To know or not to know

Although I missed the first round, we’re going to participate in the Love Makes a Family blog carnival whenever we can. The theme this time around is donor sperm.

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that our son was conceived with the help of a known donor (blog name BD). I know there will be a lot of posts in this carnival around the regulatory and ethical issues around sperm banks, but being from a whole other country I’ll give you an insight into how things work here and then more personally how our family works.

Grab a coffee or tea and pull up a pew – it’s a bit on the long side sorry, I got on a roll!

Different Country, Different Rules:

We live in New Zealand and there is not a whole lot of choice when it comes to fertility clinics and sperm banks. In fact there is only one clinic that was accessible to us, and their internal sperm bank.  In recent years there has been a lot of tightening up of rules and regulations, mostly for the better, one of which is that you used to be able to import sperm from overseas donors and do home ICI’s or a sympathetic doctor to help but now the only way to get sperm from a bank is through a clinic.  There are a lot of regulations around donating and using the sperm, including the number of children and families allowed to use one donor. One is that all donors since 2005 have to be willing to be known as below:

“The HART Act specifies that, when pregnancies result from sperm that is now donated, (the clinic) is required to notify the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages of identifying information about the child and the donor. After the age of 18 years a child may ask the clinic or the Registrar-General for the identity of the donor and this information will normally be given. The child may ask for the identity of other children conceived using the same donor. There are provisions for children getting information from the age of 16 years and for parents to obtain information about the donor, too. A donor may ask for the identity of all persons born as a result of his donation. If the parents of a child who is under eighteen years of age consent to this the information will be given. If the person is over eighteen they have the right to consent or not.”

The donor can also actually choose how many families, up to a maximum of 5 with a maximum of 10 children across those families. When a pregnancy occurs, they can put aside sperm to be held for later attempts with the same donor. As we also have a publicly funded healthcare system that does fund fertility treatment under some circumstances, there is also high demand for the sperm. As it is illegal for clinics to pay the donors (and probably a number of other reasons such as a limited population base), donated sperm is in short supply. Depending in which city you live, the waiting list to use the donor sperm can be anyway from 6 months to 3+years.

If you want to use a known donor, you’ve got two choices – sort it out yourselves privately doing at home collection/ICI etc, or engage the services of a clinic who will do all the same screening, testing etc that they would do for the sperm bank and then either use their services for the insems or take it home to try (although this wasn’t an option when we tried).

Why/how we chose a known donor:

We knew early on in our relationship that we wanted to have children one day, I can’t remember even talking about it for the first time or even really having the first conversation about how we would do it. We decided that it was important, for us, for our child to know where his/her biological make up came from. Or maybe more importantly for us to know where it came from so that we could answer any questions as time went on. We knew that the questions would come, it was only a matter of how we would answer them. We also did have in the back of our minds that, if we had a boy, we would like to have that person in his life as another male role model. Although we feel confident about raising a son, there is still that societal pressure that we just can’t seem to shake (quite possibly another post for another day).

The crunch came when we started looking around the people in our lives. It was very easy to eliminate the vast majority of them: My brothers? Nice idea in theory but in reality – too weird. K’s friends? Nope sure fire way to make Tui feel super insecure if it was more K’s friend than mine. Tui’s friends? Nope doesn’t work either. We kept coming back to BD, he was one of my best friends at uni, we met when we were 18 (wow 13 years ago) and when we both came out a couple of years later we joked about having a baby together but it was just that, a joke. In the meantime, K and I had uprooted and moved to a brand new city and a while later BD moved too and lived with us for a year. This really balanced the relationship between us as we all got to know each other really well. When we started thinking and talking about it, he was really the only man that we were both equally comfortable and happy with.

So while we chose a known donor, if for any reason it hadn’t worked out – if he’d said no, there was a medical issue or something else came up – then that would have been it for known donors. We would have been all about anonymous from there. This would have been challenging, K’s mother is very staunchly opposed to anonymous donors as she is an avid genealogist and we have had many debates on this – ultimately we agree that the reasons of knowing your background, family, medical history etc are sound after all that’s why we wanted BD anyway, but we’re also not going to enter into such a personal arrangement with someone less than desirable just to get that. There was, and, 6 or so years after we first asked him, is still no one else that we could both trust enough to enter into such an arrangement with.

That may sound funny to some people, because the other benefit of doing all this through the clinic is that BD legally signed away any rights, responsibilities or obligations the day he made his donation. He went through the same counselling requirements as we did, and the law is black and white on that. At the same time, under our law I am automatically recognised as Sprocket’s parent being that I was K’s partner at the time of the birth (this is whether by marriage, civil union or de facto). So we are very lucky to both be able to be named on the birth certificate from the very beginning (as mother and other parent, terminology could be worked on a little perhaps but still we’ll take it).

So for us, the known donor route is the right choice but only with the right person. If not for that, it would be anonymous.

