By now, he has perfected his donor routine. He drinks his evening smoothie precisely two hours before the recovery. He drinks spring water to hydrate, and winds down from the workday by changing into comfortable clothes. He now uses medical specimen cups rather than Ziplocs, which are hard to keep warm and possibly unsterile. He no longer accepts recipients who require shipping or who are not in a romantic relationship. This is not a family-values judgment; it’s just that single women often ask him to have sex, and though there are practical arguments for this—it may be easier to get pregnant that way—some are interested in a “boyfriend-girlfriend-type relationship.” (He also learned that in rare cases where sperm donors are pursued as deadbeat dads, California courts favor the donor if the recipient was in a couple at the time of donation.)
Trent usually schedules at least two days with a recipient. Those coming from farther away, like one couple from Alaska, stay at a nearby hotel. He has a backpack—his “baby bag”—ready to go when he meets them at a coffee shop; it contains donor-recipient contracts, a binder of materials related to the FDA cease-manufacture order, restaurant menus for people unfamiliar with the Fremont area, as well as the baby book his own mother kept, documenting when he first spoke and walked. (At 1 year: “Loves to play with our stereo—as soon as he hears it he crawls real fast into the living room & slides the levers around & pretty soon there is no music.”)
It is a streamlined process, and Trent’s recipients, to judge by the feedback he’s received, seem happy with their choice of donor. (Krista, a Bay Area financial-services professional who got pregnant three times by Trent before miscarrying each time, considers him “part of our family.”) Even when Trent’s Xtube activity was revealed in media accounts last year, only one prospective sperm recipient canceled. “I signed ten contracts that day,” Trent says, “so I just said, ‘I’ll discard your contract’ and ‘Thank you.’ ” Josh and Rebekah Ludikhuize are a young Sacramento couple who for the past six years have been on a wrenching, bank-breaking infertility odyssey, with endless medical tests and specialists and treatments for Josh (who has male-factor infertility) and sperm banks and two miscarriages and an adoption. IVF has never been an option financially, and even less-expensive methods, such as for-profit sperm banks, became prohibitive. Josh works for a pest-control company, and Rebekah, who has an administrative job in the neurophysiology department at UC Davis Medical Center, reached their lifetime insurance cap on infertility treatments long ago. “It was $1,600 if not more for the cryobank for one cycle,” Josh says.
Then, last year, Josh was reading a Fox News item on his phone about the FDA action against Trent. He went to Trent’s site. “I was still a little skeptical,” Josh remembers, but after talking to Trent on the phone, “I just had this feeling that he was completely legitimate.” Both Rebekah and Josh were tired of dealing with doctors, and of the years of invasive medical procedures. “It brought us back to a more intimate, romantic way of Rebekah being able to get pregnant,” Josh says. “So when Rebekah and I did the procedure with Trent, it was just the two of us.” They completed their first cycle with Trent on December 30, and their second last week.
At 6 a.m., a few weeks ago, Trent is in the Borg, standing at his sink in a Raiders hoodie, picking out moldy blueberries as he goes through his twenty-minute smoothie-concocting process. When he has drunk his, he pours what remains of the purple liquid into a lid on the floor for Matrix, a stray calico who sleeps on a heating pad on his porch. Then Trent disappears into the bathroom for one of his twice-daily bowel movements. When he emerges, he is holding a digital camera with a picture. For the last several years, he has photographed every stool and every ejaculation, scanning them for noteworthy variations and amassing material for his archives. Today’s snapshot shows nothing out of the ordinary.
It is still dark when he leaves the house and begins his morning hike into the town of Niles, where California’s film industry was born and where Trent will buy vegetables for his lunch salad. He walks briskly, clucking and tossing peanuts when he sees birds. He wears a floppy safari hat and photochromic glasses that darken as the sun rises. When a car passes, he pulls a microfiber scarf over his nose and mouth until the exhaust has dissipated in the wind. Later that morning, Trent has his twice-yearly physical. He dreads going—there will be people coughing in the waiting room, and he carries alcohol wipes and his own pen to sign the register—but it is important to refresh the health information on his website. When he gets home, he tosses his scarf into a laundry pile, cleans his hands with rubbing alcohol, and changes into new pants, “ ’cause the next place I sit is going to be my bed.”