My wife and I are still working our way through many questions when it comes to having a child. When you remove “the old-fashioned way” (the backseat of a car and that bottle of tequila your mother warned you about) as a baby-making option, there’s a deluge of questions that suddenly have to be answered.
To adopt or conceive? If adopting, domestically or internationally? Open or closed adoption? If conceiving, who will carry? Will you choose (and can you afford) reciprocal IVF, where one partner provides the egg and the other carries the pregnancy? Will you use a known donor or an anonymous donor? If known, who will you choose? What will their relationship be to your child? A co-parent? A kindly uncle? A detached bystander? How much will you share, and with whom, and when?
So far, we’ve answered a few of these questions. We’ve decided to conceive. We’ve decided I will carry the bab(ies). And we’ve decided to use a known donor.
This last decision was not easy. I struggled with this question for a long, looooong time. All the legal advice goes against it. In every case I’ve researched where parental rights have been challenged, the court has voted in favor of the donor (and against the non-bio parent). There’s no adequate legal protection for couples who plan to have the donor involved, even peripherally, in their child’s life.
Any contact whatsoever after the birth is legal grounds to claim an on-going parental relationship, and is generally sufficient to override an agreement which gave up paternal rights. Basically, although non-unexpectedly, the court will always choose the bio-dad over the queer non-bio mom, no matter what it says on paper. This is further complicated if you live in a state where same-sex second-parent adoptions are not legal (which you probably do, because they are only legal in 9 states, plus D.C.). We do, which means that whichever of us is not considered the bio-mom (and I’m not even sure which of us that would be: am I a surrogate? Is she an egg donor?) would at best be considered a guardian by the state, not a legal parent.
Talk about scary.
When my wife and I finally sat down and talked through all of our worries, this is what we realized: they were more about us than about our future children. They were fears about giving up control, about complicating relationships, about potential future rejection in favor of “dad.” When we talked about what we thought would be best for our kids, we felt very strongly that they could only benefit from knowing where they came from, from having tangible access to their biological and genetic history, and most importantly, from having an expanded definition of what “family” could mean. In a perfect world, we realized we would TOTALLY want to use a known donor.
What we ultimately realized is that it all comes down to trust. We knew immediately who we would ask, if we did ask. He is one of our closest friends, the man who married us, who hosted our wedding reception, and who is probably the closest thing to a brother either of us have. We already think of him and his wife as family. But did we trust him enough? Did we trust him not just to stand by whatever agreement we decide on, but to know himself well enough to be able to make a decision he will remain comfortable with as time passes and we all inevitably change?
For us, we decided that we do. What is having a baby, anyway, if not the ultimate act of trust? Sometimes trust fails, marriages break, promises are betrayed. It’s possible this will happen to us. But we’re choosing to believe the benefits are worth the risks.
As they get older and their understanding becomes more nuanced, we will let our children figure out what their relationship to our donor will be.
We’re not deciding to co-parent, exactly. Although we’re not necessarily setting limits, either. We’ve decided to essentially raise our kids as cousins, and to be completely open about how they were conceived. As they get older and their understanding becomes more nuanced, we will let our children figure out what their relationship to our donor will be. I’m sure it will evolve and fluctuate, and I have no idea what form it will eventually take. But we’ve all sat down and talked — my wife, myself, our future donor and his awesome, amazingly enthusiastic wife — about possibilities ranging from a full-on “dad” identification to a total disinterest in the “dude with the sperm.” And I choose to trust them when they promise that they are comfortable fielding all and any of those dynamics.
Is it scary? Absolutely. But here’s a secret I’m figuring out: having a baby is fucking terrifying. No matter how you go about it.
So what we’re doing is choosing our family. Instead of the tepid support (and occasional vitriol) we currently get from much of our biological family, we’re choosing to build an extended family with the most supportive people we know. We’re choosing to trust that whatever unexpected turns the future takes, our children can only benefit from having extra people who love them, and who consider them family.
We plan to name our donor and his wife as our children’s guardians, and I am actually comforted by the idea that, should something happen to one of us and the court refuse to recognize the other as a legal parent, custody would almost certainly be given to our donor and his wife. I absolutely trust that they would never abuse that, and would immediately return our children to us. Which sadly isn’t something I can say with certainty about either of our families. If something should happen to both of us, I absolutely trust that, while every parenting decision they make may not be the same, they would raise our children with the same core values that we would have.
And at the end of the day, what deeper trust is there than that?