On this journey, you need take into account the feelings of your partner and kids (if you have them) and perhaps your family of origin. The role of donor might not be well understood amongst your friends and wider family, but try to keep your feelings separate from other people’s expectations.
Your partner and (perhaps future) children
If you have a partner, what role might he or she have? Do both of you want to be involved, or only you? If you both do, it will be particularly important that you are both part of the conversations with the prospective mother/s. It can be easy for the donor’s partner to feel marginalised at this point, and throughout the process.
If you have some contact with the family, this is likely to impact on your partner to some extent. If the mother/s need to use a clinic to conceive, they may require your partner to attend counseling with you, and with the prospective mother/s, and give his or her consent to the donation. Might the prospective mother/s be open to your partner’s contact with the family increasing over time, if desired? If you are single now and later partner (or if you separate and re-partner), would they be open to your new partner having contact with the family?
If you have children yourself, or plan to later, how will you talk to them about your role? At what age would you tell them? There is strong evidence that children fare best when adults are open about issues around donation. If they are older, would you talk with them about it before making your decision to go ahead? If you plan to have regular contact with the family, in particular, it will be important to be open with your children. You might wish the children to have a relationship with the family. There are resources available on the VARTA website (see below) to help you think about talking to your children about donating, including interviews with donors and their older children.
Your family of origin and other people
Other people’s issues and expectations can have a big influence. It is important to acknowledge this and be clear about which are your feelings, and which are other people’s. On a broad social level – in your own friendship circle, family or community – the role of known donor might not be well understood. People can put their own expectations of what it means to be a ‘father’ on you (even if you do not call yourself one) without understanding your feelings about it, or your agreement with the mother/s. People might find it tricky to understand if you call yourself a father, but do not have parenting responsibilities. Remember that the children’s parent/s made a positive choice of you as a known donor, and your role is not less in value to that of a parent, but simply different.
Confusingly, many men find that being a donor brings up a lot of issues for them around fatherhood, and what that means to them, even when they are very clear that their role is not that of a parent and/or father in this family. In particular, it can bring up a lot of feelings about how you were parented (or not) by your own father. This can be the case whether or not you have an ongoing relationship with your family of origin.
For many men, the response of their family of origin to them being a donor can be a major issue. A lot of gay men have had to deal with their parents’ feelings (on coming out) that they are unlikely to be grandparents through their gay son. You being a donor might be an exciting possibility (or a challenge) for them to deal with. Think about what contact you might wish your family of origin to have with the child/ren, and talk about this in detail with the prospective mother/s. They might or might not be open to contact with your family, and the possibility of them being grandparents, aunties and uncles to their children. It can be an added complication for you all to negotiate, and might be something that you or the prospective mother/s don’t want, especially your family is still dealing (or not) with their own homophobia. But remember that people can change (especially when it comes to children), and it is potentially wonderful for children to have more loving extended family if this is what everyone wants.
If you or the prospective mother/s do not want your parents or others involved, it will be very important that you be clear with your family of origin about this. They might well have understandably strong feelings about it, but you will need to help them understand that you are a donor, not a parent in this family, and that the arrangement is between you and the mother/s only.
It’s all about the kids
Some men have extensive experience of being around children before they are approached about being a donor, perhaps because they are fathers themselves, or uncles, or have many friends with children. Other men have much less experience, and don’t know what to expect from being in contact with children. It will be helpful to talk with other donors, and parents (particularly those whose families involve donors) about what kind of contact can work for children at different ages. Whatever level of contact you negotiate with the mother/s, from very occasional visits to regular time spent together, and even time alone with children as they grow, the key to building a relationship with the child/ren themselves over time will be the quality of attention you give to them when you are with them, and the consistency of your involvement (at whatever level that might be) in their lives.
Ensuring that you have support too
It is important for you to have the support you need throughout the emotional journey of becoming and being a known donor. This starts when you are making the decision about whether to donate. It continues during your negotiations with the prospective mother/s, and throughout the processes of trying to conceive, during the pregnancy, birth, early infancy and as the child or children grow.
Sometimes the focus can be very much on the mother/s, particularly the birth mother, when they are trying to conceive, and particularly if they have a miscarriage – remember that around one in six pregnancies ends in miscarriage. It is often the case during pregnancy, birth and early infancy. The mother/s will certainly need lots of support during all of those processes, and you might well be involved in giving that support, especially if you are good friends.
However, it is important to recognise that you also need support for your own journey, particularly if it proves difficult to conceive, or if there is a miscarriage or some other problem. It is possible that this support might not be able to come, to any great extent, from the mother/s because they are dealing with their own feelings. But if you are a couple, you can support each other, and whether you are coupled or single you can ask for support from your friends, family members (if appropriate), a counsellor, and support groups, including online groups.
Even if there is no such problem, helping to create new life is a momentous experience, and can be an unexpected emotional rollercoaster. If you are in a couple, for example, being a donor can bring up issues in your relationship, perhaps related to your feelings about family and future, including whether you might have your own children. And if you already have your own children, you will need to think about how to talk with them about it all – see below for more on this. Whatever your own situation, it is important that you work out what being a donor might mean for you before you decide to take on this role, and help a couple or single woman to create a child.