Family / Family-building

Known donor bonuses


[A shorter version of this piece is cross-posted over at LesbianDad.]

It was bedtime, and I thought I was going to have to mount a lengthy campaign to extirpate the lil’ monkey from her downstairs cousins’ room (we live upstairs from my partner’s brother and his family). Daily she ransacks her cousins’ bedroom in a never-sated hunger to fiddle with (disassemble, rearrange, touch, or simply breath upon) their toys and books. Then the fairy goddesses arrived and extracted her for me, effortlessly.

We call our known donor’s daughters our kids’ special cousins, and they had come to visit toward the end of a day of mega-wide extendo family/community fun in our back yard. The two girls simply entered the house (gliding in on feet that I’m sure didn’t even move), slipped their magic fairly fingers into our daughter’s, and led her out. They then proceeded to glide as a nymph trio across the lawn toward us, swirly filaments of fairy dust wafting behind them. They were so beautiful playing together that we postponed putting the girlie to bed ’til the special cousins went home. The love they share is unique, and palpable.

I had no idea the fruits of our extended family-making would turn out to be this sweet. I remember a conversation with the very first friends I know who had a kid with a known donor, probably like eight or ten years ago, when I was living in Minnesota. I expressed the classic fear that there’d be this dangling connection out there, which could be used to burn back into our family in some terrible way, like a line of gunpowder.

“Aren’t you worried? Think of all the terrible things that could happen!” was my refrain. Because, after all, let’s admit it, it’s all too easy to think of those terrible things. Maybe even more so if you’re not the one giving birth, and therefore stand to be made somehow invisible or irrelevant to the whole process (one can think these things, when one lets one’s wildest fears run amok.) My friend — who was the non-birth mom, after having tried unsuccessfully to conceive for several years — said something to the effect of, “Yeah, you know, I was worried, too, at first. And then our daughter was born and I realized: That’s just more love for her in the world.” And in a moment, a line that looked like gunpowder became a cord through which love passed.

Things are not always this rosy. We in the extended lesbian family family are well aware of the horror stories about custody battles with donors who’ve reversed their initial intentions to relinquish legal custody. Or somehow their families go haywire. These are the stories that are well-telegraphed, I think both because they serve as cautionary tales, but also because it’s a well-worn fact that bad or scary news sells more papers/ magazines/ web ads/ what have you. Or something to this effect. The actors are clear, the threat is clear, etc.

The stories of love and harmony may draw less attention, but I have to believe they’re more the rule than the exception. (They may say I’m a dreamer, but I’d like to think I’m not the only one.) So now I ask the following questions not just to stir up dialog, but to help dig up some more folk wisdom for a friend in Vermont who just gave birth (Congrats again, M2!). Those of you who have made your family using known sperm donors: how has your connection evolved? If they have kids, have any of you actively woven your family into theirs? How do you name the connection between your kids, and his, and how do you talk with them about it? Are you in touch with other families for whom he’s been a donor (if he’s been a known donor for other families)? If so, how is that family connection going?

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  1. Polly,

    You took the words right out of my mouth (and heart!) Our known donor story is one of the good ones, and I am so happy that we have him, his partner and their new little one in our lives. Whenever we are all together, you can see how much he just loves our kid, yet I believe it is quite evident that even if he was NOT genetically linked to him, the love would be the same.

    When we first started talking about having kids, my partner, our donor, his partner and I envisioned our family as one large extended group – each of us very aware of our own parenting roles, but very open to provide support/love/attention to all the children we would hope to have. When the kids did arrive, we never felt awkward (even though it took them awhile to conceive their baby after our son was born) and our donor and his partner were both there the day he was born, to make good on their commitment to our combined families. When their little one was born, we made sure that we were there as well, so that we could meet this new addition and so that our son could also see his growing family.

    For us, choosing a known donor was always part of our plan in our queer family making. We see our son as having access to not only his biological history, but (and more importantly) a wealth of people he can call upon in his family, not just those who would automatically be seen as “relations”. As both my partner and I live quite far away from our own families, it has all been quite a good arrangement so far. And as cliché as it is, some days we *really* do need that village.

  2. We also have a wonderful relationship with our KD. I was worried, too, at first that his presence in our lives would erase me as the other parent. But not so. He loves Julia and Julia loves him, and there’s room for everyone. Furthermore, I love him, too. Finding him and integrating him into our lives was like finding a brother and welcoming him home.

  3. Our known donor is a longtime friend of my partner’s, and we, too, entered into our “new” relationship with him with some uncertainty. We had all those fears you articulated about something changing after our child was born and all those scary risks rearing their ugly heads.

    However, things have been fine, and I would even say they have been great. He loves our son in exactly the way (we think) he should – unconditionally and with great joy…and with a clear sense of all of our boundaries.

