A Community of Families

I took Avery to campus with me this week to pick up some paperwork for my taxes, and I bumped into an old roommate. We hadn’t seen each other since before I married, although he knows my wife from when we were dating. He’s a really cool guy and I always wished we’d been able to maintain a friendship, but our lives just took us down different (but in many ways parallel) paths. 

In the 60 minute elevator ride we shared, he met Avery and was tickled to hear that I was still with the same woman and had had a child with her. He also shared that he had donated sperm to a lesbian couple in Toronto (neighbouring city), and they recently had the baby. It was such a cool connection that we suddenly shared. Even though he wasn’t OUR sperm donor, I feel like known sperm donors (and egg donors and surrogates) hold a special place in the community of LGBTQ families.

The sense of a common community of family building really hit home when he shared the name of the baby that this couple had – I instantly knew who he was talking about from the blog world. There are only so many two mom families in Toronto, narrowed down to those with a new baby, and finally pinpointed to one family with a baby with that name… 

Although I haven’t met any of the members of my LGBTQ Family blogging circle in real life, I am still struck by the sense of community that we share. I wonder if this is what it’s like for heterosexual couples in every day life – is the whole world their community? – or if the sense of common ground is lost in the masses. 

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Avery meets her donor’s parents

When it comes to blogging about complex emotions, I try to only share my own. I don’t have a claim to anyone else’s. But we had an experience on the weekend that is extremely relevant to the whole purpose behind this blog, and I’m going to try to write about it in a way that respects everyone involved even though I can’t know the complexities of anyone else’s emotions in the matter.

Our donor and his wife (very close friends of ours) are expecting their second child next month. My wife and I were invited to a surprise baby shower hosted by some mutual colleagues. I assumed that only work people would be there, but apparently my wife was preparing herself emotionally for the possibility that our donor’s parents might be there. This time my wife’s usually paranoid suspicions were completely founded. His parents were there. Overall it went very smoothly, but there was some degree of awkwardness that I think is important to write about as part of our experience as a family made in this way. 

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When we created our donor contract with the help of a family-friend lawyer, we included some lines on our mutual expectations regarding the donor’s family – from his wife and his own children, to his parents and siblings. We had met his parents and siblings before (like I said, we are close friends), and we decided to leave it completely up to our donor to decide if/how he wanted to tell his parents that he was a sperm donor. We never talked about if/how he had told them. We kind of assumed he didn’t tell them since he didn’t talk to us about it. Not that we needed him to tell us all about his personal conversations with his family, but we kind of expected he would tell us one way or the other, I guess. 

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We were one of the first families to arrive at the shower, and stood around waiting for the guests of honor to arrive so we could jump out and yell “surprise!” After us, one of the next families to arrive was our donor’s parents. I was highly distracted by trying to balance caring for Avery with having an adult conversation with one of the hosts (an old research partner). Eventually our donor’s father came over and said hello and asked “and who’s this?” to our baby. I said “this is Avery,” and he said “oh this is Avery! How wonderful! She’s so beautiful.” He seemed quite enamoured (of course, who wouldn’t be). It was lovely, but there was that unspoken knowledge that he shared a little genetic linkage to our baby. I don’t know what would have been more awkward for us: acknowledging it or ignoring it. Either way, it was ignored.

So of course, as soon as the guests of honor arrived, our donor came over to us and asked to hold Avery. He is great with her and we love watching them hang out when we get together. But then he did something that surprised us. He took her over to meet his parents on the other side of the room. He was with them for a while. We watched out of the corner of our eyes, so curious what was being said, how his parents felt about her, what they were thinking but was left unsaid… 

Later in the party, our donor seemed to have realized that there was a little awkwardness with what had transpired. He decided he should probably tell us why he took Avery over to his parents. 

I guess when he told them he was a sperm donor for us, his dad was really cool with it but his mom was a little slower to come around. He didn’t say how well or how badly she took the news, but it was clear that she went through a range of emotions. He said he thought it would help his mom to meet the baby. Also, I suspect, he was a little proud of her in a way that a genetically-unrelated friend wouldn’t be. 

Our donor’s mother eventually came over to us as well and “met” Avery, this time in a way that we felt completely comfortable – while with us. His mother was perfectly friendly and also said that she was beautiful. She didn’t ask to hold Avery, she didn’t reach out to touch her. It was very casual – like she shared no genetic link with our daughter. This interaction felt a lot less awkward than the one with our donor’s dad, even though I’m sure she felt more awkward. A little awkwardness keeps people at a comfortable distance. 

Overall, we had a great time at the shower and we were able to brush off the awkward feelings when we left. I was, at least. I don’t know how deeply it really bothered my wife, but these issues always bother her more because without a genetic link she feels as though her parental rights are more easily threatened. And legally, she’s right. For now (come on, adoption). 

