Should we two mommies tell our child who the sperm donor was?

I think the child will want to know who the father was, but my partner is concerned about interference and complications.

Published January 3, 2007 12:39PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Here's my story: I'm a 40-year-old lesbian. My wonderful partner and I have just celebrated five years together, and we are planning to have a baby next year. We both want kids badly. My partner (who is 37) will carry the first child because she really wants to have that experience, and I'm not able to due to a hysterectomy. After having the first, we may look to adopt another after a few years.

Here's my problem. My partner wants to use an anonymous donor through a sperm bank, but I wonder if we should use a known donor who could be a part of the child's life. I'm hoping that this isn't some kind of internalized homophobia on my part -- that we need a man to raise a child. It isn't about needing another person to take on responsibility for the baby. We will happily own all the responsibility, along with all the joys and sorrows and dirty diapers. But a nagging voice keeps asking me whether it would be more beneficial for the child to know its father -- especially if it's a boy. I have no doubt that we will be great parents and that our child will enjoy a loving, happy, secure upbringing. The one thing we will lack as parents is a Y chromosome. And I'm afraid that may be too much, especially since we are deliberately choosing to bring a baby into the world.

I hate it that I am questioning our completeness as potential parents. But moms and dads bring different kinds of love and nurturing to their children. What might our little one miss out on by not having a dad? Lots of people have suggested that male friends and relatives could fill the man void in our child's life. We do have some wonderful male friends, but I can't ask them -- or depend on them -- to play such a huge role. It would be wonderful if it happened organically, but who knows what will happen? Most of our friends are women, anyway, and neither my partner nor I have family in the state where we live. (I should add that I don't have a potential known donor in mind. I've floated the idea to a couple of close friends, but they weren't interested. Maybe this is my answer.)

My partner is afraid that if we invite a known donor into our child's life, we run the risk of parental interference on the donor's part, or confusing the child, or even a possible custody battle with the donor. It happens. But I'm afraid that my child will always wonder who his or her "real" dad was. Can you help me sort this out?

Baby Daddy or Not?

Dear Daddy or Not?,

I think it is reasonable to want to know your genetic heritage. That part makes sense to me. A kid wants to know where he or she came from. A kid wants to look in the mirror and see the physical resemblance, to recognize the pattern of attributes that define his genetic family.

It's also nice, if you're a boy, to have a dad show you how to get a spiral on a football. But that's a separate issue. That's not about genetic heritage but the teaching of gender roles. How you raise the child is your decision. The genetic father need not be involved in raising the child. The issue here is: Will the identity of the child's genetic father be kept secret from the child?

I lean toward disclosure. That's my gut sense.

My personal inclination is to make the child in as many ways as possible a part of a family and community. That means having the sperm donor be known, so the child can look at the man and say that is the man who gave the sperm that I grew out of. That is the man who is the biological source of my body. That is a fact. What that relationship grows into I don't know, because this is pretty new. Maybe there is no real relationship. Maybe there doesn't need to be. Maybe that's not what one's genetic inheritance is about. Many of us do not have significant relationships with our own parents. What we do in society comes to shape us and our genes become less relevant. The man may or may not live nearby. The man may or may not play any sort of role as a traditional father. I just think it's important to know as much as possible about where one comes from.

But the fact is that you're doing something new. You're pioneers. Nobody can tell you how to do this.

All I know is what I would want. I would not want to know that I came from an anonymous sperm donor. I would want to know that I came from somebody. I would want to know who he is. And I would want my birth to be acknowledged and celebrated by all parties responsible. If some man's sperm were responsible for me, I would want that man to be able to look at me with pride and say, Hey, that child and I are players in the same incredible story of species survival. What a cool thing! In this way, we honor the thousands of successful generations that came before us, without whose survival we would not be here. It's a mind-boggling thing to consider. It induces awe and wonder. By frankly acknowledging how we got here, we honor that whole incredible genetic history. We honor biological reality. We honor science. We honor social progress and freedom. To go the other way, toward secrecy, just doesn't sit right with me.

That doesn't mean I'd necessarily want my genetic parent to take me to high school football games. I would just want to know who he was.

Making the sperm donor known doesn't mean you are incomplete as parents, either. It doesn't mean that at all. It just means you are acknowledging biology. The biological fact is that you are not capable of producing a child without a man's sperm. So what? That doesn't mean you're not adequate as parents. You've figured out a way around that. Good for you. Why not celebrate it? Why not celebrate the fact that we have figured out a way for two women to have a child, but why pretend there's no man involved when there obviously is a man involved?

Bottom line, if I can offer anything of value, is this: Remember that you are doing something new and there are no rules. But honor the facts. There is going to be a man somewhere who is this child's genetic father. To make that man's identity a mystery doesn't make sense to me. Why not honor the truth: This is the man whose genes you carry. This is the role he has chosen to play in your life. No problem.

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