Known sperm donors: Could heterosexual men be a better bet?

I have written about the pitfalls of known donor insemination before but sadly a news item in The Independent yesterday detailed the decline of yet another relationship between donor and recipient, and their respective partners, into “mutual loathing” involving bitter litigation and a custody battle.  Once again it is a lesbian (recipient) and gay (donor) couple fighting it out and, as in other cases, it is the donor and his partner who want more time spent with the children than the mothers are prepared to allow.  The two children involved are girls, one in her early teens and the other nearing her tenth birthday.  Making a series of orders and saying he wanted the litigation (which has lasted nearly six years) to end, Mr. Justice Cobb observed, “I fear that the childhoods of A and B have been irredeemably marred by the on-going court conflict.”  Sad does not get near how I feel about what all these supposed adults have done to these children.

It is unclear from the newspaper report as to whether the two couples had made any sort of agreement before they set out on what the judge described as “a wonderful and thoroughly progressive endeavour.”   But we know from the several previously reported cases (and others known to DC Network) that so often arrangements are made on the basis of friendship and a mutual fantasy of things working out well that rarely stands the test of time…and in particular the existence of actual children.  Women become more protective and men – and I think this applies particularly to gay men – become much more emotionally moved and involved by their act of creation than ever they anticipated.

An agreement, drawn up after long-heart searching as well as with great logic and pragmatism – and definitely with the aid of a lawyer who specialises in such things – will not be legally binding but it can be seen as a clear and strong indicator of the intentions of all parties.  And maybe better to have as a donor a heterosexual man – ideally in a stable relationship and already a father to a child or two – or like the young man who spoke at DC Network’s meeting in Leeds recently, who donated to a lesbian couple who live abroad.  He wanted to help friends of friends, but knew he was not ready to be a father.  He does not feel like a father to the little girl who is now two but is absolutely prepared to be known to her once she starts asking questions.  He feels being a short plane ride away is a good distance.  Of course how she will see him is as yet unknown.

Maybe what I am trying to say here is that heterosexual men may be more able to distance themselves from the emotion of creating a child.  As a heterosexual woman I know that men’s ability to compartmentalise their feelings has it’s downsides too, but maybe when it comes to sperm donation, particularly with lesbian couples where there are two parents, it is helpful.  Gay men, now only just beginning to be able to realise their potential as fathers via egg donation and surrogacy, may be much more susceptible to being ambushed by the strong emotions of child creation.  I am not saying that heterosexual men aren’t enormously moved by becoming a parent (Walter certainly was and he was not able to contribute genetically) but they may be better able to separate an act of donation from the role of parent.

As I said to a single woman at the Fertility Show who was contemplating a known donor…please, please think long and hard, be careful of what you wish for…and definitely contact Natalie Gamble before doing anything!


About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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11 Responses to Known sperm donors: Could heterosexual men be a better bet?

  1. I think this is optimistic! It’s possibly more complex for gay men because unlike straight men it’s far harder for them to have children in a relationship. When you’re faced with your genetic offspring, the only child with your genes that might ever exist, that must give your idealism a bucket of cold ice over the head, and it’s not hard to understand why for some people there’s an attachment and their whole world view changes. But I don’t think anyone really knows how they will feel when the theory is over and the child is here. It’s one reason why clinics should insist that donors have implications counselling; male donors often seem not to have had it and that is not a good thing.

    I suspect the ‘mutual fantasy’ about childrearing also applies to heterosexual couples having children together.

    • oliviasview says:

      I absolutely agree about the counselling. One of the many problems with the arrangements that end up in court is that they were arranged without the involvement of a clinic/counsellor/lawyer – no-one objective to help all parties think about the long-term implications of what they were getting in to.
      I suspect you are right about the ‘mutual fantasy.’

  2. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Well, I would like to have more hope for heterosexual males to actually take some personal responsibility towards the offspring their gametes create no matter how they are conceived. I am actually very moved and hopeful by this man’s (who happens to be in a “homosexual’ relationship – which is absolutely arbitrary and unimportant) efforts to fight for his children. He sees himself NOT just as a disposable element to his children’s conception. This is a noble effort/cause. The initial intent is of high integrity and compassion for his children. The kind of man who I wish was my parent’s sperm ‘donor’. My father. That being said, there is a Solomon’s Wisdom lesson to be learned here. If my father fought so hard on our behalf to have a relationship in a way that destroyed my social parent(s) and my family, I wouldn’t trust he was doing what he was doing for the right reasons. I certainly wouldn’t feel much affection towards him after all that was involved.

    So that being said, I think the intent was right but the execution was wrong under these circumstances.

  3. gsmwc02 says:

    Another case that shows the importance of drawing up legally binding contracts prior to conception with third party reproduction. Too many times these end up like most divorces when it’s more about the adults than the children.

