution to convert his hazy premonition of fertility philanthropy into an action plan. As he explains it, it’s just something that started to make sense: an applied version of the part of Christianity that he likes best—compassion—achieved through an ascetic, personalized life-hack of the Silicon Valley variety. Though according to his high-school friend, the reality might be more complicated: “The exact factors that motivated his behavior always eluded me, but I can confidently say that pleasing others was never one of them,” the friend says. “He was primarily interested in his own actions and whether or not they would conform to his hypothesized outcomes.”
And though Trent would never put it this way, there was clearly something appealing to the prodigal son of a Pentecostal minister about following his own messianic strain of martyrdom. After the date with Jennifer, he stopped responding to his parents’ romantic suggestions. Instead, he moved to the Bay Area, taking a job at Hewlett-Packard, and spent the next five years preparing to become not simply a sperm donor but the most effective and efficient iteration of one he could imagine.