“I’m 39 and that means if I want to find a man, a partner, I’m not going to want to marry somebody and decide to have a child with them in a year, and I don’t trust myself to make the right decision,” says Hawkey, an actress and comedian who makes her living as a headshot photographer.
“I’m over it. I don’t want to think about this anymore,” she remembers thinking late last year, after the divorced father she’d been dating told her he didn’t want to have any more kids.
That’s when it dawned on her that she didn’t need to find a man to father her baby — all she really needed was his sperm. In January, she concocted an unconventional plan to find a sperm donor: A weekly podcast featuring series of recorded interviews with male friends. Called “Spermcast,” the podcast debuted in the spring and might be the first created with the explicit aim of impregnating the host.
Hawkey, who turns 40 in August, hopes to use the podcast not just to interrogate men as potential sperm donors, but also to interview other female comedians about their careers, their desires for motherhood — or lack thereof — and their obstacles to getting pregnant. What started as a personal project has since evolved into a sociology experiment: She envisions a future episode, for example, where she asks men on the street if they’d ever date a pregnant woman and if they’ve ever had sex with a pregnant woman.
“I guess I’m wondering, why don’t we talk about this?” says Hawkey, who wears overalls and eats a quinoa salad at a Los Angeles cafe on a recent Thursday afternoon. “Boyfriends don’t want to hear about it, and you don’t sit around with your 25-year-old girlfriends talking about ‘How am I going to get pregnant?’”
But finding a sperm donor won’t be easy: Hawkey wants somebody who doesn’t have a history of addiction or alcoholism in his family, since she does in hers; who has relatives that lived long, healthy lives; and preferably, who is funny and talented and maybe even attractive, too. Most of all, she wants her sperm donor to be someone she’s not dating and who doesn’t mind giving up all parental rights to let her raise the baby alone.
Her first candidate is Brandon Barrick, a fellow actor and comedian whom she invites on the pilot episode of the podcast without explaining its premise.
“I know you’ve got a girlfriend. This is not a sexual thing,” Hawkey tells him midway through their conversation, revealing the real reason she’s invited him on the show. “But like, you know, I’m a fan of your sperm — your DNA.”
Barrick plays along as Hawkey proceeds to question him for the next half-hour about the length of his hair, his height, intelligence, singing voice and athletic ability. At the end of the episode, which also includes an interview with a pediatrician about the science of genetics and reproduction, Barrick says he’s open to the idea of becoming Hawkey’s sperm donor.
What’s behind Hawkey’s urge to become pregnant? She chalks it up to biology, adding that it’s not always easy to rationalize. As an environmental activist, she wrestled for years with the fact that bringing more humans into the world contributes to climate change. And although she’s considered adopting, she’s “dying to be pregnant,” she says on one episode.
But there is still another problem: money. If she weren’t “in a heap of credit card debt,” she says, she’d have the baby immediately. It doesn’t help that the surgical procedure to extract her eggs cost her more than $15,000. And she hopes to find a way to monetize the weekly show so that she can afford to raise a child.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a podcast. “I’ve never interviewed anybody before,” admits Hawkey, who is blonde and could pass for a decade younger than she is. “I have a piercing voice and don’t know if anyone would want to hear it for more than two minutes.”
“Spermcast” is also the most personal project for Hawkey, who gained a small online following in 2016 for a comedy project in which she edited herself into episodes of “The Bachelor.” Her character, a 37-year-old retired actress who calls herself the oldest contestant in “Bachelor” history, was intended to lampoon the homogeneity of the series, but it was also a caricature of herself and her own struggles to find love in her late 30s. She believes it’s no coincidence that she developed the project shortly after freezing her eggs, during a time that she now describes as a creative renaissance.
“I no longer had to worry about what men thought about me, because I didn’t care [about finding a partner] anymore,” she says. “Before, everything I ever did was filtered through ‘What is a man going to think about this?’” But after freezing her eggs, she says, “I knew I didn’t have to worry about that because I could just be me. I was like me for the first time in my life.”
The feeling of freedom didn’t last long. Hawkey soon felt her “biological clock” — a term, she learns in one episode, that was coined by a Washington Post columnist in the 1970s — ticking again. She remembered her 16 eggs sitting in storage. She thought maybe she’d develop an Instagram series about “somebody you feel sorry for, an idiot” who desperately wanted to get pregnant. It was a friend who worked for Comedy Central who convinced Hawkey she didn’t need to create a fictional character to tell this story. “I kind of realized the universality of this feeling and how women don’t talk about it and we’re all so programmed into thinking we need to be moms from the moment we’re handed a little baby doll,” Hawkey says. “And I realized there was more than just the finding a sperm donor, it was also about exploring the idea of motherhood.”
That includes being candid about the topic Hawkey says is still too taboo to talk about: miscarriages. For that reason, “nobody reveals whether they’re pregnant until three months in,” she says. “But I don’t have a partner.” Instead, she’s planning to confide in the listeners of her podcast: “You guys would be my partner.”