Sunday, July 10, 2011

New York Times Letter

Sorry to wait so long for the heads-up, but I only recently found out that a letter of mine on the subject of single mothers and sperm donors was printed in the International Herald Tribune/New York Times.  I responded to an opinion piece by Colton Wooten, an 18 year old son of a SMBC, a child who loves and appreciates his mother but regrets not being able to know more than the basics about his so-called biological father and sperm donor.

Being a techno-idiot, I don't know how to post the direct link, but if you are interested in reading the letter you will find it on, under the Opinion section on July 1, 2011.


s5 said...

thank you for referring your readers to those two interesting articles.

However, I think that your letter to the editor does not really address the issue the young man raised.

His is an emotional issue, the uncertainty of who your father is. He seems to understand that taking sperm from a sperm bank was a viable solution for his mother in her situation, as it was for you in your situation. However, he points out that this aspect - the desire to know your father - often is forgotten in the whole ordeal.

There is no guarantee that your daughter will not have similar feelings once she reaches his age.

Even if she knows other children whose father is a sperm donor, they are still a small minority. So it might well be that she once will think: why do all the other children have fahters, but I don't?

Ariela said...
maybe this link will work for other people?

koshergourmetmart said...

here's the text for those people who cannot login
As a single mother by choice of a beautiful two-year-old, Colton Wooten’s article moved me and reminded me that I must prepare for the day when my daughter starts asking questions about her so-called biological father (“A plea to sperm from a son,” Views, June 29).

A New Yorker who moved to Israel 14 years ago, I conceived my child through artificial insemination. I chose to use an anonymous Israeli sperm donor. Before starting any of the fertility procedures, I signed a legal waiver that stated neither I nor my child would ever attempt to find and contact the father, and that we had no right to any support, emotional, financial or otherwise.

I believed then as I do now that a closed-donor system makes my life less complicated; there can never be another person who interferes with the raising of my daughter. I know, however, that Raphaela will have curiosity as she gets older, and that I will try to answer her as honestly as possible. I don’t know if she will resent the fact that she can never find the donor who helped give her life.

Single parenthood has become more and more acceptable throughout Israel, in both the religious and secular communities. In fact, the government has started to become more engaged in overseeing the donor selection process within sperm banks.

When my daughter starts school, she will not be the only child being raised only by her mother. She will not have to explain herself. And, hopefully, she will not feel different from the other children.

Leah Leeder, Jerusalem

Amy Charles said...

Doc, first, congratulations.

Second, I agree with s5.

Third, I was with you right up to the point where you said that RR won't have to explain herself. I think that's probably incorrect, and that you might want to think about how you'll prepare her for it.

Divorce and single parenthood are fairly common here, and maybe a quarter of my daughter's kindergarten classmates came from single-parent and remarried-family homes. We've also got a large international community here, so again, it's not unusual to have one parent abroad.

The fact that it's usual doesn't mean the kids and other parents aren't curious. They want to know: Where's your father? Is he in town? What does he do? How often do you get to see him?

And yes, comparisons get made. "I feel so sorry for _____. She only gets to see her daddy once a year and I see mine all the time. Doesn't her daddy love her?" or "I kind of wish I was _____ but I kind of don't. She gets to live with her daddy, but she has to share everything with all her brothers and sisters, and it's probably really loud there." Or: "Your dad works in a _____? Weird."

Judgments get made, too. Adults and children will both judge through the filter of parental situations. "_____ is behaving that way because there's no one there for her; her mother's busy with her career and her father's on another continent." "Well, the father's in jail." "I hear he lost his job; that's probably why _____ is acting up, probably a lot of stress there."

With RR, you face another conversational sticking point, which is that many parents will just not want to explain to young children how exactly babies are made, and won't want their kids told yet. But who knows what they've told them in the meantime. Sperm-donor babies are rare enough that it's reasonable they wouldn't have thought ahead to that contingency. So, yes, this is something to think about.

The more I see of the issues, the more conversation I hear, the more I begin to think it's irresponsible for young men to do sperm donation and walk away, and irresponsible to let them. It's all very well for a woman to say "I'll do it on my own", but the fact is that sometimes that leads to real hardships of various kinds. And the only reason to give sperm, outside of medical studies, is for the purpose of making babies. It begins to look like the worst of male irresponsibility - jerk off, collect money, disappear without any thought for the children or the women.

I really think that the rules for sperm donation should be changed. I understand not wanting to marry or get involved romantically in order to have children, but sperm donation should entail some commitment to the child, including child support, emergency care, and an affirmation of willingness to be part of the child's life, if the child desires. Which would also mean the man would have to state the maximum number of children he'd be willing to be responsible for, after which his remaining stored sperm would be destroyed.

Doc said...

While it may not be clear enough in my Letter to the Editor, I completely the point that both s5 and Amy make: I know for certain that Raphaela will have inevitable and understandable curiosity about the donor. No matter how much she feels loved by me and others around her, it is natural for her to wonder, and to ask the tough questions.
I have already started simple dialogue about "Mommies" and "Abbas," in the hopes that she will always feel comfortable coming to me and talking about her feelings. I have also (with the help of the England-based DCN) come up with a simple explanation of our non-conventional family, a script that Raphaela can use to explain to her teachers and friends.