The Way It Works For Us:

We were clear with BD from the start though that we wanted him to have a special relationship with Sprocket, and decided we were comfortable calling him Daddy so we gave BD the choice of what he wanted to be called (which he has decided is Daddy – I know that Daddy can be a loaded word in the lesbian baby making world but for us it fits. There are all kinds of different Daddy’s in the world, even in our own families and for us we decided the implication didn’t have to be the male parent, head of household, or even parent. We are creating our family in a way few get to do/have to do and thus it is simply a word to recognise the special relationship that we wanted between our children and their donor. Having said that, had we gone the anonymous donor route it would have been a clear distinction between donor and daddy and I don’t think we would have been comfortable at all with the daddy label in that situation so I can certainly understand that sentiment.)

We were equally very clear that despite this, he wouldn’t have any input into any decision-making regarding our children’s lives and that the parenting would be done solely by K and myself. We were also bolstered in this by the fact that he lives 6 hours away, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t move back to our city for any reason. Slightly off the path but we were also clear that if he and his partner (although he was single when we first asked him) ever wanted a child we would in no way be able to offer any surrogacy services – hats off to those that do but there’s no way either of us could and we didn’t want to get into any tit for tat arguments down the line.

And here’s where it started to feel a little tricky. See, we trusted BD completely and utterly with no hesitation. We love him like a brother. But to be perfectly honest at that point he was a 20-something gay boi very much into the partying lifestyle and we had no idea what was going to happen in the future. By the time we actually got to the business end of ttc, he had started seeing someone but even he didn’t know how long it would last. So while we trusted him, we hardly knew his boyfriend at all, so we were glad of the protection the clinic offered us both legally and medically. As time went on, things got more and more serious between them and things got more and more awkward between us and BD’s bf (BDBF). We only saw them maybe once a year and by the end of last year we felt like we were being avoided by BDBF. After Sprocket was born we found out that BDBF was having issues with feeling left out of the whole thing, you see while he was there periphally from early on he was really not involved in the decision making side of things at all – not that he’s anti it but he missed that part so he’s just had to deal with it. Of course, not getting to know us better probably didn’t help either if you ask me! Although he didn’t come and visit with BD soon after Sprocket was born, he has stayed a night with us recently and it all went well so onwards and upwards.

So yeah, we chose BD because we both felt equal in our relationships with him. This definitely didn’t stop me from feeling incredibly insecure at many, many points along this path I can’t even remember them all, but here’s a taste:

  • The what if’s of the future – will BD ever try for more, despite the law? what about his partner? what about his family? would K see me differently, as a somehow inferior parent?what if K and BD both decide they’re really straight and run off to get married…okay maybe not so much this one lol but seriously some of them get/got pretty crazy.
  • The first visit after Sprocket was born, I was meant to be going back to work part time but there was no way I was leaving BD and K home to play happy families without me!
  • People’s fixation on biological links, and would my family be among those people?
  • Would I bond with the baby easily? Would it bond with me or would it sense I was ‘different’

Honestly there were so many more than that, and I am happy that I struggle to think of them because it shows me how far I’ve come. It was hard at first to be honest about my feelings, but I think now I’ve gotten a lot better at admitting to them and getting past them more easily which is better for everyone. It helps to remember that Sprocket is here because K and I wanted to bring a child into our family, that no matter what had happened with BD, if he had said no, then we would have found another way. We are the key parts of the equation, and yes BD is important, but we come first. Watching BD with Sprocket on both of his visits have also reminded me of the differences between us, I can see that he loves him and that warms my heart, but it is me that is the parent – me that is here for him, loving him, caring for him, wiping his tears and making him smile day in day out. And that is not going to change. Sprocket is such a beautiful soul, and I believe now more than ever that the more people he has in his life to love him the better.

In terms of extended family, well our families both things that Sprocket is just the best. He’s got many cousins on both sides but he’s equally doted on by both sides which makes us so happy. One of the things that we said to BD up front was that we would be happy for Sprocket to have a relationship with his Mum and Step-father. They live in the same home town as my parents so we agreed that when we went to stay with my folks we would call in to visit. We also extended an invitation if they were up our way to call in, which they did a few weeks ago. It was a little awkward at first, K was at work and although I have met them before it probably was when I was about 21 and certainly not since all this came about. It turned out great though, Sprocket turned on the charm and was laughing and flirting his pants off so they fell in love with him straight away. BD is close to his Mum and had talked to her a lot from when we first approached him, so she knows all the details of our arrangements. Her and I had a bit of a heart to heart where I told her that they were welcome to contact us if they were going to be in town and reiterated that we would visit when we were in their town (albeit that’s not often these days), and she said that she would like that but that she also understood that Sprocket is our baby and a part of K’s and my families and not theirs so they weren’t going to put any pressure on or expect anything but left their email address so we can send them the odd picture every few months. She seemed genuinely happy that BD had done this for us, and said that from the minute we asked him the answer was always going to be yes (wish we’d known that – we spent a good year or so waiting for an answer from him lol). It was a really great visit, everything that was said had already been said through BD but it was unbelievably nice to have the conversation personally as well. They genuinely get it. And I’m not sure how many parents would – I know we are blessed.

