There is very little control to be had when trying to create a baby, which is why choosing a sperm donor can be something couples pour themselves into emotionally. When my partner and I were perusing our sperm bank options, I picked apart those online profiles wondering if this donor’s love of piano or that donor’s soccer skills would be an asset to the baby I was dreaming of having. With so much thought and care going into choosing a donor, yes, I’d be upset if I found out I had received the wrong vial in a sperm bank mix-up – but that was not what struck me while reading this article about a lesbian couple suing a sperm bank for a donor mix-up that resulted in the “wrongful birth” of their child.
When I read the headline, “Wrong Sperm Given To Lesbian Couple,” I clicked because I felt that I might relate, but as I began reading, my reaction was not sympathetic, but rather horrified. Basically, this couple is suing because they received black genetic material when they had ordered white genetic material. The lawsuit is seeking damages because of “emotional and economic losses” from having a mixed race child. As a lesbian, a parent, a person of color and someone who has loved people who hold racist and homophobic views, this story saddens and infuriates me in deeply personal ways.
Yes, when you purchase one thing and receive something different you have a right to take that up with the company and litigation is appropriate in some situations. But at the center of this lawsuit there is a child and this child’s well-being should take precedence over everything else. Even if a monetary settlement goes directly to make this child’s life better, the entire premise of this lawsuit is that this child’s race is problematic, not the racism surrounding this family. This child’s blackness is the damage. No amount of money is worth making a child feel like a mistake or a burden.
The statements by the attorney are carefully worded to make it clear that while racism is the problem (or “stereotypical attitudes about non-whites” as they awkwardly stated in order to make it sound polite), this injury was inflicted by the sperm–that sneaky black sperm–not by centuries of institutional degradation of an entire segment of humanity.
The lawsuit language seems to take great pains to assure the court that it isn’t the parents who are the racists. Surely they love their daughter, but with complaints like not being “overtly welcome” in the black neighborhood closest to their racist all-white neighborhood, it’s clear there doesn’t seem to be a lot of cultural competency. I do believe these parents love their daughter, and I do believe they are being confronted with their own racism along with the prejudices around them. I’m sure it has opened old wounds around their own identities and the homophobia they battle in their own family and community. That can’t be easy. Their self admitted “learning curve” is steep. It will be a difficult road ahead for both the parents and their child.
This young girl is a minority born into a family that was not expecting her and does not share her identity. They have intolerant ideas about certain characteristics that define who she is and this is the situation that many LGBT people are born into as well. The script has been flipped in this situation and it highlights the differences and intersectionality of the prejudices out there. Forms of oppression, while not interchangeable, are all connected. Queer people do not inherently understand race issues just as people of color aren’t immune to homophobia.
The proposed solution for this family by the girl’s parents (and their therapists) is to move to a more diverse area. Moving won’t fix the issues this family is facing and would not be an option for many families as it requires resources and sacrifice. Still, I agree that it’s the best option they have at the moment, but it doesn’t address the root of the problem: Racism. What I want to know is how are they going to work against racism now that it directly touches their lives? Are they examining why their approach to parenting is different now that their child is of a different race than they expected? Why were they comfortable raising a white child among racists and homophobes?
We all face things about our kids that are unexpected, some more complex and challenging than others. No parent is totally equipped to take on full-time care of a tiny human being but we get equipped. Our job as parents is to step up and put our kids’ best interests first. If that means educating ourselves so that we may properly advocate for our children, then that’s what we do. This lawsuit is misguided and will leave a painful public legacy that this child will eventually have to face. But if they are forced to examine their privilege and are moved to challenge the prejudice they’ve chosen to ignore to this point, this could be a needed wake up call that will make their lives better.
FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK DUNCAN