Doc said...

The other point, which I did not make in my Letter to Editor due to lack of space is this: if all donation becomes open and if donors have responsibility to their biological children, the sperm donor supply will literally dry up, and no woman will have the opportunity that I and others have.

I signed that legal waiver because I had to, in order to begin fertility treatments, and given the character of the community in Jerusalem, I bet I could even find Raphaela's donor. But I respect his privacy, and I thank him for his kindness, whoever and wherever he is.

Ariela said...

The bigger deal you make over things as a parent - the bigger deal it is to the kids. Doc, if you are cool, then RR will be too. This goes for everything, not just about not having a father.
Good luck with the surgery. JW did my son and he was great. The hardest part was fasting, as you correctly guessed. Did they tell you apple juice was OK for some time period (which I forgot) b4 the surgery?

Midlife Singlemum said...

A wise friend once said to me: Children will accept their identity, it is a matter of how you present it. Many many people are close to one side of their family and have no contact with the other side. As long as RR is secure and loved as a member of her family, she will know who she is. There are far worse things to contend with in life - let's not make a whole matza pudding of something that doesn't have to be so traumatic.
As for donors being irresponsible! How can it be irresponsible to give a single woman the greatest and most selfless gift possible. I thank every one of you donors.

Midlife Singlemum said...

BTW, if I were to say that my daughter was adopted instead of concieved through IVF with donor sperm, do you think anyone would be asking me how she will deal with her identity when she grows up? No. And adoption has potentially far more baggage attached to it. However, we know from experience that it can be handled in a way that is acceptable to the child. Likewise, our situation can be handled in a positive and acceptable way.
Thanks for this soapbox opportunity Doc.

Sarah said...

I'd say the ideal situation would be for the waiver to say that the donor will never have any financial or emotional obligations toward the child, but that the child may contact him after the child turns 18 (or 21 or 25, or whatever).

Amy Charles said...

MSM, people will ask about everything. Really. "Are you going to take her to China when she's older so she can learn about her culture? Will you be disappointed if she decides not to be Jewish?"

Doc, I totally hear what you're saying on the idea that there'll be no choice if the men have to commit. Do you see the problem, though, in sanctioning that irresponsibility? And you're talking only about future contact -- I'm talking about financial support while the child's growing up, and emergency support should it be needed and desired.

Marni said...


"I'm talking about financial support while the child's growing up, and emergency support should it be needed and desired."

Why the heck would you make some man who out of the goodness of his heart (or for money) donated his sperm financially responsible for a child whom he had really no part in creating? He didn't have sex. He merely made a donation. The mother chose to bring the child into the world, and he graciously provided her with the ability to do so. Thank g-d there are contracts and laws that protect men who are donors from being legally, financially, etc. responsible, otherwise, as Doc alluded to, no male would ever want to be a donor.

Amy Charles said...

@Marni -- of course he had a part in creating the child. A quite significant part. That's half the DNA, there. And it's not as though he left it around thinking it'd be decoration; he sold it knowing that if it was used, it'd be used for babymaking.

I think you underestimate the number of men who want to be fathers but haven't found the right woman. Particularly older men.

In any case, courts here recognize the responsibility of sperm donors who are, you might say, present at the time of insemination. Unless the woman has a mighty good reason and can show the ability to go without the child support, child support is assigned. And I think that's wise. Two decades of being someone else's sole support, with no help, is no small thing, and it's surprising how often someone else's money turns out to be necessary while raising a child.

Midlife Singlemum said...

@Amy Charles.Re: Half the DNA. DNA does not give you a happy, secure, loving family. It does not educate you and keep you safe. DNA does not give you wonderful childhood memories or give you a feeling of belonging. I think you overestimate the power of DNA. It is a chemical/biological part of a human and carries no emotional value.
And what about the donor who recieves 3,000 shekels for his contribution? 3,000 shekels now and you have to pay 2,000 a month for the next 18 years?! I don't think so.

Amy Charles said...

MSM: Exactly. So if you're going to help make the baby -- which is the whole point of leaving behind the DNA -- you should be on the hook for love, care, time, and money, should they be desired.

I really hadn't thought about this much before, but it does give me pause. I mean this as no judgment on any SMBC, but I really think it says something about a guy, that he volunteers to jerk off into a cup, and then walk out, feeling no responsibility for any resulting children. Deliberately refusing responsibility, in fact. Would I, personally, want to have a child with such a person? No.

Yes, I know a lot of these guys are young, but they're not so young that they don't know sperm are used for making babies, or that single moms have it rough, or that -- though you can get by without one -- a dad is in general a good thing to have. But all that fades in view of 3K NIS. That strikes me as exceptional thoughtlessness. And since I wouldn't have a child with a boyfriend or husband that thoughtless -- since I wouldn't be with a guy like that in the first place -- why would I do it at a distance?

A lot of men really do want to have children, though they don't necessarily want to marry. I don't think the outlook for responsible sperm donation is as dire as you imply, msm. Though if I were a man in that position, I'm pretty sure I'd want to be able to have some say about who the mother is, too.

Amy Charles said...

Whoops. I should point out, MSM, that without the DNA, there's no baby. So yes, you may see it as cold and meaningless...but it's absolutely vital, and will play some part in determining who the child is all her life.