Having a donor child
When Lise and I, Liza Diers, were having our first child, we were very influenced by what the outside world said about having donor children. There were even some in our family who believed that you could not deprive a child of a father, or at least the knowledge of who the father is.
Obviously, you want to do what is right for the child. Because the outside world imposed on us an attitude about what was ethically correct, we had many considerations about it.
We began to investigate whether there was anyone in our social circle who would like to have a child with us. Occasionally, these investigations could cause a slightly awkward atmosphere. However, we actually managed to find a gay couple who were on board with the idea. But the more Lise and I talked about it, the more we found out that it wasn’t right for us. We wanted to just be ourselves – like any other small family. Therefore, we cancelled the plan and chose insemination treatment with donor sperm at our own fertility clinic, Diers Klinik. Today we are happy that we made that choice.
There will always be strongly held views towards the subject. You’ll meet people who are very convinced that they know what is right for others. Especially the discussion about open or anonymous donors can get people out of their seats.
My attitude and experience is that you have to look into your heart and do what feels right for you. You must be able to stand up for the decision you make, both now and in the future, also for the child. In my view, no decision is more right than another.
However, I am surprised at how few sceptics we actually meet and have met throughout the years.
I can’t remember the last time I was confronted with real scepticism, nor did anyone question our choice of a No ID-release donor. We live in a really good area where people are tolerant and open. And it also becomes more and more normal to have donor children. Just at my children’s school, I know that there are quite a few donor children with different family constellations. So today it is not abnormal to be a donor child, and it makes it easier for many.
Choosing a donor
In 2006, when we were to have our first child, there were not many open donors. It was an option, but the options were significantly reduced. I remember feeling weird about not knowing who I mixed genes with. I thought about the donor’s personality, and it actually meant a lot to me to know if he was a likeable and good person. It was important to me that someone could vouch for the human being who would end up playing a very important role in my life.
My experience is that most people today want to have knowledge and influence when choosing a donor. However, there may be a difference in what matters to people. For some it is a matching look, others emphasise particular personality traits, interests or talents. Many have strong preferences for either an open or closed donor.
What Lise and I specifically did then was to ask the sperm bank who they would have chosen themselves. Two of the sperm bank staff pointed to the same donor. He was a closed donor, but when two people vouched for him, we had to choose him. And I’ve been very comfortable and happy with that decision ever since. He is the donor of all three of our children. Lise gave birth to our oldest and youngest, and I gave birth to our middle one.
The donor is not a father
Today, many people choose an open donor because they do not want to deprive the child of the opportunity to meet their donor, but there is no right or wrong choice. The parents will have to try to feel what their hearts and guts are telling them – what issues are important to THEM.
If you choose to have a donor child, like us, you will have a child who does not have a father. This is the condition from the start, regardless of whether you choose an open or closed donor.
You just need to know that an open donor commits only commits to letting the child know his identity and perhaps showing up for one meeting. He did not become a donor to have a relationship with the donor children.
Now we will have to see if our children will also be happy with our choice in the future, but so far, the donor plays a surprisingly minor role. The donor is not a big factor in our everyday life. The same applies to others in our circle of friends who also have donor children.
For us and our children, the donor is a stranger – a good man. A man to whom we will be eternally grateful for helping us and for giving us the greatest gift in life. He is my hero.
What really matters
Of course, we had many thoughts about what would be important to our children, but we have been surprised. Our greatest concerns were put to shame, while the things we had attached no great importance to turned out to be more important to them.
A male role model
An example is that both Lise and I were nervous about whether the child would now lack a male role model in life. Therefore, we asked our circle of male friends if there was anyone who would like to “fill in the male gap” for our children, e.g., on trips to the local swimming pool etc.
However, it has turned out to mean nothing at all. It has not been a wish or a need for our children at all, and they have never asked for it. Therefore, it is my clear impression that being a donor child isn’t as important an issue to them as you expect and perhaps fear.
The “real” mother
On the other hand, the surroundings and the reactions from the outside world have been an issue now and then. To us, it has never been important who gave birth to whom. But it obviously means something to others, and it came as a surprise to us. Many attach extreme importance to genetics.
It also means that Esther, our oldest daughter, has been met with questions about who her “real mother” is. One day Esther came home sad and asked: “But if mother-Lise is my real mother, are you my wrong mother then?”. It makes her upset that someone sees our family that way and suggests that someone or something is more right. After that, we talked a lot with her about why she gets upset and why it feels wrong when someone asks about it.
It has been important to us to provide our children with a language and words about being a donor child as early as possible. That way, they can talk about it, explain and answer the questions they are met with.
That is why we have also bought books that we have read aloud to them ever since they were so small that they did not have a language. The books were about how they came to being and how a donor donated his sperm so they could be born. Later we were able to talk to them about the books and how they could relate to them.
When Esther was very small, she was greeted in kindergarten by the question: “Where is your father?”. As she did not have the language and did not know what to answer, she replied: “He is dead”. So, we may not have done the best job there. But you do it as best you can.
The humdrum of daily life
Lise and I have a large circle of friends who are also parents to donor children, and they live quite ordinary family lives. They don’t stand out in any way. In fact, I don’t know a single family where being a donor child hasn’t been very fulfilling, or where a father has been missed. They live the same lives as anybody else with daily tasks such as making packed lunches, doing the laundry etc.
Of course, we talk about the donor, but it is actually almost always me who brings it up, and not the children. Eg. I have read his profile a few times to see if there are any similarities between them and him. All three of my children love to perform, and Lise and I are absolutely not good at performing. So, in that way it is fun to read some traits and characteristics from the donor’s profile, which match our children. However, these traits may just as well be attributed to the surroundings or the time in which we live.
In our home, the donor has always just been called a donor. We never used the word father. Saying father sounds wrong to us because our children have no father. They call us mother and mother-Lise. Sometimes they just call us mother interchangeably, and when I react, they snap and say: “No, the other mother.”
When Lise and I talk about our family and the wonderful children we have created, we are very aware that the donor is also part of our family’s history. Not as a family member, but as a person who has given our family the greatest gift.
In the many star moments in everyday life, when you are filled with tenderness and love for your children, we often pass on a loving thought to our donor. He has enriched us with the most precious gift in our lives, and we are deeply grateful to him for that.
It is incredibly life-affirming to experience the gratitude that flows from all the women and families whom we at Diers Klinic help to have a child on a daily basis. I can, if anyone, understand the gratitude you all feel towards your donor as I feel it myself on a daily basis.