A lesbian couple is seeking a sperm donor, on Facebook. They are in New Zealand, where the nationalized healthcare system rations infertility treatment. Apparently, couples who go through health services face a long waiting list and then get three shots from a regulated pool of donors from which they do not get their free pick. There is no browsing through binders full of donors, as we do in the U.S., looking for the perfect match. So a private market in sperm* has developed. (For an overview of such markets from a donor’s perspective see here. )
These two women seeking sperm have requirements. The typical, tall, “cool,” and intelligent, and the politically correct not-white because it’d be cool to raise a mixed-race baby. But what caught my eye was their “dad” requirement, number 3:
3. You don’t want to be a dad. You just want to be a cool dude that helped us out. Though these details can be discussed. And yes, the baby would know who you are… “The kind man who gave us some sperm. NOT ‘Daddy.'”
This apparently brought them many comments and questions. They later updated the post:
As this post is traveling the country, concerns/questions have been raised about the legalities. Long story short, if we don’t know you, we will be doing this insemination through a doctor. [Natural insemination has a higher success rate and many freelance donors offer this service, see the UK link above.] This means that you are legally “the sperm donor” and NOT “the father.” You will have no legal rights to the child, which means that you would NEVER be asked to pay anything towards the child. And also means, you get no say over how the baby is raised. However, as we mention above, we are keen to find a donor with the same core values as us, and someone who is interested in being present (even if just on birthdays) in the baby’s life.
First, and of utmost importance, as with almost every other story I have ever seen about donor conception, NO ONE considers that to the child they intend to create, the donor will not just be some “kind man” who gave them some sperm. To the child that man is a father. His father. Her father. Who he is will matter to the child. His absence will be noted, absorbed, wrestled with; it will be consequential.
Honestly, do we as a culture even register the idea that one day the children we create will be more than babes in our arms? They will have personalities and longings all of their own, wholly separate from the people who raised them. If we do understand this, it does not show. We behave as if our children will go from babies completely bendable to our will, to adults who absorbed all of our good lessons and turned out just the way we planned.
Second, I’d laugh at their simplistic legal assurances if the consequences weren’t so sad. Sure…the man would never have to provide financial support for the child. That’s inconceivable. And certainly, the child wouldn’t face any emotional consequences upon learning that his father had to be sued to support his upbringing after his mother turned back on her deal with his father. Ten year olds take that trust and identity stuff in stride. Kids are resilient. Or so everyone expects them to be.
But when they grow up, then they tell us their stories.
*There is a shadow market in eggs and wombs, too. But as egg harvesting is far more complicated than sperm donation and gestation is even more complicated than that, the problems with those shadow markets are an entire other matter.