Not 5 minutes after we got home, I started getting text messages from our donor. He apologized perfusely for his actions and said he was just so excited about his baby on-the-way and about our baby and how cute she is, that he didn’t think before he acted. He was really upset with himself. For me, at least, having him acknowledge the situation made me feel completely at ease again. Not 100% sure about my wife’s feelings on the matter, but I know she was relieved by his text messages too.

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No matter what we think of these interactions or how we would want them to go (or not go) in an ideal world, the fact is that our daughter has a genetic link to a whole other family out there. Not so far out there, actually. All we can do as her parents is to keep her fully in-the-loop and confident in where she comes from and where she belongs, and to make sure that everyone who has contact with her in these weird legal/familial grey areas are respectful of her and of us as her parents. I like to think that she’s lucky to have so many people “invested” in her in some way. However, I also feel a little worried sometimes that things will be a bit complicated for her as she learns to navigate genetic half-siblings who are not half-sisters (it’s all in the semantics for us), genetically related old people who are not grandparents, etc. When I have these worries, I kind of want to give her a sibling so she can be less alone in navigating her ties with other families. But that’s a conversation for another time…

Known Donor Agreement Approved!

It wasn’t until my wife and I actually created our donor agreement (only a few days before meeting with our donor to hash it out) that the fear struck me — our donor might not be OK with our stipulations and might back out, leaving us nearly back at square one with our baby making plans.

But that didn’t happen! We had dinner with our donor and his partner (and their kid) last night to talk business. We brought printouts of the agreement for each person to read over carefully, and we discussed each item thoroughly. Some of the items in the agreement felt uncomfortable for us to ask because the “legalese” made it sound very cold and impersonal. Luckily, discussing our way through the agreement enabled us to say things like “we hate how harsh this sounds, but here is how this item would protect both us and you while still allowing for some leeway”.

Our donor agreement is 5 pages long and covers the following topics:

  • The sperm and insemination process
    • including how many donations we request per cycle
    • and STI testing for our donor
  • Parenting and parental rights
    • including a statement that the donor agrees to assist us with second parent adoption
  • Roles and Relationships
    • including our appointment of a guardian
    • the donor’s relationship with the child
    • extended family relationships
    • and that the donor agrees to maintain contact with us in case the child has questions about their genetic lineage/medical history

If anyone wants to see a copy of our contract to use as inspiration for their own, I am happy to share.

I kind of can’t believe this is really happening. My wife and I have been on a rollercoaster of “will we/won’t we/when will we” for almost a year. Getting the donor agreement signed was the last real excuse for not starting the process of actually “trying to conceive” (although for a lesbian couple I think the fertility appointments, deciding on a donor and a form of assisted reproduction, and all of the other “planning” stages feel like part of the TTC process).

Last night we went over our mental list of accoutrement – syringes, sterile cups, and pre-seed. I’m not sure about trying softcups yet. I ordered pre-seed from amazon (holy expensive!!). We will give our donor a box of pre-seed to help with the extraction of the goods, because we heard that sperm donations shouldn’t be made using traditional lubricants or saliva. It is all coming together. If anyone has recommendations of where to get cheap syringes and sterile collection cups, I’m all ears!

Known Sperm Donor Law in Canada

This is a scary topic for me. From my perspective (can’t speak for my wife), the legalities are my biggest barrier to using a known donor. I want to make antiquated, heterosexist parentage laws and policies work for me without breaking the law.

I want to outline some of what I have learned, because lists make me feel more comfortable.

  • Sperm has to be a “charitable” donation. It is illegal to pay someone for sperm in Canada.
  • Although some provinces have legislation protecting the parental rights of the sperm RECIPIENTS, Ontario has no such legislation. From what I understand, a sperm donor could have a change of heart and take you to court to get parental rights. Having an official sperm donor agreement can help in these cases, but there is no guarantee it would save your parental butt from the grief and heartache of such a legal battle.
  • It is illegal to name the non-birth mother as “Other parent” on the birth registration if the child was conceived with a known donor. You don’t have to put the sperm donor’s name on the birth registration though, even if it was a known donor. You would instead list only the birth mother as a parent, and add the other mother later.
  • How do you add the other mother to the birth registration? The easiest route seems to be Second Parent Adoption. The birth mother can add a second parent if they are in a spousal relationship as defined by the Family Law Act, and any parental rights of the known sperm donor must have been relinquished. You have to wait at least 7 21 days after the birth to apply for second parent adoption.
    Now if you were to do reciprocal IVF (taking the egg of one mother, fertilizing it with donor sperm, and implanting the embryo in the other mother for safe keeping for 9 months), both mothers can be listed on the original birth registration. But we are not going this route.
  • We want the child to have my wife’s last name. No can do until the adoption goes through. You have to legally change the child’s last name after (or as part of) the adoption process if you want to do this. I am going to look for loopholes given that my last name include’s my wife’s last name, hyphenated, and I think there is some legislation about choosing a different last name for your child for “cultural reasons”.

