Amanda Deibert-Staggs and Cat Staggs, moms to one-year-old Vivienne, chose a closed agreement when they selected their donor at California Cryobank so that, theoretically, Vivi can’t look for the donor, and he can’t look for her.
“We went through several different options—if we wanted to use someone we knew, or someone related to Cat, but ultimately we decided we wanted we wanted all of the decisions for our family to be made by our family,” Amanda said. “If we were to ask someone who we know, it would probably be someone who is active in her life, like an uncle to her, who would have an opinion and feel an attachment to her after she was born. And then an issue you never would have foreseen leads you into some sort of legal battle you never anticipated.”
Because California Cryo provided them with such a comprehensive donor profile, they were able to pick a donor who not only physically resembled Cat and shared much of her ethnic makeup, but who also shared interests, hobbies, and aptitudes of Cat’s, as well. They felt very comfortable with the family medical history they were provided on their donor and did not see this was somehow secondary to knowing their donor personally and being able to question him further if any health concerns should arise later in Vivi’s life.
“Amusingly,” Amanda said, “because I don’t know anything about my own biological father, I have more medical history on Vivi than I do on myself.” From soup to nuts, choosing to conceive Vivi by way of an anonymous sperm donor was a positive experience for the Staggs family, and as time goes on, the couple can retain a certain peace of mind knowing that their family is its own unit.
Caroline Madden is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked with many lesbian couples, as well as adults who were adopted as children, a demographic who often share similar concerns to children conceived via sperm donation. Her strong recommendation to perspective lesbian parents was to use a willing-to-be-known donor from a sperm bank, versus known donor, or an entirely anonymous donor. (Her exception to this, interestingly, was in cases when the known donor is the brother of the non-carrying mother, but we’ll come back to that later.) Dr. Madden’s reasons in favor choosing an unknown donor included Amanda and Cat Staggs’ concerns about third-party meddling in child-rearing, and also included issues surrounding the non-biological mother’s experience.
“The thought that goes on with some of the most functional couples who come through my office is this ideal image of the father being part of the family,” Caroline said. “Like, ‘He might not see them much, he might not even live in town, but he’ll call the child on her birthday, or she’ll make him a little Father’s Day present.’ The image is ideal, except how is the non-biological mother affected? When it’s time for the child to do my family tree, instead of drawing the biological mom and her wife, the child may draw the biological mom, and biological father. The non-biological mom is a third. It’s almost like she’s a step-parent. It’s like mom and dad got divorced, but they’re friendly.”
Still, Dr. Madden does emphasize that there is a primal human drive to know our own biology and that the quest to discover one’s roots is something that children conceived via sperm donation (just like children who are adopted) should have the option to embark on once they turn 18. The donor profile handed to the child may paint a detailed picture of their biological father, but it can never be the same as meeting, or even just speaking to the person himself. Having this kind of open access to your biological roots is, in fact, considered a fundamental human right in many parts of the world, so in places like Canada, the UK, Scandinavia, and Australia, entirely anonymous sperm donation has been banned.
In an effort to give children with closed donor agreements the ability to connect to at least some of their genetic relatives, California Cryo does offer parents the option of listing their child on a sibling registry, which allows the child to find/contact any half-siblings they may have from the same donor. Even so, the desire to quest does remain very real for very many people later in life, regardless of the connection to the lesbian parents. As Dr. Madden says, by the time the child is 18, they’ve already been raised without third-party interference, their moms are their parents for life, and the quest is not a threat to the lesbian family unit. So if you’re going to go the way of the sperm bank, an open agreement with a willing-to-be-know donor is something to consider.