The unique joys of knowing your sperm donor

I wanted to use an anonymous sperm donor so I could remain in control. It turned out to be more complicated, and more beautiful than that.

Photo: Katherine Clover

As a woman who likes women, I knew I couldn’t become a mom without having a plan. So years before I was even in any position to get pregnant, I had it all worked out. I wouldn’t wait until I had the perfect job or home before pursuing parenthood—I knew that whether I was single or partnered, I wanted to be the one to carry the pregnancy. And I knew I’d choose an anonymous sperm donor.

There were, and are, a lot of reasons to choose an anonymous donor through a sperm bank. I live in the United States, and at least here, it happens to be by far the “safest” option, legally speaking. But to be honest, that wasn’t my primary reasoning. As a queer woman, it was scary to consider discussing my plans with some man, and I felt fiercely protective of the entire process. I reasoned that if I bought sperm, with a thick layer of process and bureaucracy between myself and the donor, that sperm would be mine. Regardless of the body it had once come out of, I would own it. The impersonal aspect of it meant that I could make a child totally on my own—a thrilling prospect. Controlling how I chose to become a mom felt, in a way, like the ability to control my own destiny.

Parents often like to joke about our “I would never” lists, that is, the lists we all had of things we knew we wouldn’t do before we actually had children. While many of my parenting ideals have stayed the same, others have changed because the reality of kids is vastly different than the idea of kids. That I’d change my mind, and desperately want to know my child’s donor, never occurred to me. But then I met the person who would become my wife, and suddenly all my plans were turned upside down.

Falling in love, and wanting to share my life with someone, made me realize that nobody actually does anything independently. Planning our wedding, and our future together, made me feel like part of a larger community in a way that I never had before. One night, my fiancée and I were up late talking about kids, and family in general—what we wanted for our little family, what we thought we should prioritize—and I suddenly realized I couldn’t create a human being with sperm from a complete stranger. Once I was closer to actually parenting, my ideals completely shifted. We didn’t want to be respectable gay people who looked just like a straight family from a distance… we wanted to queer the very concept of family and build something beautiful and made of love and consistent with our values and our community. We wanted to make any children we might have the same way we did everything: weirdly, thoughtfully, and with people we cared about. No frozen vial of genetic material could accomplish that.

And while we didn’t really want whoever donated the sperm to act as a parent to our child-to-be, we did want them to know each other. It felt very important to me that my kid have a clear idea of their own origins, and be able to ask questions if they ever had any.

So, nervously, we started to list potential donors. It was awkward thinking of our friends and loved ones in terms of “who makes sperm?” and it was even more awkward to admit who we just couldn’t ask. We tried to keep an open mind, but it was also a major decision, and there were many reasons (health, temperament, etc.) that certain people were immediately disqualified.

Eventually, we narrowed down to just one person, a non-binary transgender friend who is a drummer and at the time was teaching kids how to build bikes. (As a non-binary person, this friend also uses the singular “they” pronoun rather than “he” or “she.”) They were the perfect choice for us, but we had no idea what they would think. What if they thought it was creepy? What if we were too embarrassed to even ask? Relying on community is great in theory, but in practice, it meant hinging our dreams on a decision that wasn’t ours to make.

My wife and I had agreed to ask our would-be donor together, but I managed to blurt it out before then, in the most awkward way possible. I ran into them at a local punk show, and somehow the topic of kids came up. When they casually asked about where my wife and I were planning to obtain sperm, I looked at my feet and said, “Uh, actually, you’re on the list.” Then we didn’t speak about it for months.

When we finally sat our friend down to explain exactly what we were asking for, and why, they listened attentively. When I’d finished explaining the best I could, I bit my lip in nervousness, certain that they were about to say “hey thanks for dinner, but I’m sorry, this just isn’t for me.”

Instead, they took a deep breath and said, “that is probably the queerest thing I’ve ever heard of!” and when I looked up, I saw they were smiling with genuine happiness.

It’s been almost three years since that day. Our baby, well, he’s not really a baby anymore. He’s a growing toddler who talks and walks and eats thousands of cheerios. Everyone says he looks “exactly like me.” Sometimes though, when he smirks in a certain way, I can see traces of his Fairy Godmother (the affectionate term we decided on rather than “donor”).

When our son was born, his Fairy Godmother was one of only a handful of friends who visited us in the hospital, and they used to visit us from time to time, before moving away last year. In a lot of ways, those visits felt like they would have happened no matter what (we were already good friends before the baby) but they also felt special. Seeing little traces of my friend in my child’s face is a joy I hadn’t imagined before, and one I almost didn’t allow myself to have.

I had believed I could remain in perfect control of my own reproduction, and thus make the exact family I wanted and needed. It turned out to be both more complicated, and more beautiful than that. And every day, I’m more and more grateful for the simple acts of kindness, community, and friendship, that brought my child into the world.

Read More:
Single mom, donor dad: An unconventional pregnancy story
Same-sex parenting: the kids are alright
Same-sex parents: Still just like everybody else

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