It isn't just the commercial banks and credit unions that are being tough about loans. The sperm banks are also starting to be much more discriminating about their borrowers.

Johnson Masters, president of the First National Sperm Bank of Washington, told me. "The crunch is on. Any woman could come in here six months ago and get a test tube. But now we're in a spot where we can only service our most preferred customers."

"What happened?" I wanted to know.

"People are starting to withdraw their deposits and put them in government research grants, which pay a much higher interest. We've tried everything to keep our customers happy, but it hasn't worked. We've offered them free subscriptions to Playboy magazine, videocassettes of X-rated movies and all-expense weekends at out-of-the-way motels. But it hasn't stopped the flood of withdrawals.

"One of the biggest setbacks we had this week was when a Nobel prize winner came in and cleaned out his account. We asked him what he was going to do with all the test tubes, and he said he was going to trade them for soybean futures."

"If other Nobel prize winners do the same thing your bank could be in a lot of trouble." I said.

"We are already. As you know, our loans are made to women who are shopping around for the best fathers that money can buy. But at present interest rates, most of them can't afford a Fuller Brush man. It's pitiful for one of our loan officers to turn down a perfectly healthy woman and tell her she isn't eligible for a loan."

"But somebody must be still getting them, or you wouldn't be in business."

"In order to qualify, a woman must have at least a 145 IQ, a Ph.D from Harvard and type 120 words a minute."

"Your terms are tough," I said.

"It isn't us," Masters said. "Sperm banks all over the country are facing the same problem. The Federal Test Tube Bank Board keeps raising the rates on what it costs us to borrow from them. We have no choice but to pass it on to the customer."

"But what you're saying is that only the best and the brightest can afford to have a Nobel prize-winning baby."

"That seems to be the way the Fed wants it. Their intention is to slow down the birth rate in the country by making it harder for would-be mothers to get credit.

"It really is a supply and demand situation. There was a time when someone could walk in off the street and get any kind of baby she wanted at 6 percent. But those days are gone forever. Men are not going to open passbook accounts with us, when New York Hospital will give 17 percent on a 90-day certificate of deposit."

"What's the answer?" I asked.

"We have to think of new ways of attracting Nobel prize-winning depositors.

Tomorrow we're running a full-page ad announcing that if they open an account with us, we will give them either a brand-new calculator, a new microscope or a white rat of their choice."