I have led a privileged life so far, even as a gay woman. I have never encountered direct discrimination based on my sexual orientation, even going through the process of marrying my same-sex partner. But starting a family with my wife is popping my privilege bubble. I am really clearly seeing the inequality for LGBTQ families, and I feel discriminated against, or treated unfairly by heterosexist laws and policies. It sucks.

If anyone reading this has further insights or experiences to share with me about this process, or if you know any of my info to be wrong, please let me know! Thank you!

Resources:

http://www.fertilitylawcanada.com/legal-parentage—declaration-of-parentage-in-ontario-and-second-parent-adoption.html

http://lgbtqpn.ca/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2014/12/Birth-Registration-in-Ontario-version-1-0-December-18-2014-final.pdf

http://egale.ca/all/quick-facts-on-parental-recognition-lesbian-couples-male-donor/

http://lgbtqpn.ca/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2014/08/Birth-reg-May09.pdf

Known Donor Discussion Items…

We have had some good discussion lately around our potential known donor. Before we sit down and go over all of our discussion items with the donor couple, we wanted to be sure the two of us were on the same page with everything. However, I have been struggling to come up with all the things that we will need to think about… Here is what we have thought of so far:

  • What will our child’s relationship with the donor look like? *We expect that we would maintain our friendship and the child would just become a part of this. We would be open and honest that this person was the sperm donor.
  • Who will our child’s god-parents be? If the donor couple are not the god-parents and we (worst case scenario) both die young, will our god-parents be willing and able to maintain a relationship with the donor couple for the child’s sake?
  • Would there be an expectation for a certain number of get-togethers / donor visitations a month? (There would be no legal visitation rights of the donor – this would be a purely social consideration).
  • Would the donor couple be OK with it if we moved across the country, making visits very rare? Would the child be OK with this, if they developed a good relationship with the donor? *Just as moving away means parting from other friends and family, everyone would just have to get over it.
  • What would we refer to the donor as? E.g., donor family (acknowledging the partner of the sperm owner), prohibiting use of term “father” or “dad”
  • What role would the donor’s parents (or the donor’s partner’s parents, for that matter) play in our family’s life? *At this point, we are not interested in having 4 sets of grandparents for our child – just to reduce complicatedness. But we would want our donor to be honest with his family so there were no surprises.

I know there is more to think about and discuss, but it’s just not coming to me. If all goes well with the discussions, we plan to use a general donor contract available online, and take it to a lawyer just to be extra careful.

On the technical side of donor discussion, I have been doing a lot of google research lately, and found that we have 2 main options:

Option 1: Freeze the sperm for IUI

The only way we could do IUI is by going through a sperm clinic, because the sperm has to be washed for IUI and apparently clinics in Canada won’t wash/use fresh, donated sperm for IUI unless it has gone through ReproMed’s testing and approval (ReproMed is the only sperm clinic in Canada that will accept a donation from a known person). If we were to go this route, we would have to put our donor through a host of medical tests (including an $800 physical examination…), freeze the sperm for 6 months, and then re-do an HIV test at the end of the 6 months before the sperm can be released. I really dislike how much control is taken away from us in this option. Not to mention the expense (almost as much as using an anonymous donor from a sperm bank). The two benefits of this option are the IUI – in case we have trouble conceiving “naturally” – and that a donor going through a sperm bank is automatically legally relinquished of any parental rights. This is the only way to completely remove parental rights of a sperm donor in the province of Ontario. Donor contracts can be challenged in court, and you have to rely on a deep trust of your donor.

Option 2: At-Home Insemination with Fresh Sperm

The free, immediate, and easy option is to do at-home insemination with fresh sperm and not go through a clinic. I would still get my initial fertility counselling from my RE (that is almost done now), but we would do a completely non-technical conception. Well, not completely non-technical when compared to hetero, natural conception, but as close as us lesbians can get! We would still request a health screening from our donor, but would then just have him provide us with a fresh sample of semen (preferably given at our house so the sperm doesn’t die off in transit) and use a needleless syringe to get it right up there next to the cervix. In this option, conception would be completely in my wife’s hands.

So that’s what we’ve been talking about lately. If anyone has any other ideas of what we need to think about regarding using a known donor, I would really appreciate your advice!