Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Known Donor

This post was originally a guest post over at Uppercase Woman.

When my partner, jb, and I set out to start a family we considered three options as a spermless couple.  First, adoption, which we looked at seriously, but ultimately chose not to pursue since I wanted very much to experience pregnancy and childbirth.

Second, we considered buying sperm from a sperm bank.  We actually did this.  A lot.  We tried to get pregnant using an anonymous donor for two years – which was emotionally and financially draining.  After two years of infertility we had no more savings, no baby, and very little hope.

Finally, more out of desperation than a real belief that it would be a good option for us, we began to examine the possibility of using a known donor.  I was always open to the idea of a known donor, but I felt I should leave that decision up to jb.  Should it come to it, I knew legally she'd be more vulnerable than I would be - so if we were to put that kind of trust in someone I wanted her to choose that path and ultimately the person.  There were definite pluses to this scenario: we’d have a much fuller picture of our donor’s background (beyond the sperm bank profile of eye color,  hobbies and limited medical history); we’d have clearer answers to offer our offspring when he or she began to ask questions about the donor; and heck, fresh sperm is heartier and gives a longer window for conception than frozen.
Still, there are so many risks in opening that door to someone.

What if he changes his mind in five years and tries to sue us for custody?  What if he never legally challenges us but he gets too involved or attached?  It’s tricky enough that jb has to adopt her own child after birth without adding another person to the equation.  It just seems to make things so…complicated.

Despite our fears, we ultimately decided that the benefits of a known donor outweighed all of the risks.  After all, what about bringing a person into this world isn’t scary?  Plus, we were lucky enough to have someone in our lives that we trusted enough to ask for this enormous favor.  We ended up conceiving (with me carrying) using jb’s brother as our known donor, who gladly helped us out and signed a donor contract. 

During the pregnancy we didn't tell many people about the known donor situation - in my experience, the people who have the audacity to outright ask are the people you least want to share details with, and those that you are willing to open up to tend to be really respectful of boundaries.  So that left us not really talking about the subject.

Once our son was born, though, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that we had used a donor from jb's family.  He is the spitting image of jb (and all her brothers).  So we didn't really have to decide whether or not to share the information – it was written all over our baby’s face (and hands, and hair, and expressions).

Now our son is a year old and I'm so happy with the path we chose.  It's really amazing to see so much of jb in our baby.  Uncle D (our known donor) is a wonderful and doting Uncle - nothing more, nothing less.  Likewise, our son adores his uncle.  Uncle D is the first to clarify that jb is the one and only "Dad" in the picture should anyone ask (which happens VERY rarely).  [I’ve written more about using “Dad” in our family here.]

We often get remarks about how much our son looks like jb and we answer any questions that are posed respectfully.  We plan to answer any questions our son has about how he came to be as it is developmentally appropriate.  So far, so good, and honestly, at this point I can’t imagine it any other way.

All that being said, using a known donor is not for everyone.  I'd encourage anyone considering it to ask themselves if they would trust this person with their life.  Ultimately that's what you are doing.  We are fortunate to have someone that we trust implicitly.  That is on the same page as us as to his role and our expectations.  That routinely makes the right decisions about when to step forward and when to step back.  That we are able to remain close with without any weirdness creeping in.  I’d also recommend signing a donor contract.  It may not hold up in court, but it’s a great way to make sure everyone is seeing eye to eye.  And of  course, to take the time to marvel at the little miracle you made from scratch (even if you did have to borrow a cup of sugar).


  1. I loved this entry.
    I actually didn't know that jb's brother was your donor - it makes so much sense now why leo and jb look so similar..but by the same token, we are always told that my Manny looks like his Mim (who has NO genetic link whatsoever!) so I figured it was one of those nature vs nurture things :)

    How lucky you are to be able to share such close links to your donor. Our donor situation is very similar, he's as close to a brother as my partner has ever had - they were raised together as their parents are best friends :)

  2. After seeing the last picture of Leo on facebook, about 3 minutes ago, I said out loud to Jon, "One of Jessica's brothers must have been their donor! He looks just like them, and JB!" and then I came to your blog to see what was new and read this post. I love seeing what a great year its been for you guys!

  3. Hey - I came across your post via Mombian. This post kind of hits home for me.

    I lived in West Philly up until last year. When we do have children (waaaay i the future) my partner and I have already decided to use my brother as the donor. The thing is, my brother is also gay, so obviously we've talked about this, and I'd get to reciprocate if he has a family someday. It's a win-win for both. What I look forward to in that situation is having my child look and be like all of us.

    Now I'm going to keep reading for the pictures and nostalgia of Clark Park.

  4. Love this! This is such an amazing story and I'm humbled by your openness to share. It honestly never occurred to me to ask about donors. I'm so not curious like that. All I see is how cute Leo is and how much you and JB love him.

  5. Thank you for inspiring me. Let me explain. I have struggled with whether or not my brother should be the donor for my partner's and I first child. She definitely wants to give birth and I on the other hand, don't. We are engaged to get married in less than 2 years and to begin the process of having our first child a year or two afterwards. Lately, there has been more conversations about finances and of course children come into play. I was adamant about having an unknown donor because I would still see my brother as being a father of my child. However after reading this, I have changed my mind. You write so eloquently about the relationship between you, your partner and the unknown donor. I then think about how amazing my brother is and how i know what a wonderful uncle he would be to my child. My partner already talked with him and he's down, I just wasn't ready. Now I am. I guess reading your blog also made me think about how you are so closely related to me. I lived in Philadelphia last year, in West Philly. My partner is Latina and a queer activist and I am a trans black man (women too) who is also an activist. We obviously have different experiences and because you are in an interracial (from my perspective) queer (from my perspective) relationship, I think wow, if they seem ok, I guess my fears are valid but things can be ok. I can be a dad to my child and at the same time be open and honest with my kid about their donor at the same time while that donor be apart of that child's life. Ultimately it is all about family and what family means and family is defined by my partner and I, that is the realization. I go in circles sometimes but I hope this makes sense. I guess I really wanted to share with you how your story touched me. So thank you for sharing your story, I send much love and respect to you and your family. Please never stop sharing your kind and beautiful words.

  6. Hi! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. It really makes my day to hear that my writing reached someone. I don't know if you saw my more recent post about using a known donor ( - but a year later we are expecting #2 and still very happy with the way things are working out. I really think a donor contract is the best way to start - making sure everyone is on the same page. It's a bit formal, but there's no other way to really lay out all the different scenarios/questions/legalities without being formal. It really put a lot of my fears to rest to sit across the table from each other and say these things out loud and see each others faces as we voiced our fears and reactions. Good luck!

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