Queer parenting decisions: choosing a known sperm donor

March 2 2011 | Guest post by Jenna Rose
By: Greg MunroeCC BY 2.0

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?

  1. This was a fabulous and very touching article. I really enjoyed it and the insight it gave me. Good luck with your journey.

    1 agrees
  2. This is a fabulous post. My favorite line:

    "But here's a secret I'm figuring out: having a baby is fucking terrifying. No matter how you go about it."

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    • 3 days ago my wife gave birth to our donor conceived (anonymous, name released at 18) daughter. And though we do not have the complexity of a known donor, each day is still terrifying, complicated, and filled with unanswerable questions. But we love her, and are so excited about our unfolding journey.

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  3. I have a post I've been sitting on for a while about being the married partner to a donor of 2 girls, and my experience of our blended family. I haven't moved forward with it because I haven't asked the permission of the moms yet.

    His mom has a long-standing friendship with the non-bio mom, and suggested him for sperm donor. The first daughter was born before he and I met, and the second was born when we'd been together for a year. The girls have a relationship with him that you are envisioning for your child/ren.

    He and I now have a daughter, and the girls are like cousins, and will define themselves later how they choose. We see each other sporadically to weekly, and we go on a weekend vacation together every summer.

    I wish you as much luck with your bio-dad. After having moved past some complex and irrational feelings in the beginning, I treasure the non-traditional family we have.

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    • Obviously I understand needing to check with the moms, but I would love to read this post – like the article above, it is hopefully the road my wife (in three days!!!) and I will be traveling down in another few years, and it's so reassuring to hear from other people who've been there, in any role.

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      • Congrats on your almost-wedding! *Squee!*

        I have been devouring this new book of essays called And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. It's the only book I've found of its kind, and it features essays by active donors, co-parents, bio and non-bio moms, surrogates, kids of queer familes, and (male) partners of male donors. It's got essays from every stage in the process, too, from pre-conception to the viewpoint of the grown kids themselves. The one perspective I haven't found yet is that of the heterosexual partner to a male donor (but I haven't finished all the essays yet, either.) I totally recommend it for a range of perspectives: good, bad, complicated, successful, and most of all, diverse.

        Here's a link to it on Powell's: http://www.powells.com/biblio/72-9781897178836-0

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        • That book is very much on my wishlist right now! I'm glad to hear it's as good as it sounded. I can't wait to get it – thanks!
          (Okay, it's wedding day, I should get off Offbeat…)

    • I would also love to read this if the mothers give you permission. My partner and I have always been extremely apprehensive about asking any of our male friends who are in long-term relationships/married because of how their partner would feel.

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    • Another mama patiently awaiting this post. As the bio-mom of a daughter conceived with the help of a known donor, I know my wife and I would be very interested in your perspective.

    • Hillary, I would so love to read this post! I hope the moms will sign off… The perspective of the donor's partner has been the hardest one to find. I'm so glad to hear that it works well for your family 🙂

  4. What a great post…and very thoughtful. I agree with 'e', too. Your kids will be very lucky to have moms like you and your extended family. My former partner and I chose a known donor and while we did not get sued it took 5 years for him to give up his legal rights before I could officially adopt my daughter. It was scary for a long time. Unfortunately it didn't work as he is not part of my daughter's life as we hoped. But I can't ever look at her and think that we chose wrong. She is amazing. Good luck on you journey!

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  5. This lady is one of my best friends. I have no doubt that this is the best decision for them. We'll all be having and raising babies together; and it's going to be a happy and amazing extended family!

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  6. This was incredibly beautiful! Brought a little tear to my eyes!

    First off, it saddens me that laws do not seem to be in the right in many of these situations.

    But it makes me overly joyful that there's such love and trust out there! I can't imagine a better way to start a family! I wish you all the best!

  7. Great post. We have had the same struggles in deciding how to start our family. Financial implications aside, a known donor who can be involved on some level is ideal for us as well. While parental rights were a concern, we were more concerned with how a child would feel not knowing where half of their genetics came from and whether it was ethical or not to deny them this right, if given a choice.

  8. This was just lovely. Thank you so much for sharing it. My wife and I chose to create our family with the amazing gift our known donor gave to us, and the "product" is an amazing 4.5 month old who has forever changed us for the better. The trust you have to have in your donor is certainly great, but what you also have to have is trust in yourselves that you're making decisions that are for the best for your children.

    It's not for everyone, but I'm so glad you've found it's right for your family. Best wishes to you and your wife. It is an amazing journey, and I think my daughter and your future child are especially lucky to have so many people who cared so much about how they made their way into the world.

  9. Wonderful post. We struggled with some of the same issues in deciding how we would go about conceiving our child. Our decision were different, for a myriad of reasons, but I still enjoyed this post and can relate to many of your feelings.

    2momstobe.blogspot.com
    -My post about our decision is towards the beginning of the blog.

  10. That was a very touching post, thank you. Am considering being a surrogate at some point in the future (I know not the same situation) and you pointed out some feelings/issues for me, thank you for writing this.

  11. This is one of the most touching posts I've read on OBM. I have nothing in common with your situation (fortunate enough that my husband and I conceived the "old fashioned way") but so much of your post resonates with me.

    "What is having a baby, anyway, if not the ultimate act of trust?"

    "Having a baby is fucking terrifying. No matter how you go about it."

    "Our children can only benefit from having extra people who love them, and who consider them family."

    Good luck with everything!

  12. Thank you for this article! My fiance and I are planning on trying to conceive shortly after our wedding this fall, and we have a wonderful friend who has offered to donate. I have struggled with his amazing offer because I'm afraid of what could happen later. But your thoughts on choosing a family have really hit the nail on the head for me. He and his wife are so supportive of us, and we are known as Aunts to their children. They have been our friends for close to a decade, his wife has been my fiance's best friend since they were about 10! They are already our chosen family, so I think I'm okay with continuing to build that family relationship.
    Thank you thank you thank you!

  13. It sounds terrific and terrifying. I actually read nothing about what kind of relationship this great guy is going to have with your child. Nothing more than "we will figure it out on the way". This means he is who or what to your child?
    Im sure he will act as a loving human being to your children, but, who is he, dad? Are you planning on calling him your childs father from the get go? Or is he compromising to just be "john" until the baby is old enough to decide?
    I struggle with this since my partner decided she wanted to have a child with her male best friend without consulting my opinion (i didnt want to have a kid talk yet), and it seems now im stuck with a great guy who i dont want to be my kids father. Not because i dont trust him as a loving father, but because he wants to be a father, he is already over stepping any boundaries i would like to have. So, again, is he dad or what?

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