A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a lesbian couple in New Hampshire who'd been having trouble with their best gay friend/sperm donor. They'd read my essay in the anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families, about having two children with our best gay friend/sperm donor, and thought maybe I could help. Their friend was straying from their original donor agreement by asking for an overnight with their son. They were particularly annoyed by the request since they'd spent six months with their donor negotiating the terms of their agreement, which did not include overnights. What should they do?
My first thought was: "What's his phone number? He can take my kids." I mean, seriously ladiesgive up the kids. Why deprive yourselves of the greatest benefit of the known donor arrangement: free babysitting? Have a romantic evening. Light candles, have sex, watch movies, play dominoes, nuzzle. The world will not end because you are enjoying yourself without your children. There are other humans uniquely qualified to love and care for them.
I told the couple that, when it came to arrangements with our kids' donor, my partner and I stuck by two principles: 1) Trust. Everything is going to be fine. We are all safe. 2) What is best for our kids? We cannot control the path our donor's or our children's hearts take. The nature of our kids' relationship with their donorwhom they both call dadis theirs to create. It's not our business to dictate how that relationship plays out, nor could we if we wanted to.
The couple responded: "What you wrote in your email vs. what you shared in your essay shows a lot of growth."
At first, I was indignant at the implication that I've ever been anything other than fully actualized picture of spiritual perfection I am today. But I had to concede they had a point. When our daughter was born, I was scared. I did worry, as I wrote in my essay, that I'd get voted off the island of parenthood in favor of our donor. I did worry that, once we told her who her daddy was, he would usurp my place in the family.
Seven years later, worn down by the addition of another child and the daily grind that is real life with children, I've mellowed slightly. Our kids are two and seven, they call their donor daddy, they call their donor's partner daddy, and on occasion, they tell us it would be better if they had just one mom and one dad. And everything's fine.
Having kids with a known donor is not for the faint of heart. It requires multiple leaps of faith. The closest thing you get to security is some nimbleness at adjusting to the continual shifting of the ground beneath your feet. It's a ridiculous idea, lesbians using a known donor to make themselves a baby. Sharing parentingno matter what your carefully crafted language in the legally non-binding donor agreement you all signed asserts to the contraryis just not the lesbian way. It's not anybody's way. It is at its essence unnatural to mix your friend's sperm with your egg to make a baby that belongs solely to you and your partner. It's ridiculous to think that your child's donor can paint her bedroom and make her homemade marshmallows and assemble her IKEA bedthat he can babysit or take her for the occasional weekendbut that he must never, ever think of himself as dad, parent, or relative in any nuance or implication of the word.
It doesn't work that way. Your donor will fall in love with your kids. His kids. This is a fact. Get used to it now. If your donor does not fall in love with your kids, congratulations: you just had children with a psychopath. Go ahead, sign that donor agreement where he agrees never to admit dad-like thoughts, whether he has them or not. Don't think that words can prevent an occurrence of the heart, stop the natural flow of love, or litigate away any discomfort, ambiguity, pain, alienation, self-doubt, threat, or vague, bewildering feelings you might have about making a baby with your best friend. Never mind that it's right there on paper as legal as it could be if any law recognized it. High-larious! Have your agreement notarized if you really want the gods to fall over laughing. Notarize it, and have your lawyer retain a copy. Maybe your lawyer, like ours, will tell you your agreement doesn't carry the legal weight of the paper it's printed on.
You probably didn't know your two-year-old daughter would stand before you with the persistence of a waterfall and ask, over and over, "Who's my daddy?" Her hair will be braided into two adorable braids, courtesy of who else?her donor, because he can braid better than both of you. She'll sit there, so cute in those braids, asking who her daddy is. Digesting in her belly, nourishing the blood cells that feed the brain that thinks up these astonishing questions, is the pork loin her donor made for all of you for dinner. Now that's a funny scene.
You thought you were going to tell your kids they didn't have a daddy; rather, they had a special-donor-friend-uncle-unicorn-biological-tooth-fairy-neighbor or something. You thought this conversation would happen when they were oh, ten, and you'd calmly explain the concept of donor insemination. Too bad she's two and insisting the postman is her daddy and if he's not her daddy well then who is. And all the while she's asking she's sitting in the lap of her donor, who is tall and cute and really good at braiding little girls' hair and also just helped you fix your toilet.
Send the kids on the overnight and dust off the lube, ladies. If you thought he was good enough to be your donor, he's probably just fine to take care of them for a night. And if not, send him my way.
Mary Bowers is a Chicago-based writer and graphic designer. Hear Mary and other contributors read from And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families, a quirky, funny, and occasionally heartbreaking collection of personal essays on the relative risks and unexpected rewards of queer, do-it-yourself, babymaking on Thursday, Feb. 17, at Women and Children First Books, 5233 N. Clark. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. and includes a Q&A session and book giveaways.