Despite all of our planning, communication and trust we were still both a little apprehensive about how it would work and really feel when BD did spend time with us post-birth. I for one was surprised when K told me that she felt nervous about it – my experience as the ‘other parent’ has me half poised to expect some to usurp my position and I didn’t really consider that K might feel the same for herself, but she did. During that first visit though, when we were two weeks into this parenting gig and as tough as it was we were rapidly gaining confidence. Yes we weren’t getting much sleep and taking it in shifts to sleep on the couch with Sprocket on our chests (the only way to settle him pre-reflux dx), we were coming across new problems daily, but with a little trial and error and experts on the sidelines we were making headway and above all else really feeling like parents. When BD arrived for that first visit, he was clueless. He hadn’t been around small babies at all, and was incredibly scared to even hold him the first time (took him two days). He clearly fell in love with Sprocket, like everyone that has met him, but he wasn’t a parent. And here’s the kicker – nor did he desire to be. The next visit was a lot smoother, less anxiety (except about BDBF coming) and much more enjoyable. It helps that BD is part of our family anyway, when he comes to stay he’s not just a visitor. He’s the only person that we have both lived with so having him to stay when the house is a mess or we’re tired and grumpy just doesn’t matter – he’s seen us far worse than that (and us him).

All this aside, I still hate that we *have* to get outside help to make a family. I wish we could have a baby that was just mine and K’s but the fact is we can’t. Yes that hurts, but at the same time I love this little boy so very, very much (ahem.. understatement much?) and I can’t imagine that being any different if he were biologically mine. It makes my heart smile though that along the way there are many people that forget that he’s not both ours – from the people guessing what his birth weight would be that tried to work it out from mine and K’s birth weights, to the people who ask about my eyes and hair as a child, to the people who think that every now and then he has one of my looks, to my mother who seriously freaked out when she heard he had two webbed toes because they apparently are prevalent in our family and she thought it was a sign lol.

We know we’ve chosen a complex path for our family, but really is there any option that we had that would be less complex? In the end, you make the best decision that you can for you and yours. There is no right or wrong answer. Any choice that we make as a lesbian couple to have a family comes with a myriad of decisions and heartwrenching decisions that frankly, it just sucks to have to make. No doubt there will be more issues and insecurities over the years, but we are happy and at peace with the decisions that we have made and we will work through them the best way for our family.

So that’s us really, Mummy, Mama and Sprocket. And the Daddy who we will forever be grateful to who helped bring us together.

To read more about this theme, go to the next blog in the carnival at:


About Tui

30-something kiwi-lesbian-stay at home-Mama, raising our toddler son with my wife, two cats and one dog.
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7 Responses to To know or not to know

  1. Pingback: 9/26 Blog Carnival: Donor Sperm « Love Makes a Family Blog Carnival

  2. glamcookie says:

    First time here – hi! Thank you for this fascinating post. We also talked about going the KD route, so it’s interesting to read about your experiences. Sounds like things have worked out wonderfully for your family.

  3. Poppycat says:

    Great post. I found it so interesting to gear all the donor details that you havent talked about before. Thanks for all your insight. What a great arrangement you all have.

  4. elspeth says:

    Hi! I found you through the blog carnival link, and loved reading this – my partner and I are planning to have a child with a known donor, and it’s inspiring to read others’ stories who’ve gone the same route (seems like most I read of have gone the sperm-bank/anonymous donor route). Thank you for sharing 🙂

  5. tbean says:

    What a terrific KD situation you all have. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Next in line says:

    Canada won’t allow anyone to be paid for sperm but in reality it means people are using US banks. I so happy that your KD situation has been so great. That is really special.

  7. pepibebe says:

    Well I know I’m over a year late, but I enjoyed the read. It’s such a huge, huge, huge decision to make. With my ex, as we are both part Maori we wanted a Maori known donor and eventually (and I mean eventually) found one. But after signing an agreement etc, his wife changed her mind as we wanted our child to be able to have quite a bit of contact with him (not an exorbitant amount as he lived in Welly and us in Akld, but more than she wanted). So they pulled out and we had a year of considering everyone from people we knew to friends of friends. One of our close friend’s brothers met with us twice about it and seemed really serious, then casually dropped into the conversation that he’d want $20k for his troubles! One year after changing their mind, our former donor and his wife decided after we discussed our revised ideas on contact, to go ahead, so we started trying again, but luckily I didn’t get pregnant!! Things ended with my ex, to my huge surprise, about 6 months later, in the midst of trying.
    With my wife and I’s current donor, we decided on using her brother as she didn’t want to carry and we were keen on as close a genetic match as possible. This seems important as well as (you know) she is black. So if we had used a Maori or pakeha donor, they would never have looked like her child. I LOVE the idea that our child/ren will carry her blood and may look a lot like her. For us it’s the best solution. Funny though that using a brother was definitely not an option for you guys, yet we have been spending thousands on Toku’s brother to bring him here!

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