Just a couple of short years ago, my wife and I were trying to hammer out a plan to have a kid. For most queer people, this is what having children looks like: You sit down, you weigh your options and you plan out what you’re going to do. Some of our decisions practically made themselves (I wanted to be pregnant, my wife had no interest in it), but others took more thought.
As a queer couple with two uteri, we would need to obtain sperm if our baby-making venture was going to work. Choosing where to get sperm, and what sperm to use, is a pretty big deal. After all, we are talking about fully half of a child’s genetic makeup! We wanted to make the right decision, so we did a lot of careful research. Almost everything that we read, every expert we could find and several anecdotal stories from friends and acquaintances all said the same thing: Two girls trying to make a baby? You go through a sperm bank.
The rationale was that sperm banks are the safest way to obtain that particular bit of genetic material.
From a legal standpoint, that’s correct. Men who donate to sperm banks have already gone through the process of terminating their parental rights to any children that might result from their donation, and so they can’t come after your kid. In contrast, the legal waters surrounding known sperm donation (such as a friend or family member providing sperm for a lesbian couple) are incredibly murky. And yet, after weighing all of our options, my wife and I decided to bypass the sperm bank system entirely. We used a known donor to conceive our child, and couldn’t be happier with our choice to do so.
Look, we all do the best we can to mitigate the risks, but the fact is no matter how you go about it, starting or growing a family has risks. And that includes straight married couples making biological children! In the end, we realized that having a kid was a leap of faith, and a leap of faith we desperately wanted to take. So we thought long and hard about which risks we were willing to take and which ones we weren’t, and we went for it.
When you purchase sperm through a bank, you learn an incredible amount about that person’s medical history (often times more than you would about a spouse). You may even get to see pictures of the donor as a baby. But you don’t know what their laugh sounds like. You don’t know their favorite funny stories about their childhood. I love that my kid’s donor is a person to me, not just a fact sheet.
It’s not common, but look, sperm banks can mess up. Families have been given sperm other than what they requested, donors have withheld information. And regulation in the industry is spotty at best, so you really have to know exactly what your particular bank’s policies are regarding things like STI testing. I liked that, with our donor, we were getting exactly what we signed up for, and we were able to confirm that.
There is only one sperm bank in the United States that accepts donations from gay men. Let me repeat that. There is only one sperm bank in the U.S. that accepts sperm from gay men. None, as far as I am aware, use transgender donors. For my wife and me, that was wholly unacceptable.
Yes, of course, I understand that storing frozen sperm and distributing it costs money. Those fancy websites with the searchable donor catalogs cost money. I’m not saying banks should be giving away “the goods” for free! But I found the heavy dose of advertising (primarily aimed at straight couples struggling with infertility) a little bit too much to bear. It felt distasteful for something so personal and intimate.
Buying sperm is expensive, and given that you have no idea how many tries you’ll need, it’s likely that our working-class family couldn’t have absorbed the costs, at least not in the timeline we wanted and needed.
Even given everything else, I’m still not sure what our decision would have been if we hadn’t had the donor we had. After we decided we didn’t want to use a bank, we asked a good friend (who is queer and transgender) if they might consider donating to help us grow our family. They were, from the very start, enthusiastic, kind and just happy to help. Using a known donor requires a certain amount of trust, and for us that part turned out to be the easiest thing.
I would never begrudge any other family their reproductive choices. For many, sperm banks are a great way to add children to their families. But for my wife and me, it was never the right choice.
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