  4. oliviasview says:

    In the UK the contracts cannot be legally binding as all courts have the right to make decisions that are in the best interest of the child at the time of any legal case being taken. BUT that is no reason for the parties concerned not to take a considerable time to talk things through and set down clear intentions on paper, preferably guided by both a lawyer and a counsellor.

  5. ooloi says:

    This post strikes me as incredibly homophobic. Relations between recepients and known donors do break down; often it is straight people involved, sometimes it is lesbian couples and straight men, here its a gay man. And so do heterosexual relations, where no donor is involved!!! Divorces going ugly and children;s lives affected badly are more common than happy families we see in childrens books and elsewhere, Chosing this particular case to advicate for chosing heterosexual men as donors for lesbian or single women is puzzling, to say the least (not to mention the use of language such as “supposed adults”. Have you actually conducated an extensive research on men – gay , straight, and other – to see how they feel about biological fatherhood, parenting, donation? Have you compared different groups of men (based on age, education, culture, location, religion) to see how they feel about being known donors? Have you studied men;s emotional lives, again looking at men from different class, racial, religious, cultural groups? Because this “Gay men, now only just beginning to be able to realise their potential as fathers via egg donation and surrogacy, may be much more susceptible to being ambushed by the strong emotions of child creation” is not just patronising, but is also untrue, simply because gay men are different. Just as heterosexual men– or women — are. So this ” heterosexual men may be more able to distance themselves from the emotion of creating a child” isnt true either, for the same reasons. Not to mention the miriad examples, when it is the heterosexual men, known for their strong, and often violent, possessiveness of their known biological children– we only have the endless stories of ex husbands or partners control, incite, kidnap or even kill their children to get back at the woman who left them.

    Last but not least, have you conducted research, consulted existing studies, or oterwise interviewed lesbian, bisexual and queer women, about who THEY would want to become the biological fathers of their children? How THEY would like the donor/parenting relations to work?

    • oliviasview says:

      Actually not advocating anything here. You will see that I use a lot of tentative language. These are my thoughts based on the several cases involving gay donors and lesbian recipients that have come to my notice and my own experience of hearing about such difficulties within DC Network over 21 years. I have only ever come across one case involving heterosexual donor and recipients. Of course many other parenting situations go wrong too. Sorry you feel it is homophobic. I can’t change your perception, only say that I don’t feel that way.

  6. Laura J says:

    I would advocate the exact opposite ! !
    I’d never use a ‘ straight ‘ man as a known donor…. far better a gay man.
    A straight guy might get in a new relationship & then start to wish for a child even one he could share with the new woman. Or supposing they try & can’t have a child ? Then your baby would look like a very good possibility for them to start to parent whatever the original intention.

    I think there are far more images of happy smiley dads for heterosexual men to want to hold onto & try & claim for themselves than for gay guys.

    I wanted to use a known donor, give some history & personality to support my child’s identity.
    We had a fantastic gay man as a donor, he has never wanted to parent but will probably meet his kids by donor later when they are older. That was 15 yrs ago.

    I have nothing but praise for his generosity & sensitivity and ability to support the wishes of the mothers.

    Olivia, yes I understand your wariness, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water !
    I know a lot of very happy mums, lesbian or straight, who used brilliant gay male donors.
    For all the very few scare stories of the occasional case when things don’t go well
    ( happens often enough with non donor children ) its far safer to use a gay man.
    They are better at listening & tend to be readier to step aside & support women in how they want to parent.

    best wishes

    Laura J

    • oliviasview says:

      I agree Laura. There are many families where having a known donor has worked out brilliantly. But important that people know about the ones that have gone wrong in order to try and avoid the mistakes made by those who end up in court.

  7. sandra says:

    I really don’t think it’s helpful to generalise in this way about the emotional characteristics of gay and straight men. There is no evidence to support it and it runs a real risk of being perceived as stereotyping/homophobic even if that was not your intent.

    What’s relevant is not the sexuality of the donor but his individual personality/attitude, which is why, as you rightly point out, thinking things through beforehand is so important. A legal statement of intent may be a useful guide, but I also have reservations about holding someone to an agreement they made before they are living the reality of an actual child.

    I would also dispute the idea that a ‘better’ donor is one who is able to emotionally distance himself/compartmentalise feelings. Many parents and children would welcome an attached donor. The issue is not whether the donor is emotionally distant, but that he is someone who is able to communicate and navigate his emotions with the best interests of the child in mind. It goes without saying that the child’s parents need to be equally adaptable, and recognise that they may have to alter their idea of family to include the donor if it is in the best interests of the child.

  8. oliviasview says:

    I have a lot of sympathy for your perspective Sandra. Thank you for voicing it here.

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