Many women successfully create families with known donors. It is very important to talk to other people about what has worked for them, and to really think and talk through the issues before attempting conception. There’s no such thing as a ‘practice try’!
Finding a known donor
Some women explore the possibilities of creating a family with someone they have known for years – perhaps even a sibling or other relative of the prospective non-birth mother. Others find someone through friends, colleagues, support groups, personal advertisements or the internet. Think about your criteria for a donor, and think outside the square when making your list, including people you might have been close to earlier in life. Trust your instinct if you feel someone is not suitable, whether they were your suggestion, or your partner’s. Take your time, and try not to feel rushed.
You must feel absolutely comfortable with this decision. If you initially feel that you would prefer a known donor, remain open to the possibility of a clinic-recruited donor if you can’t find the right known donor.
Remember that you might ask a good friend or relative who loves you dearly, and is very supportive of your desire to parent, but who does not feel that this is something he can do for you. Helping someone to create a child by donating is a profound act, and there might be many reasons that he (and/or his partner, if he has one) does not feel that this is a role he wants, many of which are likely to be very separate from your relationship with him, or his feelings for you. It might be challenging, but try not to take a refusal too personally.
All of the options for finding a donor we’ve listed can work, but it is very important to get to know each other well, and have talked through all of the issues a number of times over a considerable period of time before you decide to go ahead, and certainly before you begin trying to conceive. We also highly recommend making an agreement (see below). Some fertility clinics offer the (paid) service of a counselling ‘information session’ prior to committing to any treatment, which might be useful to explore issues.
A donor who is already a friend
Some people who have an existing friendship with their prospective donor may be less likely to really thrash through the more difficult issues, because they feel that ‘they can always work it out’. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes the most intimate, longstanding friendships can end, or even turn into bitter disputes in this context. You may feel impatient to make a baby, but remember that this decision is critical and irreversible. If you conceive a child with someone, you are connected to them for life. Most importantly, the decision you make will affect not only you, but also the one or more children whom you create.
So take your time – perhaps as long as a year – to get to know each other in this new context, reflect on your own needs and feelings, and talk about the issues many times before you begin. It might be useful, when you begin talking seriously, to think about ‘putting on a different hat’ during your discussions. It is very different to talk as prospective parents and donors than to talk as friends. The issues for parents and donors are different, and it is important to acknowledge and talk through those differences without feeling that they reflect negatively on your friendship or care for one another.
Is this the role he really wants?
The most critical question to explore with your prospective donor is whether that being a known donor is a role he really wants. A lot of men relish this opportunity. Many say it is the best thing they have ever done in their lives. But for some, it might actually be a compromise of their own deep desire to be a parent/father themselves. Some families call their donor the child/ren’s ‘father’, and the child/ren might call their donor ‘Dad’ or equivalent. But the law is clear that you are the legal parent/s, and that a donor is not a legal parent or father, and has no parental responsibility.
Donors can be gay, bisexual, heterosexual or sometimes non-operative or pre-operative M2F transsexual. Historically, coming out for many men has meant letting go of any desires they may have to be parents. This is changing as social attitudes and relevant laws change. But when you ask a gay or bisexual friend or acquaintance if he will consider donating to you, it might be the first time he will have really thought about himself in relation to having children. It could open up a can of worms for him, emotionally! It is important to give him time and encourage him to talk about it with you, his partner if he has one, other donors, his family of origin if appropriate, and his friends, especially any who are parents.
Of course, many donors are already fathers themselves, whatever their sexual orientation. It will be important to discuss what being a donor might mean to his partner (if he has one) and children, and what the possibilities are for contact, at any stage (see Talking with a prospective donor, making agreements).
He might discover, on reflection, that he really wants to be a parent himself. Perhaps you will all be open to discussing the possibility of co-parenting together. Co-parent is a very different role to known donor, as we discuss below. Perhaps he would be willing to help you have a child, and also pursue becoming a parent himself, separately. Or perhaps being a donor is not a role he really wants. The Options for gay men to have a baby (without female co-parents) are not easy in Victoria, but the numbers of gay dads are increasing, and support groups are available. Of course for some men, being a donor might be a compromise, but one they have truly made peace with. Only your donor can know the answer, but the potential consequences of not truly resolving this question can be heartache – and sometimes devastating conflict – for you, and for him, but most importantly for any child/ren you conceive.
If you find yourself growing uncomfortable with a prospective donor or co-parent as you talk things over and get to know him in this context, it is critical that you do not go ahead. You could find someone else (many women talk with or even try to conceive with more than one donor before they succeed in creating a family) or you could use a clinic-recruited donor.
The ART Act opened up all fertility services in Victoria for lesbians and single women, including donor insemination with a clinic-recruited donor. Remember that children conceived in this way have the right to contact their donor if they wish at age 18, or beforehand with parental permission or if assessed as sufficiently mature by a counsellor. In practice, many parents get in contact with their child’s donor when their children are quite young. Research shows that when parents are open with children about their donor origins, children fare very well. It might well be that using a clinic-recruited donor is a better option than a known donor whom you do not completely trust and feel comfortable with.
What will work for you?
Whether you are single or a couple, it is crucial to be clear about what you want, before talking to your prospective donor/s or co-parent/s about their hopes. Ask questions of as many people as you can, whose families include donors or co-parents. Read books and websites, seek out groups and online forums, and go to counselling. If you are in a couple, be clear with each other about why you are choosing a known donor, and what you hope for out of this choice. The clearer you are about your own feelings and expectations, the more clearly you can negotiate with a prospective donor.
Try not to be influenced by fear of what other people might think, including your prospective donor/s or co-parents. This is a critical life choice, and it has got to work for you now and forever. Try to challenge any beliefs, even deep within yourself, that ‘all children need a mother and a father’. You may well decide that this is what you want for your family. But three decades of rigorous Australian and international research show that children suffer no disadvantage from being raised by two mums or two dads, and that the disadvantage that some children of sole parents experience is because of the poverty many single mothers are forced into, and perhaps the conflict between their separated parents.
What roles can donors have?
Many families successfully involve known donors. The term ‘known donor’ covers a huge variety of relationships and levels of contact. Some are happy for the child/ren to know their name, see their photos, and perhaps meet up when the child/ren are old enough to be interested. Some live overseas or interstate, and exchange cards, emails, perhaps Skype chats and maybe the occasional visit. Some visit a few times a year, others more often. Some become a significant part of family life, spending regular time, perhaps holidaying together and being regular baby-sitters. Some rainbow families think of their donor as part of their extended family, something like an uncle. Sometimes people are open to the relationship growing into something more akin to co-parenting. Some children call their known donors ‘Dad’, even though they do not share parenting responsibilities and are not their legal parent. Some do not. The diversity of people’s choices is endless.
Read Talking with a prospective donor, making agreements for issues to cover in discussion and agreements.