    We’re definitely still negotiating some things – for example, how we (and others) refer to him in relation to our son. We have settled on referring to him as our son’s donor, but that seems a little too impersonal. We’re not quite comfortable with calling him our son’s father, either, and haven’t been able to come up with anything more creative. Any suggestions on this would be more than welcome!

    Our donor doesn’t have kids of his own, and probably won’t. However, we would like to have at least one more with him. One of the things we value most about this situation is that our son will have a relationship with his other genetic half and his extended family, as well as all the history that comes along with that.

    Thanks for writing about this. We don’t know many other families who have chosen this route and it’s wonderful to hear about others’ experiences.

    Also, I’ve been wondering if there’s any kind of a support network for known donors out there. I have a feeling our donor would appreciate some contact with other men in similar situations. I’ve done some searching but haven’t come up with much…

  4. I really do think that there should be some sort of support system for known donors. I know that our KD really went into it feeling alone but determined that this is what he wanted to do… but it would have been good for him to have other people to talk to… but then, maybe I’m projecting my need to talk about everything onto him… maybe if there was a reference book out there.

  5. trista, i totally agree with you. our kd has purchased all the requisite lesbian parenting books, hoping to find anything helpful from the scant chapters on known donors.

    he’s also taken to lurking on the lesbian ttc/parenting blogs, in order to find some insight about how the dynamics play out in real life.

    maybe there is room for a kd corner on this site? some sort of forum for kds to find each other?

  6. I think a forum for KDs would be great! I do recognize that maybe I’m projecting our KD’s need for some support onto him…but I think something like that could be valuable to KDs at various stages of the TTC and baby/child process.

  7. Ohchicken & A, I think some kind of known donor forum or chat space or what have you would be great. Their generosity of body and spirit (!) is intergral to our family building, and it would be great if our motivation, as highly organized & resource-building lesbian parents, helped clear some space for them to reflect with one another. Maybe the LesbianFamily community could be part of that?

    Meanwhile, A: we call our known donor a “Special Uncle.” I’ve heard that at least from one other quarter. This reflects a familial tie, but not a parental one, and that exactly describes what we feel. Insofar as “aunts” and “uncles” are often the names for dear people who help raise us or who are special special to our parents (whether they’re blood-related or not).

    I wrote about this in a post last August. Let me know what you think!

  8. we refer to our KD as uncle, too. For all the reasons that Polly mentioned.

  9. Interesting. Our donor didn’t want to be called “Uncle”, mainly because he wanted our son to develop his own naming for him. He also wants his own kids to call him by his first name, so that gives you an idea on his politics around family/naming.

    I know that a number of folks over at Rainbow Conceptions and on FF had put together a KD yahoo group – but that it didn’t end up with much activity. I’m sure other folks can speak to this and why they feel that happened, but I can say it saddens me that there isn’t a space for KDs to talk (opening up one here sounds really good!) We have 2 KDs who are friends with each other, and THEY don’t even talk to each other about it!

    Our KDs are both straight and have pretty queer positive/lefty politics. I am assuming that the reason they don’t want too much fanfare about their “gift” is to normalize it. I know that they have both in one way or another stated how they feel that they have given us so little, and how they would hate for others to see their contribution as a reason to deny us as parents, which of course, happens so often for queer families.

    ps – have any of you read Cherríe Moraga’s “Portrait of a Queer Motherhood?” Excellent, excellent book. She talks about negotiating a “queer contract” between herself, her partner and her donor and then talks about the evolving relationship that her donor has with her son. I love how it demonstrates the radicality that comes with queer family making, while explaining the need to reject homo/hetero normative models. Maybe I’ll post a bit about that sometime soon.

  10. Polly, thanks for the link to your post. Our little guy has many chosen (well, we chose them) aunts and uncles already and we love the idea of creating a chosen family.

    Regarding what we call our KD: he (KD) picked a name that he wants our son to call him – a term of endearment for papa in Spanish. We are totally on board with that. It’s just the introducing him to other people thing that gets us all tangled up. I guess maybe calling him a special uncle would work! I feel like we’re really just marking time until our son is old enough to decide for himself how to navigate this verbal territory.

    Both my partner and I have read the Cherrie Moraga book and we loved it. Kwynne, I’ll look forward to your post about it.

  11. HI, I am a KD whi has been valiantly searching the web for resources and information about our situation. I am glad I finally found this. Our friends, a lesbian couple, as ked us, a hetero couple if I would be a donor and a KD at that. My wife and I have no kids and we decided to do it. It took a year, but now our friend is quite pregnant and the twins are due in 30 days! We have done some counseling and they have asked us to be the godparents. We will be “involved” somewhat and somehow, but it is really not clear exactly what and how. We hope to clear that up a bit when we met with the counselor next. I am really intersted in tlaking to others about how the relationships evolve, what to expect and how people in situations like my wife are doing. Thanks

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