Lesbian Pregnancy: Pros and Cons of Using a Known Sperm Donor
Unlike the majority of straight couples, lesbian couples who are thinking about starting a family are not going to have the easiest time of it. Unlike straight women, they don't have a built-in sperm donor in the form of a husband or boyfriend who is accessible at all hours, at any time of the month, who will be there when she's ovulating. It breaks my heart that the intense love two people share will never be strong enough to create a little version of themselves, with both their genetic traits and quirky characteristics combined, because as long as they're both women, it just isn't physically possible.
But here in the 21st century we are lucky enough to have options. Artificial insemination is just one way that scores of lesbians have been able to become mothers. Sperm banks are a common fixture in our society, and mommies-to-be visit them to find an anonymous donor. But there is another type of sperm donor as well, called a known donor, and there are pros and cons to this type of donation.
A known donor is, obviously, someone that you already know personally. Whether he's a straight friend or a gay colleague, you know him well enough to feel comfortable asking him to help you become a parent. You are able to assess his character and determine whether or not you "vibe" with him. A known donor can be found virtually anywhere--at work, at school, at your local GLBT center, online, at social events. You might be more comfortable finding someone whom you've known for a long time, but is just as possible to meet someone new and click with him as well.
One possibility (which is semi-controversial depending on who you ask) is your partner's male relatives, such as her brother or cousin. The idea behind it is that since they both share the same genetic make-up, this is the closest you can get to creating a child that is most like the two of you. In addition to typically being able to trust known donors more than unknown, one of the big pros to using a known donor, whether he's a family member or not, is that you are guaranteed access to his medical history. By taking a verbal account, you'll know if asthma, allergies, heart disease, cancer or mental illness runs in his family, and if there are any diseases which are hereditary. You can inquire about his history with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, as cigarette smoking is detrimental to the sperm's vitality. Unfortunately, some family members may view this as incestuous or morally corrupt. Another downside is that it can be very confusing for the child as he or she grows up. If you are being open and honest about how she came into the world, it can be difficult to explain that her uncle is actually her father.
Which brings us to the issue of known donor involvement. What level of interaction do you want him to have in the child's life? It is important to decide and discuss this with your known donor before hand. If you use a relative as the sperm donor, he will obviously be a fixed figure in her existence. You'll have to decide if you want him to function as her uncle or as her daddy. Many lesbian couples want the donor for his sperm and medical history, but little else. They want to raise their baby in a two parent household that consists of two mommies, period. They will not require nor expect any financial, psychological or spiritual assistance from the sperm donor; they will not be co-parenting, they will not be sharing responsibility. The baby will be the child of her two mothers. At the same time, some lesbians choose a known donor because they aren't sure whether or not they'll regret their child having no access to her biological father in the future. It may never come up, but if it does, they don't want to exclude that option should the child feel inclined to meet him. However, just because you are using a known donor does not mean that he has to fulfill the role of a father. Although biologically he is her father, he can function as an "uncle" or close family friend instead. They can have an important relationship without being father/daughter.
Using a known donor is markedly less expensive than using an unknown donor, and because his sperm is fresh as opposed to frozen, there is a better chance of successful insemination. The majority of known donors do not expect payment for their sperm, whereas the use of a sperm bank or fertility clinic can easily cost thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, there are more legal risks when it comes to using a known donor. No matter what you discuss and decide ahead of time in terms of the sperm donor's involvement in the child's life, as her biological father he is still capable of changing his mind. Until his rights as a parent are formally terminated, he is still technically the legal father. Severing paternity rights early on is the best way to stop this from happening, but he may still try to sue for custody in the future. Additionally, his parents may want custody as the child's grandparents. Laws vary from state to state, and in some of the more crooked areas of the country, a lesbian mother might lose custody of her child based on her sexual orientation. Although there is no guarantee that you'll retain sole custody, drawing up a donor contract and visiting a lawyer who has practice with nontraditional families is highly recommended.