This post is part of the Love Makes A Family Blog Carnival. Check out this week’s other posts, including the next in line, from, um, Next In Line. (I did not do that on purpose. That was my brain, making a funny.)
As I write this, riding the train home after teaching a night class, breasts sore clear up to the collar bone (pumps work better when you bring all the parts), the Bean’s sperm donor feels like a very remote concept, hardly a person at all, and certainly not part of daily life in any real way. When we started TTC, I thought about him a lot, and when we got the fertilization reports, I felt glad my eggs liked his sperm so much, but now that the Bean is here, well, I admit wondering when he got his first teeth and whether he was an early walker (because The Bean is clearly not taking after my own, politely restrained model of first steps at 18 months), but he doesn’t have much to do with our immediate realities. Nothing in his profile tells me whether the Bean is crying out of hunger or tiredness or whether he’s just pining for the cats; his interview doesn’t cover what to do with my mixed feelings as my milk ceases to be enough to feed the Bean. In a theoretical way, I recognize that the Bean wouldn’t be the Bean if we’d chosen Mr. NMEBSI, but that doesn’t make the donor we did choose seem to me like a father. For me and for Sugar, the donor is only a set of characteristics loosely associated with a product we paid for and have found satisfactory. If he materialized in our living room, he wouldn’t know our son the way Sugar and I do, no matter how many genes they might share.
I realize, though, that someday he may seem very important, indeed, because the odds are good that the Bean isn’t going to believe he is the product of parthenogenesis. (My pesky father will probably tell him about Y chromosomes, for one thing.) We will tell the Bean that his donor is his donor, but ultimately, we don’t know who he will decide his donor is to him. The biggest reason we chose a willing-to-be-known donor is that we wanted to be able to say to the Bean that even before he was a bean, we were thinking of him as his own person, whose thoughts and desires might well be different from our own. We can’t know whether his donor will want to meet him (or whether the Bean will be interested in contact), whether he’ll actually not be the thoughtful man he seemed in his interview, whether he’ll even be alive. We just wanted to be able to say that we did the best we could.
This all sounded very good to me, very well-reasoned and mature and considerate, until I was actually pregnant, when donor concerns suddenly seemed a little more real. And then the Bean was born. “He has your nose,” Dr. Russian announced, while Sugar cradled him. “Really?” I said, craning to see across the room. Later, I looked up the donor’s baby picture. The Bean looks a lot like me, but he does not have my nose. Nor my ears. I looked at the picture and I looked at the Bean: it’s not just my genes in there.
I feel that we did do the best we could — for a variety of reasons, a known donor was not a good choice for us — and it’s possible that some of my concern is a product of internalized homophobia, a lingering belief that my gayness makes me an unfit parent. (I reject such ideas with my conscious mind, but you know how minds can be.) And yet, I can’t help worrying that the Bean won’t feel the same.
Donor Unknown, a documentary about the experiences of a group of donor-concieved teenagers who find each other on the Donor Sibling Registry and subsequently meet their (originally anonymous, from before the days of willing-to-be-known donors) donor after he reads about them in the New York Times, both fanned and allayed my fears. It’s a wonderful film, and I highly recommend it.
(Okay, I’m home now and it’s late, so this part has to be quick.)
The donor in the movie is a fascinating character. He is what you call a free spirit. I was pleased to see what a kindhearted man he was, not at all someone who was only into donating for the money. He seemed to feel a real spiritual connection to the idea of sperm donation, which had a beauty to it. On the other hand…he’s weird. He lives in a camper in a parking lot by the ocean. But he’s so nice! He recognized himself in the Times article and voluntarily reached out to these kids! My reactions to this aspect of the film were a classic Aww!/ACK! conflict. He loves animals. Aww…. He rescues pigeons! Ack!
Then I realized something important: the kids aren’t weird at all. They are, you might say, all right. They seem smart, kind, and sane. With the exception of the one whose parents lied to her about being donor conceived, they seem happy and well-adjusted. (If you ever needed a reason not to lie, imagine finding out that your daughter had talked to a NYT reporter about her donor siblings only when your voicemail filled up with friends calling about the article. Heh. Guess she got her own back, surprise-wise.) Many of them talked about traits they imagined they might have inherited from their donor, but none of them seemed, upon meeting him, to find that his eccentricities challenged their sense of themselves.
The most important idea I took away from the movie is that the donor belongs to the kids, not the parents. One of the moms of a boy in the movie talks about how she wants to go with him, to see him meet his donor, who she’s been curious about since before he was born. The boy ably deflects her; he goes on his own and meets up with other donor sibs (and the camera crew) for the meeting. Watching from the outside, it was so obvious that was the right choice, but I think I would have the same desires his mother did. Besides pure curiosity, it’s hard to imagine relinquishing control over that moment.
Yet at the same time, the thought of relinquishing some control over that relationship is a relief. It’s nice to think that Sugar and I aren’t messing everything up by not already being on the DSR, seeking out donor sibs and planning playdates. We may yet join, but having watched this movie, I feel easier with the idea of letting that be his decision, donor siblings his discovery. As long as we are honest with our children, then as with many parenting decisions, I think there is more than one right way to do this.