Yesterday I burned my hand on the dry ice that nestled a vial containing one half of The Bean’s genes. R and I joked that when Bean gives us trouble in her tween years, we will point to the burn and she will recall all we went through to have her and immediately cease and desist.
I’m thinking of Bean as female but I’m not sure why. I always thought I’d have boys, probably because I have an extraordinary number of brothers, but I’ve really warmed to the idea of a daughter. Of course, there are those folks who hope we will only have girls, because ‘boys need a father,’ and that brings us to the subject of today’s post: Bean’s father, or lack thereof.
When R and I first started talking about planting Bean, we agreed that it would be ideal to use a distant relative as the donor in the hopes that he would have some role in Bean’s life. We think that it is important for Bean to have positive male role models, and we very much want her to have uncles who are invested in her growth and development. One year at Christmas dinner, Grandmother jokingly volunteered my aunt’s husband, P, for donor services. After an awkward pause we learned that he had previously volunteered to be the donor for another lesbian couple. The idea was appealing, as P is smart, amiable, and good looking. What more could we ask for? But after we let the idea marinate for some months, we decided it would complicate family dynamics, and perhaps we’d need to relinquish our romanticized notions of a moderately involved, known donor.
We began browsing the websites of the largest U.S. sperm banks. Picture Gattaca meets Amazon.com. We could pick a donor based on his doppelgänger, his religious background, his hobbies, his hair or eye color, his profession…it was overwhelming. And creepy. We were faced with deciding how to filter the candidates, and this brought up really difficult questions. Should we filter by race or ethnicity? Should we pay more for sperm from a donor who has earned a doctoral degree? Should we send in a photograph of me and let the bank select the donor who looks the most like me? Should we pick a donor whose personality profile is great but for whom there is no photo? Should we only consider donors who are willing to be identified when Bean turns 18? All these questions weighed heavily, and counterbalanced the potential for awkward family dynamics if we used P as donor.
We realized we needed to talk to other couples who had faced these choices, but we didn’t know any. We’re bad gays. Between us we have two gay friends that we talk with on a regular basis. So we had to enlist a few friends, who contacted their gay friends, who contacted us. We talked with four different couples, and with the lawyer who worked with one of them. The lawyer strongly advised against using known donors, especially one who, like P, lives in a conservative state. Many states will not allow a man to sign over his paternal rights, and this could really complicate matters for me. If P were unable to relinquish paternal rights, I could never be Bean’s legal parent. We realized the Gattazon experience was a necessity, and got around to answering those pesky ethical questions.
In the meantime, we discovered that few states would allow what’s called a second parent adoption, which basically means that I can adopt Bean, and be her legal parent without R relinquishing her parental rights. Luckily our state allows this, but first I have to prove that I am fit to be a parent. After Bean is born, I will have to undergo an extensive background investigation and a home study. If I check out okay, we’ll go to court to ask a judge to grant me permission to be Bean’s legal parent. If the judge agrees, I will petition for a new birth certificate that lists both of us as Bean’s parents. It’s a long and expensive process, and rather insulting, quite frankly. If I’m feeling sunny side up, I can be happy that at least I can petition for legal rights to my child; if I’m not, I think everyone should have to pass a parental fitness test. But boy could that get ugly.
To be continued…