For the vast majority of us who are yet to build families of our own, the thought of having children is, frankly, overwhelming. The entrance of children into our lives means a massive personal paradigm shift; a new reality where we are no longer at the center of our own lives, someone else is—someone who needs a lot of our time and energy. But there are logistical concerns ranging from finances to education to parenting style to where your new family is going to spend the holidays (because you know your mom is going to pull a granzilla on you if your mother-in-law calls dibs on baby’s first Festivus). And yet, despite concerns about time, and money, and not being able to get drunk on any given Tuesday, year after year (or hour after hour, as our Facebook newsfeeds would lead us to believe) people decide to have babies. And it occurs to us that eventually, someday, maybe even soon(ish), those people could be us.
So now the good news for those of us with same-sex partners is that, in thinking about our future families, we don’t have to deal with added stress of a surprise “whoopsie” pregnancy. We can, instead, take comfort in knowing that by the time we decide to have kids, we will be ready (at least relatively speaking). The bad news for those of us with same-sex partners? We don’t have the option of a surprise “whoopsie” pregnancy. Instead, by the time we’ve decided we’re ready to begin a family, we are hit with the realization that that life-changing decision is just the beginning in a number of equally important decisions to be made before the baby is actually even conceived. So when it comes to lesbians creating a family that is biologically linked to one or both partners, the first major step is answering one not-so-simple question: How? Or, more precisely, using whose sperm? Or, getting right down to the meat of it (pun intended), do we want to know our donor personally, or don’t we?
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It’s this last question when posed to perspective lesbian parents that seems to bring up an understandable myriad of emotions, assumptions, fears, and further questions. Since the existence of the lesbian created and lead family is a relatively new phenomenon in our society, very few (if any) long-term studies have been done regarding the effects on the children (or on the lesbian couple) of using a known vs. an unknown sperm donor. Lesbian couples today have to carve their individual paths into largely uncharted territory using their own internal compasses. The decision to use a known, or an unknown sperm donor is one that is highly personal, and, from what we’ve seen so far, does not appear to have a right or a wrong answer. Rather, it’s a choice, much like the choice to have children in the first place, that just a lot of factors to consider.
When we say “unknown” donor and “known” donor, what we mean is you can go the way of the sperm bank, or you can use the sperm of someone you know personally—most likely a friend, or a relative (brother, or male cousin) of the non-carrying partner. For the sake of those of you immediately, viscerally averse to knowing the identity of the man whose sperm will be used to help make your babies, we get it, and luckily, so does the ever-growing industry of anonymous sperm donation.
Many sperm banks, including the popular California Cryobank, now have donor profiles so extensive that you can really start to paint a picture of the three-dimensional human being from whom your baby will derive half of his/her genetics. Such donor profiles not only outline a donor’s basic physical features, his education/profession, and his medical records, they also give you his genetic family history spanning three generations, they show you a photo of him as a child, they describe his likes, dislikes, and hobbies, and they give you samples of his writing and audio clips of his speaking voice. You can even hear clips of him playing his guitar, or oboe, or his didgeridoo.
As the demand for sperm goes up, the donor information available to prospective parents gets more extensive, affording couples with greater peace of mind as they go through the selection process. Additionally, in choosing their donor through a sperm bank, lesbian couples are spared a good chunk of the legal headache associated with sperm donation, as the banks have contracts ready to sign, and professionals on hand to walk you through the process one step at a time. Many sperms banks also give you options regarding gaining access to the identity of your donor once your child turns 18, should he/she want it. Prior to conception, you can decide whether you’d rather have an “open” agreement with what’s referred to as a “willing-to-be-known donor,” or a “closed” agreement with a permanently anonymous donor.