By: Julie Gamberg
Picking a sperm donor, to your great chagrin, will bring out the eugenicist in you. You will find yourself mixing and matching genetic traits like you would an ensemble for a big night out. And if that weren’t bad enough, you will be forced to put your money where your mouth is on the nature versus nurture debate (not so easy if you’re a hardcorebeliever in environment-is-everything). Suddenly all traits seem inheritable. Athletisism? Genetic. Artistic ability? Genetic! Intelligence? Hell to the genetic yeah! Sense of Humor? Uhm, let’s just be safe and say…genetic.
Before you know it, you have your dream seed picked out – someone you would happily be friends with. Someone you might even sleep with, even if you don’t sleep with boys! He’s smart, funny, artsy, cool, athletic, virile (gotta check the sperm count), kind, idealistic, grounded, and oops! –you forgot to look at the medical history, didn’t you?
Which, uhm, maybe you should prioritize. But admit it: isn’t there a part of you that just wants to consider looks? I know a lesbian couple who called their sperm bank and asked for the hottest, hottest, hottest guy available. They figured that because they’re both smart and well educated, their kid would be too. Hotness, they felt was the one thing they couldn’t influence environmentally, and so they wanted to give it in droves. This couple wound up putting their foot (or needle-less syringe) down in the nurture camp – deciding it’s all environmental, except for looks. But they didn’t think about medical history. Because I promise you that that smart, musical, sweet hottie’s family is full of cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, alcoholism, mental illness, more cancer, and 17 other medical issues which definitely involve genetic propensity (and teen acne, about which you will suddenly wonder if you’re supposed to care).
And in the middle of all of that eugenics work –the wanting of a physically attractive, smart, artistic, musical, athletic, funny donor with a clean medical history, you may start realizing that your child-to-come might want some kind of a relationship with this donor, even if only a one-time meeting to satisfy eighteen years’ of curiosity.
And you want that meeting to go well.
So now you start thinking that you might like to actually know your donor, this person who is going to give your little one half of his or her DNA. Meet him, smell him, look into his eyes, ask about his family, check him out. So you consider using a known donor. Like your partner’s brother. Or your best friend from college. Or a former friend-with-benefits of whom you might cash in on one really huge benefit. All really nice, good-hearted guys.
More often than not, the potential donor says no (which often leads to choosing a sperm bank, which is covered in Part Two, here). But should your male “friend” say yes, you now enter…Negotiations.
You will need to decide how much, if any, involvement this friend will have after your child is born. You’ll have to consider his parents, to whom your child will be a grandchild. Will your child know him as uncle, donor, dad, donor-dad, or something else entirely? What will you do if your child wants more contact with the donor? Will he agree in advance to be a donor a second or third time, so your child can have full siblings should you want more children? There is a lot to think about. There are some great books out there, as well as online resources. Sample donor contracts can be helpful in guiding you through the ramifications of using a known donor. It can also be useful to consult with a therapist to talk you through these issues as well as a lawyer who specializes in drawing up contracts with known donors.
For some families, having only involvement with a known donor is not enough, and they seek rather to co-parent with the donor. I have a lesbian friend who did not have a partner and was ready for a child. So she went to a co-parenting group at the local LGBT center. She met a man who was interested, and within a few short months, they went for it! How are they doing? They’re doing okay. They are madly in love with their amazing little one, who is a happy, healthy, thriving five-year-old. They struggle, though – a lot – with their connection to one another, as well as with their very different styles of parenting. Their particular custody arrangement ensures that she makes most of the big decisions and has custody for a majority of the time, which eases tensions somewhat.
I have come across other co-parenting situations in which the struggles are fewer, and even a co-parenting situation which seemed downright blissful. I don’t know of any big studies or raw data on how this is going, but I do believe that huge amounts of communication and clarity at the outset are helpful in lessening the inherent struggles of co-parenting. Get to know one another well; talk in-depth about parenting styles; consider now any possible future situations, like if one or both of the parents becomes partnered (or un-partnered), if one parent wants to move, if someone dies, if one wants more or less custody, and so on.
Unfortunately, some known donor situations become sticky, complicated, and downright ugly. There have been lawsuits on both sides of the equation – women who asked for a sperm donation then later sued for child support as well as men who agreed to donate sperm and later sued for custody — although anecdotally, the latter seems more common than the former in true donor situations (as opposed to, say, exes). Although legal protection for donor situations varies state to state, it’s wise to have a firm and clear known donor contract. (But keep in mind the court can ultimately override any contract or arrangement it doesn’t deem to be in the best interest of the child.) Some precedent cases ruled that sperm that goes through the hands of a doctor is generally considered a donation; if a doctor is not involved, it can be considered paternity (and yes, even if a turkey baster – aka needle-less syringe –is used). If the donor later gives the parent or child money or establishes a parental relationship, this can also be legally interpreted as paternity.
As for my friend and her co-parent, would they do it all over again? In a heartbeat. Because they love their child. In fact, most moms I talked to wouldn’t change anything once they have their baby because, well, they have their baby. Whatever it took to bring her or him into the world was exactly the right thing – whether by foster-adopting, adopting internationally, turkey-bastering, IVF, surrogacy, or any other method of having a child. Although you will undoubtedly love your little one however she came into the world, do take the time now to research your options carefully and make a fully-informed decision that marries the best of your brain with the best of your instincts, and your heart.
For more on choosing a sperm bank, and sperm bank ethics, please click here for Part Two.
[Photo Credit: i_gallagher]