Vince Vaughn man-babies his way across the screen in his now familure schtick in Delivery Man, about a man who due to a mix up with his sperm donation finds he has fathered 535 children. It’s a heart warming and not underserving comedy, probably most well received by parents who need a reminder that the stress and strain of parenthood is actually worth it and the ego boost of thinking it somehow makes you a better person. When it came out experts were keen to tell the public how unlikely this scenario is, how impossible it would be for someone to father that many children. Mainly because there are so many checks and balances, the system is set up so well, and is regulated professionally.
All of which sounds totally reasonable, unless you have listened to The Immaculate Deception. This twelve part podcast focuses mainly on the case of Jan Karbaatt, who ran a fertility clinic in Rotterdam. It is currently estimated that Karbaatt fathered 200 children, without the consent of the women involved. There were other donors to the clinic who are also estimated to have made many more deposits than were ethical. While some of the children have a wonderfully light hearted view of the situation and are genuinely glad to have found each other, there is however an underlying pain. That of their parents.
There was only one mother willing to speak to the podcast and it was heart-breaking to hear her pain, and like so many women, it’s not the first time she experienced a violation. She only felt able to speak because her former husband is now dead and she no longer needed to protect him from any perceived shame around his issues of infertility. It is shame, and it’s opposite, pride and indifference which are at the core of this story. It highlights that the shame of infertility can be profoundly damaging, and the inflexible gender ideas around it, procreation and parenthood fence people in. It was Karbaat’s pride and indifference to the mothers, fathers and children he was creating that was the catalyst for the whole thing.
Karbaat wanted to make his mark, to be remembered, he wanted to touch the world. The problem is, like most people who commit sexual assault he never stopped to ask if the world wanted to be touched by him. Certainly as the Karbaat generations continue on, grappling with what this heritage means, and the stresses, strains and problems that such a large family will produce, we have to conclude, that the world probably prefers us all to have more respect for consent. It may be better that rather than aiming to make our mark, we all aim to live more lightly.