About six years ago, I got pregnant after insemination with frozen donor sperm, and nine months later Lyn and I had a baby girl, Leigh. Like most parents, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Unlike most parents (but perhaps like many parents actually reading this), part of what we had no idea about was donor conception. I literally had no notion what it might mean to me, to Lyn, or to our non-existent children when I started surfing around the web, looking at sperm donors. We had briefly considered trying to find a known donor, but rejected the idea as involving too much uncertainty and too great a possibility of going badly. So I was looking at donor profiles, thinking about things like the donors’ height, hair color, responses to stupid questions, and even their blood type, but I didn’t necessarily think of them as real people, and I didn’t think about the fact that, in a way, I would be entering into a permanent and serious relationship with one of them. But like most parents-to-be, Lyn and I leapt in without knowing if we could swim, or even realizing that the water might be a little deep.
Early on I figured out that I was getting more than I bargained for because my wife, Lyn, started talking about how invisible she felt, how afraid she was for the future, cherishing the process of becoming a mother but feeling left out of it. We talked and talked, because, frankly, that’s what we do. Sometimes I heard her. Sometimes I thought she was tilting at windmills (she wasn’t). But we talked it all out, and we were ready.
Except that we weren’t. I still had no idea what it was going to be like to be a parent to a person who was donor conceived. What would Leigh think of it all in the future? Would she resent the choices that we made for her? Would she want to meet her donor or genetic half-siblings? Well, at least all of that was far in the future and we had plenty of time to figure it out.
Except that we didn’t. We had our first encounter of a sort with a donor sibling when Leigh was a few months old, and we weren’t ready. Thinking about it now, I wonder how we could have been so blind that we didn’t see that it was bound to happen sooner rather than later. When it did, it shook our world up. But as Lyn has written about, we grew and we learned and we thought we were prepared for the future.
Except that we weren’t. A couple of years later Lyn gave birth and we had a baby boy and the game seemed to have changed again. Our thoughts about donor conception shifted. We felt an openness that we hadn’t had before, and we started to think about posting on the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) and reaching out to the other family we knew with a child via the same donor as our kids.
As queer parents, our families are threatened. There are legal threats, homophobia, and all of the external threats that can batter our families. But there are also internal threats that come from the way that we create our children, fear that a non-biological mother won’t be seen as a real mother by herself, by her partner, by the queer community, and by the wider straight community. It is this threat that led us, after Leigh’s birth, to swear that we would never interact with the DSR, and that caused us to completely flip out when we suddenly found out we knew someone who had a child via the same donor. It is this threat that has many of us clinging fiercely to our nuclear families, rejecting the possibility of connection with people genetically linked to our kids.
Genetics is important to pretty much everyone, even if we want to say it is not. Yes, love makes a family, but my love for Lyn and my desire for children with her isn’t the whole truth of how we came to be parents. The whole truth is more complicated, and the whole truth is part of my legacy to my kids. I’m confident they can sort it out – but I do want to make sure I’m on the ride with them, that I’m not asking them to do work that I’m not willing to do myself.
Lyn and I are now at a very different place than when we started down this road. We now welcome connections to donor siblings. Yes, we welcome these connections for the kids, but also for ourselves, and we are pursuing them one step at a time. But we’ve also already done a lot of the sometimes messy work of establishing a safe and secure space for both of us as non-bio-moms in our family.
So often, discussion of the DSR in queer parenting circles comes down to whether or not you are “for” or “against,” with some parents insisting we all should register and start making these fabulous connections ASAP, while others insist that any acknowledgement of a donor “sibling” relationship fundamentally undermines everything that we have fought for as queer families.
For us, and I’m sure for many families, the reality is somewhere in between. While we are now grateful have access to the DSR as a resource, and are extremely positive about the connections we’ve made, seemingly placing us in the “for” camp, I actually would prefer to see families hold off on DSR connections (especially while kids are very young) until they are absolutely sure that their families are solid, and in particular in two-mom families that the non-bio-mom feels secure and strong in her relationship with her kid(s). There’s no rush – any donor siblings out there are still going to be genetically connected to your kids if you wait a few years. In the meantime, your job is to build a great family. If you are a bio-mom, you need to be supporting your partner in being a terrific parent, doing your part to make sure she has space, time and support to fall deeply in love with her kids. The DSR can wait until she is ready.
And if you are a non-bio mom, you can get ready. You may never want to post on the DSR or meet half-bio-siblings of your children, and that really is OK. But you need to make your relationship with your kid great. You need to grind down any threat that you feel until you can hardly even see its shadow, which means being there with your kid, being out in the community as a parent, and (hopefully) getting the legal protections you need so that you don’t have to worry. That’s how you get ready. Because even if you never touch the DSR, there’s a good chance your kid will want to. It won’t mean that they don’t love you. It may mean that they want to know more about their genetic background, or that they wonder about people they’re connected to but they’ve never met, people who they might want to call family. You have to be ready because you want them to be able to walk their path without worrying about you. You want them to be able to go off and form those connections if that’s what they want or need, knowing that they’ll always be able to come back home to you, and, to quote Where the Wild Things Are, to that place where someone loves them best of all.*
* Thanks to Clio for recently reminding us about the wonderful things that book says about “home.”